Using Pictures for CI

This is from James:

Ben, I just posted this on my blog here:

Here is what I wrote. Feel free to put it on your blog so it can get more exposure and more comments:

Pictures for CI: What’s Wrong? and What’s Different?

Ben Slavic ( describes a procedure called Look and Discuss (L and D), in which the teacher leads the class through describing a picture that is projected on the board. The goal is to get comprehensible, compelling repetitions on target structures. It works really well.

How about adding these two activities? The inspiration came from my curriculum director. Both involve projecting a picture on the board and leading the class through a discussion in the target language in order to provide comprehensible input. Of course the normal rules apply: The teacher is trying to speak comprehensibly in the target language and is using circling and personalized-question and answer (PQA) throughout the discussion.

1. What’s wrong with this picture?

Focus the kids on the wacky stuff in an otherwise normal picture. Here are some good pictures to use:

2. What are the differences between these pictures?

Say what is in one picture but not in another picture. Some examples:

These ideas need to be tested in the classroom; I have not yet tried either. These are popular “for kids” activities, so they have the potential at least of being on the level of our new language learners.

Some more brainstorming: (for number 2 above) For more discussion, you can ask something like: “Is the girl happier in the first or the second picture? Of course! In the second picture, because in that picture she has two scoops of ice cream!”

Or how about: (for number 1 above) “Would the boy be happier if the fish tank were on the ground? Of course he would! He wants to feed the fish but he can’t reach them up on the ceiling!”

James Hosler



18 thoughts on “Using Pictures for CI”

  1. I will try this after Thanksgiving break. I haven’t explored Look and Discuss beyond the obvious Q-A . It would be perfect for my young students. To help little kids focus I sometimes give them each a picture inserted in a plastic sleeve. They circle with an erasable marker what we are discussing.

    Thank you James. Great blog btw !

  2. Thanks James! I love L&D, it is where I feel most comfortable and confident in my circling. I was just thinking that if the teacher picks a picture that works with structures students are already familiar with they might be able to give the students some time to talk in pairs in the target language with just the simple instructions “Talk about what is wrong or different…” The teacher could walk around and listen, maybe making notes on a clipboard or something, getting some formative assessment in. Follow up with a share out to the whole class…I think my supervisor would love to see something like that happen.

    1. I know we don’t want to force output too early, but maybe a little pair-share is ok to recycle structures that have already been worked with…I just had a PD yesterday in which we talked about formative assessment and skills checklists are circulating around the departments in preparation for our quality review, so I was just brainstorming things I could do if I get a visit from a higher up that would look good but also BE good…

      1. Sounds good to me, Carly. I’m not against output per se, just against doing it and claiming it leads to acquisition. Terry said recently on moreTPRS that there are lots of good reasons to do output-type stuff, we just can’t say it leads to acquisition.

        Those hoops aren’t going to jump through themselves.

        1. There are some studies in VP’s line of research that appear to show that when output is focused on the message, focused on expressing meaning, then it CAN lead to acquisition. That is still murky, though. It’s hard to sort out whether to attribute gains to learning or acquisition and whether it was the student output or the input they got from another students’ output. But the end result, regardless of cause, is better output – more proficiency. This is where I think measuring “proficiency” can differ from measuring
          “acquisition.” In my opinion, when there is some output expected of students they have to pay better attention to the input. They also may notice gaps when they are outputting and that may focus them better on subsequent input. Not to mention the confidence that scaffolded (level appropriate) output can build.

          1. “In my opinion, when there is some output expected of students they have to pay better attention to the input.”

            I don’t agree Eric, at least when talking about first two years of L2 study. I think the expectation of output raises the affective filter too much, and the ones who will naturally choose to talk up a storm early may be more focused on form for the upcoming output piece.

            “They also may notice gaps when they are outputting and that may focus them better on subsequent input.”

            I like to make them aware of these gaps by asking them to do some pop-up translating with their partner every now and then during class/story/reading. Maybe once or twice. Nice brain break too. For example, “Class, now how do you say ‘Do you have a little money?’ or ‘The boy is reading a book'” This keeps it short (i.e. no opportunity for talking extensively about weekend plans in English) and they get immediate feedback when I tell them how to correctly say it. I especially like to do this with questions, given the strange nature of question syntax in English and the tendency of kids to transpose that syntax when outputting, even if they’ve heard the correct syntax in L2 a million times.

          2. Depends what we mean by “expected” and what we mean by “output.” For example, do we expect kids to answer with short answers – yes/no, 1-word, etc.? Do we expect kids to do a speedwrite?

            VP tries to explain the positive effects of meaning-based output as getting students to better interact with input.

          3. When I was thinking of “expected output” above, I was regarding oral output beyond y/n or one word answer. An utterance that wasn’t just stated for the person 5 seconds prior. I think speedwrites raise the affective filter much less, since they are not focused on form and they are not saying it in front of others.

          4. “Peer-to-peer communication is the McDonalds of language teaching” — attributed to Terry Wiechart. I couldn’t agree more.

            I have not seen any evidence that output aids acquisition, especially at the early stages. I have one simple rule for output that is shared– i.e. said aloud in class to either a partner or the whole class– it has to 100% perfect. I don’t ask weaker kids PQA questions that require other than y/n answers. My actors are the fastest acquirers (i.e. I pick the fastest acquirers to be actors– acting does not (in my and Blaine’s view) aid acquisition). I don’t do extended PQA with kids who can’t say decent sentences.

            If the output is junky, it is simply not useful for acquisition.

            I am also noticing something interesting this year: the link between good oral output and good written output is tenuous. I have great speakers who are poor writers, and I have poor– slow– speakers who are great writers. I also have great speakers who are great writers.

          5. Carly for me it’s about the kids. If it is a class that wants to do it and they perceive it as fun, as James said, then why not? I don’t think our teaching mindset should be that all our kids are going to master the language. They are just children and we are showing them something that could add to their happiness level one day. So I’m not so freaked out about early output as I was even a few years ago. I am totally freaked about any output that raises the affective filter. Having worked with you last summer, Carly, I can totally see the pair share thing when an observer walks in. I would even prep the class to expect to be put into pairs even for a few minutes when somebody walks in so that they know to be ready to show off their speech skills. I never would have said that a year ago even. But given all the factors at work in our jobs, one of which is job security, my advice is to give yourself all the permission to do what you describe above with zero guilt. Given that the Zen part is that few of our kids will reach fluency, what difference does it make? In order of importance, I rank what we do this way:

            1. Our mental health (if we are in good mental health than our kids will be).
            2. The kids’ mental health (a few minutes of output might help so they don’t have to “just listen” all the time).
            3. CI

  3. James, I went to a couple of the Berenstain Bears “What’s Wrong” pictures. I found that the different locations (bedroom, garage, etc) did a good job of mixing up the vocabulary so that it wasn’t all semantic set stuff, but the need for quite a bit of low-mid frequency vocab was there.

    However, if circumlocation is stressed to students before the discussion is started, this may prevent a bunch of “How do you say…?” questions that lead us quickly out of bounds.

    I looked at the other site and wonder if the items aren’t hard enough to find that they would be concentrating more on the locating of the items than the actual dialogue we’re trying to get going. One thing we could do is have the kids make their own drawings….

  4. In elementary I often draw a picture with all the concepts kids have learned.
    Martina Bex suggested as a variation to have kids color in what we say/ask/they read. It requires managing coloring pencils or erasable markers etc but is engaging + reviews colors. And it’s a nice change of pace.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

CI and the Research (cont.)

Admins don’t actually read the research. They don’t have time. If or when they do read it, they do not really grasp it. How could

Research Question

I got a question: “Hi Ben, I am preparing some documents that support CI teaching to show my administrators. I looked through the blog and

We Have the Research

A teacher contacted me awhile back. She had been attacked about using CI from a team leader. I told her to get some research from

The Research

We don’t need any more research. In academia that would be a frivolous comment, but as a classroom teacher in languages I support it. Yes,



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben