10 ESL Activities Using Pictures

Implementing pictures as a teaching tool in your classroom is a great way to get the learners engaged. Whether you’re showing them from your laptop, hand out printouts or ask your students to draw something themselves, pictures can provide you with endless opportunities for memorable ESL activities. 

Students not only love working with interesting pictures but also incorporating a visual stimulus in your lesson will help them learn better. Below is a list of 10 picture-oriented exercises. 

1. Help Me Draw Something Pretty

Level: A1 and above

Here’s an excellent, and easy, activity perfect for young learners (although it works well with all ages and levels).

The procedure:


1. Draw a simple Stickman on the board. 

2. Turn to your students and ask them what else you should draw.

They’ll likely jump to the opportunity with suggestions such as:





3. Keep adding the items they suggest, making the picture more and more sophisticated.

4. Finally, when the board is filled with dozens of drawings of various items, ask students to come one by one to the board, pick one object and spell its name.

2. What Do You Remember?

Level: A1 and above


This one is good for practicing speaking as well as memory. 


What you’ll need: PowerPoint presentation with min 5 pictures + prepare simple questions for each picture. 


Note: make sure that after each picture there is an empty slide with a black background. 

The procedure:


1. Put your students into groups and write the group names on the board to keep track of the points.


2. Show them the first picture on the big screen:



3. Give them 10 – 20 seconds to memorize all the details from this photo.


4. Then, descend into darkness.



5. And ask the first question, i.e.:


1. How many lambs were facing the ground?

Record the group answers on the board


Answer: Four

2. What colour was the building on the left?

Record the group answers on the board

Answer: There is no building on the left

3. How many eartags are in the picture and what colour are they?

Record the group answers on the board

Answer: Four and yellow 

4. Based on the sky, what is the weather like in this picture?

Record the group answers on the board

Answer: Heavy overcast

6. At the end, show the picture again and give 1 point for every correct answer.


7. Proceed to the next photo


Variation: Pair work


This can also be done in pairs, Partner A is trying to remember the photograph for 30 seconds, then Partner B is asking them questions about it. Then they swap.

3. Draw What I Say

Level: A2 and above

The procedure:

1. Give an A4 page to each student. 

2. Put them into pairs. Tell one partner to find a random photo on their phone or laptop. 

Note: in case your students don’t have devices, display a picture on the board and tell one partner to simply turn around. If you also don’t have access to a device, use flashcards or print pictures beforehand. Some examples at the bottom of this section. 

3. One partner describes the picture in as much detail as possible while the other is drawing exactly what he or she is hearing.

Note: Make sure that your students understand to give as many details as possible, this includes size, exact location and relation to other objects, shapes, shading, colours, etc. 

Variation: Group competition

A fun way to spice it up is to put them into groups of 4-5 and have one person describe while the rest are drawing. At the end, the one with the most accurate drawing wins a point. 

Pictures examples:

Lighthouse: http://bit.ly/2WDE5UP 

Campsite: http://bit.ly/2Z6OlSO 

Whale in a Bulb: http://bit.ly/2F2M5Vt 

Island: http://bit.ly/2KqiN6k 

House: http://bit.ly/2WM2QOs 

4. Picture Story

Level: A2 and above


What you’ll need: a lot of various pictures/flashcards.

The procedure:


1. Distribute flashcards to each group (or individual) so that there between 3 – 5 different pictures per group. Naturally, the more flashcards you’ll distribute the longer this exercise will be.

2. Your student’s task is to create a story, which will logically connect the pictures you’ve given them. They cannot change the order of the pictures. 

Note: the more sophisticated the picture more sophisticated the story will end up being. 

Apple –> Lamp –> Beach 

will be less of a challenge than 

Workers picking apples at a plantation  –> A boy studying by the light of the lamp –> People playing volleyball at the beach.

Variation: Class Competition

You can change this exercise a bit by showing the same set of pictures to the whole class and then holding a competition of who creates the best story.

5. 20 Questions

Level: A2 and above


What you’ll need: enough pictures that all your pairs have at least 4. 

The procedure:


1. Put your students into pairs and distribute the pictures to them. Make sure the pictures are facing down on the table.

2. Partner A will pick up the picture and hold it in front of them so that they don’t see it but Partner B does.

3. Now, Partner A has 20 questions to figure out what’s on the picture. The goal is to accurately describe the picture at the end of the 20 questions run.

Note: The questions can be closed (yes/no) but also semi-open about colours, locations, etc. They cannot ask direct questions such as What’s on the picture?

4. When Partner A has finished, ask them to describe the picture to you or the rest of the class. They must be able to describe the location of each item, it’s size, colour and relation to the other items on the photograph. Simply saying: it’s a picture of a boy holding a balloon will not suffice. 

6. Let’s Exchange!

Level: A2 and above

The procedure:


1. Distribute 1 printed picture to each student.

Note: after this lesson these pictures will be unusable so make sure to give them ones you don’t mind losing. 

2. Instruct your students to cut this drawing into 4 identical pieces (In half, vertically and horizontally).

3. Collect all the quarters (4 from each student) and shuffle them well. 

4. Now, hand out 4 random quarters to each student. 

5. Students will walk around the classroom asking their friends to exchange papers with them. 

Note: Each exchange is only 1 paper from each person. Then ,they must talk to EVERYONE  else before they do an exchange with this person again. 

6. The student to collect their complete picture first is the winner. 

Variation: Students’ Drawings

Give 1 piece of A4 paper to each student.

Ask them to draw something on the page. It doesn’t matter what the drawing is, what’s important is that it fills as much of the page as possible. This should take max 3 minutes.

7. Speaking Stations

Level: A2 and above


This is a very effective exercise to get your students talking. While it does work on the upper beginner level, I find it the most effective for the higher levels.


Prep time: 5-10 min to find and print out the pictures.

What you need: a handful of pictures 



Divide your students into a handful of precisely measured groups. Start with the Leaders Group, these should be your most extroverted and gregarious pupils, then split the rest of the class into pairs. 

1. Leaders Group: ask your most talkative students to form one unit, and stand them on the side, waiting for further instructions. 

2. Move the desks and chairs around to arrange a precise number of Speaking Stations around the classroom. The number of Stations corresponds with the number of students in the Leaders Group. 

3. Each member of the Leaders Group will position themselves at their own Speaking Station, behind the desk.

4. Lastly, arrange the rest of the class into pairs or groups of 3 (but not more than that).

So, for example, if your classroom has 21 students then:

Leaders Group: 7 people

Speaking Stations: 7

7 pairs of students

If the classroom is 12 people then:

Leaders Group: 4 

Speaking Stations: 4

4 pairs of students

The procedure:


1. Give each Leader one photo as they sit at their Station. On the other side of the desk position two chairs for the pairs to sit, facing the Leader. 

2. Instruct all pairs to go and sit at one of the Stations.

3. Put 3-5 minutes on the timer, in that time the Leader is going to ask them questions about 

their photo and the pairs will answer the questions. 

Note: It should look a lot like a speaking test, which was the inspiration for this exercise. 

4. After the time has passed, tell the pairs to switch stations. Best to rotate all pairs one station to the right or left, otherwise it will be hard to keep track of them. 

5. Do this until every pair had a chance to speak to every Leader.

Note: I found it helpful to change the photos Leaders have to make it more engaging for them.

8. Dreams Map

Level: B1 and above


This is avery engaging activity that has the potential of taking up most of your lesson time.

What you’ll need: a stack of old magazines (also tell your students beforehand to bring a lot of photos and magazines from home). Prepare one A3 paper for each of your students. 

The procedure:


1. Tell your students they are going to create maps of their dreams. Whatever ambitions they have, be it a tropical holiday, a sports car, a big family or a musician’s career, they can express it on their Dreams Map. They should use the pictures in the magazines as well as their own drawings. 

2. Instruct them to add short descriptions under all pictures, or even better – use the colourful headlines from the magazine for their descriptions. 

Note: This stage will probably take up most of your lesson time.

3. 15 minutes before the lesson ends, your pupils may present their creations. 

If, however, they need more time, this would be a fantastic homework opportunity. In that case, the class presentations can be held at the beginning of the next lesson.

9. Photography Story

Level: B1 and above


This exercise will likely take the majority of your lesson, however, we guarantee that your students will absolutely love it. Every group will need access to a laptop and a phone. 

Laptop – making a presentation, Phone – taking pictures

The procedure:


1. Put your students into groups of 3-5.

2. Instruct them to create a story using only pictures they’ve taken during the lesson. Later, during presentations, they will show the pictures in a story succession while narrating it. 

Note: Give them a maximum of 10-20 pictures and a completion deadline

3. Set them off to work in a classroom (or even outside). 

They should first create some sort of simple narrative and later document the main points of this narrative with pictures. The group members become the main characters of the story that takes place in the school.

4. After taking all the pictures students send them to a laptop and create a PowerPoint presentation with the pictures in a story sequence. 

Note: make sure to set the deadline for 15 mins before the lesson ends so that your pupils can present their creations. 

5. Present the stories.

My students love this one so much they keep asking me to do it again and again.

10. Funny Captions

Level: B2 and above


I recommend doing this one only with your experienced and/or most creative students. 

The procedure:


1. Put your students into groups of max 4 people. 

2. First, show them an example:



3. Similar to the example above, your students will have to come up with creative captions to black an white cartoons. 

4. Display the first picture (list below) and instruct the groups to come up with amusing captions or dialogues for this picture. 

5. Set 3 minutes on the timer.

6. At the end the students read out loud and vote for the best/funniest caption


One: http://bit.ly/2VYVMJR 

Two: https://n.pr/2I6iKdp 

Three: http://bit.ly/2WEhO9v 

Four: http://bit.ly/2WaLETr 

Five: http://bit.ly/2MkCxLi 

Six: http://bit.ly/2EEoGt2

Seven: http://bit.ly/2VWMgao

Eight: http://bit.ly/30TlJhJ

Nine: http://bit.ly/2HKbq8d

Ten: http://bit.ly/2WwboZI 

If you need to search more: http://bit.ly/2VZf6Hc

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