Monday, 20 February 2017

Image challenge - how to teach critical thinking through INSTAGRAM

Image Challenge - week seven

This is part two strictly devoted to Instagram. This time, however, I'm looking at this tool from a bit different perspective.  If you haven't read part one, just scroll down and enjoy the activities.

Critical thinking and Instagram?

At first glance it doesn't seem to have anything in common. But if we take a closer look, then we realise that with information and images overload, we have to learn to look critically at things that surround us.  It is what visual literacy is all about. It is the ablility to interpret visuals, as well.

It is estimated that there are over 400 mln active users daily on Instagram. And if each of them posts at least one photo a day, the number of uploaded photos every single day is staggering.

What it means is that we can't take everything for granted and what is more we shouldn't let our students believe in everything they see. Those pretty and sexy looking girls, those well-built, handsome men, those perfect lifestyles with glamorous cars and amazing parites that never end. If we don't teach our students crtical thinking, it will lead to constant frustration and anger. After all, their lives aren't as stunning as they would like them to be. Celebrities also set unrealistic standards for their followers.

That is why, in today's post I would like to present you a quick lesson plan that includes elements of images together with critical thinking. It is perfect for pre-intermediate + students, age 13+. 

The truth behind Instagram photos

Warm up

For a start, ask a few questions:
1. Do you use Instagram? If yes, how often? If no, why not?
2. What kind of things do you post? Photos of you and your friends or maybe photos of objects? What objects ?
3. What other things do people post and why?
4. Do you follow any particular people? (some would say that they follow celebrities, you can ask which ones and why)
5. Are there any photos that you don't like? Which ones and why? etc.


Tilda Lindam, a model with an excellent sense of humor, decided to show the truth behind the photos posted on Instargram as well as vanity in creating photos. In a series of photos she showed the reality. Let me show you what she did.  (Source:

Take those four pictures (there are other photos available if you have a bigger group) and divide your students into groups. Each group gets an Instagram photo (without background) and a set of questions. Give them 4-5 min to discuss the photos.


Take a small picture posted on Instagram and ask a lot of questions concerning the lifestyle of a person. For example:

Students' version

1. Who do you think posted the photo? Is it a man or a woman? What makes you think so?
2. Where do you think the photo was taken? How do you know?
3. What kind of a lifestyle does the person have? Is it a typical businessman or a teenager?
4. Why can't it be a teenager's room? (they would say it's too clean)
5. What do you think is on the walls? Are there any other furniture? Which ones? etc.

Original photo

Now students swap and discuss another photo. There should be at least two changes. Then you can show the original photos and ask additional questions:

1. Were you right? Why not?
2. Why do you think people post untrue images? What is the reason?
3. Do you sometimes post such photos? Do you know anybody who does? (sometimes students even show who does it and they discuss if it looks convincing or not)
4. Should we believe then in everything that is posted on social networking sites? Why? Why not?

To finish the topic you can play a film:

Youtube address:

Hope you will enjoy it:)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Image challenge - How to use INSTAGRAM creatively in the class

Image Challenge - week six

#instagram #can #be #fun

Another week, another challenge. This week inspired by a great conference that I have just attended in Thessaloniki, (sorry for a week absence but duties need sacrificies, promise to catch up), I would like to share a few ideas connected with using INSTAGRAM creatively. This is part one focusing on creativity. Part two will be devoted to critical thinking - soon on the blog:)

One of the workshops entitled “And you call it art?” was run by two excellent speakers from Poland, Hanna and Monika. In general, they were telling how to incorporate art into the classroom, but they also showed a fantastic activity concerning the use of Instagram. That, of course, inspired me to write the following post and think about other activities that can be done with the use of Instagram. Thanks girls:)

I expect that some people may not be familiar with Instagram, so let me briefly explain what kind of app it is.


What is it all about?

INSTAGRAM – is another app perfect for all photo lovers as it allows you to take pictures or use the ones that are on your mobile and post it on your wall, similarly like on facebook. You can give your photo a title, usually using hashtags###. However, that is not all. Photos are public on Instagram. If you want people to have to ask permission before they follow you, set to private. The cool factor of Instagram is the fact that they have 11 different filters you can use to upgrade your photos. Even boring photos can look amazing with some of these filters. Instagram, like any other social network, is based around having friends or followers. On Instagram you ‘follow’ people. Another thing you can do is like photos and comment on them. Both are appreciated. Instagram lets you see which of your Twitter and Facebook friends are using it and easily start following them. So that’s the gist of how Instagram works.

On some blog the other day, I saw a post about Instagram and that is another interesting aspect of using Instagram. The woman called it: An Education on our Shared Humanity. What she meant was that it “gets a glimpse into the everyday lives of people who she’ll never meet, who live in completely different cultures than she does. What she’s found is not so much how different we are, but how alike we all are. People all over the world celebrate weddings and birthdays, cherish their children and pets, appreciate a nice sunset or beach scene, like to drink and are obsessed with food.” Can it be used in the class then? Of course, it can.

Students, as it has been underlined in my posts regularly, carry their mobile phones with them all the time. That is why, using photos as a way of engaging them with the language outside the lesson is a fantastic idea and Instagram seems to come in handy. I have been using mobile phone as homework for quite a long time now. Students have to be aware, however, that such homework has the same value as ‘millions of copies’ with exercises that we give them. Soon they simply get used to it. So let’s get to work. 

#english #outside #class

One of the ways to use Instagram, especially if you live in a bigger city is to ask your students to take photos of examples of English that they see on the street. Then students hashtag them and comment on form, grammar, content and have a further discussion. This activity makes them fully aware that English simply surrounds them. Perfect for elementary and pre-intermediate students of various ages – even adults. Here are some examples:

#englishsigns #funnysign #liverpoolstreet #holidayfun

In the first case, students use their basic vocabulary to hashtag the photo with the vocabulary they know. while in the second one, it can be used to teach various meanings of the word operate, for example. Unfortunatelly, students usually associate it only with the hospital as a synonym of the word 'surgery'. In reality, it has a lot of meanings and the example from the photo proves it.


Verb (used without object), operated, operating. work, perform, or function, as a machine does:
This engine does not operate properly. work or use a machine, apparatus, or the like. act effectively; produce an effect; exert force or influence (often followed by on or upon):
Their propaganda is beginning to operate on the minds of the people. perform some process of work or treatment.
5.Surgery. to perform a surgical procedure.
6.(of a drug) to produce the effect intended.

*optionally you can use “hashtagging” with elementary group to let students introduce themselves in the class. Students write for example: #adam #12 #football #sport #tall. Then a teacher collects their sentences and puts the sheets of paper around the classroom and students have to guess who it might be. Students are not so scared to present themselves as it involves very basic vocabulary and they usually know it well.

#caption #it


That can be used in many ways. Students just have to take a photo referring to the topic that you are currently covering. Let's say, it's a chapter about FOOD. Ask your students to take a picture of their breakfast and add a creative caption under it. Of course, they have to include vocabulary that was taught during the lesson. the words like nutritious, delicious, yummy etc. Students bring their 'mobile homework' and compare the answers. The best photo with the best caption will be printed out and put on the board. It can be a photo of a week or a photo of a month.


We can't forget that our students take photos anyway. They are extremely creative and we, as teachers, should encourage them to show it, to express themselves and to show their individuality.

Remember that you can also use the existing photos and search in the box by writing, for example, #breakfast and you will see over 54 million photos connected with breakfasts. How can we use it? Culture differences or/and similarities is another idea worth considering. Especially, if you teach international groups.

This is part one of using Instagram in the classroom. Hope you liked the ideas and you will try it with your students this week. Soon PART TWO!!! New ideas about teaching critical thinking through Instagram. Enjoy:)

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Image challenge - How to use PINTEREST creatively

Image challenge – week five

Why and how to use Pinterest in the classroom

During my last visit in Malta at the Image Conference I met Andreia from Brazil, who had a powerful workshop about the way she uses Pinterest in her classroom. I liked it a lot but thought that it may be too complicated or not interesting for my students. Then, one evening I decided to give it a try and that’s how it started – love at first sight. When we talk about visual teaching in the classroom - Pinterest is a must!

What is it and how it works?

Pinterest has quickly become a favorite online tool among educators in the past few years. The concept is simple. You find images you like, and pin them to your Boards.  You create boards based on categories you create. You could have a board for home inspirations, arts & crafts, cooking, quotes, fashion etc. Using online “pinboards” teachers can save everything from photos to blog posts in one easily accessible and usable place. All need to do is log in (can be done by Facebook account) and here you go.

Pinterest is also a social networking site.  You can follow other people on the site that you know or don’t know, people whose pins you like, your friends, etc.  You can scroll through pinboards by subject to look for visual content that you like from pinboards that other people have pinned.  If you see a picture you like from another pinboard you can pin it and add it to one of your own pinboards.

Compare and contrast

But how to put it into practice? Let me give you an example. You are looking for some photos referring to the topic of extreme sports. All you need to do, is to type a phrase ‘extreme sports’ in the search box and a huge selection of photos concerning this topic together with website links will appear. You can save them, print them out or just show your students and have a compare and contrast activity. Let’s use those two first photos shown in the attached picture that I have taken (extreme skiing and paragliding). Students work on their mobile phones or if you have an individual lesson you can use yours. Ask your students to compare and contrast them and decide which sport they would like to try and why. Students can also choose the pictures to describe for the other students. Great pair work activity. You can also modify this activity. Ask your students to create a board called ‘extreme sports’ at home (with maximum 20 extreme sports) and bring it to the lesson saved on their mobile phones. Students working in pairs compare their boards first and then various activities can follow. 

For example:
1.       Choose the most daring/exciting/unusual/difficult sport from you list. (practice of adjectives)
2.       Name three the most risky sports that you wouldn’t like to do and why.
3.       If you had some spare time which of the sports would you like to try and why.

The list of topics for discussion is endless. Be creative and rack your students brains. It’s also great for FCE/CAE students to practice Part Two of the exam - compare activity. 

Brainstorming activity

Imagine you are covering the topic of environment and you need a creative warm up activity. Divide your students into two teams. Ask your students to create the board called: how to be eco or ecology in Pinterest and ask them to add any images they like. (It can be done at school or at home) Then students compare their images and discuss which ideas are the best. Each team has to choose maximum 5 best ideas. Then, the teacher writes down their ideas on the board and introduces necessary vocabulary. You can also use the images to create an information board in the classroom (they just print out the pictures they enjoy and put them on the board creating a kind of a collage) or a magazine cover (students using graphic programs or just a sheet of paper to create the cover of the ECO magazine with suitable photos and headlines). As you can see, there are plenty of ideas to use it creatively.

Why should we use Pinterest?

Because Pinterest provides a place where the user can VISUALLY bookmark photos and we do teach visual generation students. They love browsing websites full of interesting photos more than reading pages of texts. It is easy and creative and for sure mind stimulating activity. 


If you got interested in it and want to know more there are plenty of ideas to use Pinterest in the Internet. One of them is TEACHTHOUGHT.COM, where are listed 37 ways teachers can use Pinterest both for their own use and the classroom use.

Website address:

REMEMBER! - The use of Pinterest is just endlessJ

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Why a wall won't stop immigration - a discussion provoking video

To build or not to build the wall? This is the question!!!

For many people living in America it is a vital question since it would mean the end of their present life, social status, school, family bonds, job and many other things. No matter what we think, it would be a disaster for millions of people both outside and inside the country. I was writing my MA thesis about immigration policy in America and Ellis Island, in particular. Limitations are nothing new! There was an Exclusion Act for Chinese, there were Quota Acts for immigrants from Europe. People who live long enough to remember or know the US history would say that history likes to repeat itself.

Should we talk about it with students? I think we should, especially with those more advanced ones, as there are not so many social or current affair topics in the coursebooks. From time to time, I discuss with my advanced students current issues such as natural disasters that have just hit certain places in the world or Brexit, for example. Young people should have their opinion. I always try not to push them and stay objective, neither for nor against. So at the end they never know what my real opinion is. Let's not forget, however, that those are sensitive issues and we should be careful discussing them in the class. It all depends on the group - age, ethnicity, level of advancement etc.

Topic: immigration, social issues, borders

Time: 45 min

Age: 13+

Level: B1 and above

Activity aim:

  • to discuss the reasons of immigration in general
  • to discuss and list advantages and disadvatages of immigration
  • to discuss the reasons of people emigrating to the USA
  • to discuss  +/- of building the wall on the border with the USA
  • to discuss the topic of bordes and their types

Film address:

Stage one

Write down the word IMMIGRATION on the board. Ask your students why people emigrate in general and write it down. Maybe there are some immigrants in your group and they could also tell why their family had to emigrate. They usually give typical reasons: enconomy, religious persecution, famine, poverty, war, lack of employment etc. 5-10 minutes

Stage two

Divide your class into two groups. Group one has to write down as many advantages of immigration as possible. Group two has to list all the disadvantages of it. Give 5-6 min for that. Now class discussion - they have to convince each other giving their arguments. About 10 min

Stage three

Ask your students if they have heard about the idea of building the wall on the border USA-Mexico. If yes, ask them about their opinion.( 5min.) Now, tell them that they are going to watch a film giving reasons why it is not a good idea to build such a wall. They have to open their notebooks and list all the reasons they have heard in it. Play the film.

Stage four - pair work

Students work in pairs and compare the reasons they have just written down with their partner.
 (5 min)

Stage five 

Class discussion. Students tell all the reasons they have listed and they discuss with each other if they agree or disagree with it.(10 min)

As you can see, the students do all the job. I try not to interfere or comment. Sometimes, I only ask: Really? Do you really think so? Why? Why not? That's all.

Stage six - homework

  • They can continue the started topic by looking for some info in the press or youtube about the advantages of building such a wall (thanks Gari)
  • You can ask them to express their opinion in a form of a blog entry. They have to write max 100 words. 
  • As a follow up activity they can watch at home an add created in response to what is happening in the USA. Borders! Another topic worth discussing. What kind of borders are there and why? Should we have borders around us at all? Can they be avoided?

Hope you will like it. Comment - share - enjoy:)

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Image challenge - Explain your photo! - using photos that trigger emotions

Image challenge - week four

Explain your photo!

There are some photos that when we look at them, they remind us of a certain situation, some exciting or horrifying experience. Let's take World Trade Center attack, for example. No matter when it happened, you still have those pictures in mind. You know exactly what you were doing at this time and how you were feeling. If you happened to be at the scene, your feelings will probably be even more traumatic. It is the same with our students.

Most pictures that are included in our coursebooks although of great quality, big or small, aren't surprising or shocking. They are simply 'correct'. But that means that when looking at them there is not much happening in our students' brains. Just have a look at the typical photo of a family:

It's just an ordinary picture you can find in any coursebook. And what if there was presented a picture like that:

Can you see the difference? It has feelings. You can read it like a story. You want to comment it without being asked. And that is the power of this image. So next time you decide to use photos in the class remember they should be:

  • surprising
  • funny 
  • shocking 
  • complicated
  • intriguing
  • unusual 
In this way, we can expect certain reaction from our students, then new connections in their brains appear. Neuroscientists believe that this is how our brains function. Such photos simply boost our brain's work and thanks to that we remember information much longer. So why not to use this knowledge and apply in the classroom. But how?

Well, here is the next week of our IMAGE CHALLENGE and I would like to show you how it can be used in the class. To do it, I would like to present you a few websites which have plenty of unusual photos:


Of course, you must be selective as you may also find a lot of really inappropriate photos but I'm sure you can still find something useful for your students, too.

Those are two examples of photos that I found on website. When you look at the first one you will automatically notice that all the girls are pregnant. Now, I'm sure the real brain storming activity can start. Are they really pregnant? Or mabye it's a kind of campaign? If yes, what it is about? And maybe this photo could be used in a discussion about teenage pregnancy, as it is a common problem in some countries. There are plenty of ideas coming to your head, am I right? And what about picture two? How could your students explain the photo? What has happened? Why?

I just love the website as there are not only great photos but also short articles about them, For example, once I've seen a selection of photos with the Empire State Building and some images displayed on it. I thought about a chapter about nature&environment and how much students dislike taking about penguins covered in oil or deforestation. That is why, I thought it would be a great activity for a change. I asked them where they thought the photos were taken and what was displayed on them and why? We had a class discussion and then I gave them some information that I had found out about the project:

From the article I learned that it was actually organized by the Discovery Channel under the name "Projecting change". It was supposed to be a touching tribute to 160 endangered animals projected on Empire State Building.

Endangered species aren’t always in the forefront of public debate. Then I asked my students:
Do you think such actions make sense? What other issues could be shown/projected in a similar way? Where could they be displayed in our country? etc.

Let's not forget that there are also a lot of such photos simply on facebook. Some time ago I noticed a photo as it was said 'posted by some desperate mum' asking people on facebook for help. In fact, as it was later explained the photo was taken after the earthquake in some hotel. Anyway, the effect was astonishing - 16,000 reactions and 456 comments. Just have a look and give it to your students to rack their brains. The best solution wins. Perfect for a mental warm up:) How would you open the cupboard without breaking the dishes?

The main message of the post is : BE CHOOSY WHEN SELECTING PHOTOS! Using right photos can be a mental warm up for your students - something their brains need.

Hope you liked it. Comment - share - enjoy!!!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

EVAN - a stunning video with a powerful message


Over 7 mln people have watched it over the last 2 months. Most people have said that they were shocked or moved by the sursprising ending of the film. What is it about and how can we use it with our students?

The story

As the school year winds down, one student finds himself starting an unexpected relationship. He is completely bored so he starts scribbling sth on the desk in a library. Later, he notices that somebody writes back to him. He searches the faces of people passing him in the halls, hopeful he'll figure out who his lost connection is. And the whole time he's looking, he's missing some very important clues hidden right in front of his eyes. It looks like a love story at the beginning but it isn't. Now, if you haven't seen the video, stop reading now and watch it as you have to experience the same feeling as your students will. It can leave you speechless........

Now you know the ending. It was powerful, wasn't it? It had a message. And how did you feel? Didn't you want to watch it again to see how you could have missed so many facts? I did. So I watched it again and again and then I just had to play it to my students and discuss it with them. It's the problem that doesn't exist in such a scale in my country but that does not mean it should be avoided. Life is not a film and people - children! - do die every day. Our role as teachers is to make them aware and make them more sensitive to some issues.

So here is a lesson plan based on the film. Hope you will enjoy it.

Topic: relationship, gun permission, violence at school, campaigns and their messages, school love

Level: pre-intermediate +

Age: 13+

Activity aim:
  • to make students aware of the "invisible" problems at school 
  • class discussion about the right to carry gun +/-
  • to revise vocabulary connected with social problems: bullying, cyberbullying, depression, acceptance at school, peer pressure and many others depending on the age and type of the class and students
  • practice the language of speculation: What would you do if....?/Perhaps.../It may be....

Vocabulary to pre-teach: violate the law, bullying, social problems, gun permission, campaign, racism,  etc.

Time: 45-60 min

Film address:

Warm up - 5 min

Ask your students: Do you remember your first school love? How did you meet? Did the person know that you were in love or maybe you loved her/him secretly? Class discussion.

Tell them that they are going to watch a short story from one of American schools. Their task is to predict how the story is going to finish.

Stage one- 10 min

Play the film until 1 min 11 sec and then stop. Ask your students: What would you do? Would you try to find out who it was? How? Would you wait to the end of the summer holiday or try to figure it out in a different way? What way/s? Some students will say that they would break into a library or steal a key from a librarian or look for a different way of solving the problem. Class discussion. 

I don't want to spoil the ending so I still keep focusing on the main story. Most of them think that that's the message of the film - just another typical love story. 

Stage two - 2-3 min

Now, give them another set of questions connected with who it may be. Students work in pairs and discuss it. Useful language:  Perhaps it is.../I guess it's a .......because...../ It may be.....

Stage three - 15 min

Students watch the film to the end. Stop before the letters appear. Their reactions are different. They are stunned, surprised, they just can't believe it. Discuss their feelings and predictions. Ask your students: What was the message of the film?  Did they notice the boy with the gun earlier while watching the film? Could it have happened in their school? 

Tell them that it was a campaign. Now discuss what kind of campaign it might have been and then play the film to the end. Discuss if such campaigns are effective and make any sense or no. 

Stage four - 10 min

Class discussion. Divide your students into two groups: people for and against gun permission, (recommended with older students).

Give them 2-3 min to prepare arguments. Now the discussion starts. Observe the students and listen to them carefully. Write down any expressions that the students find difficult to use in their argumentation. List down the pros and cons and discuss with the whole class. 

Stage five - 10 min

Write on the board the words: SCHOOL PROBLEMS. Students write down any problems they face with at school: racial problems, peer pressure, drug abuse, gangs, bullying etc. Now, discuss with your students how these problems could be avoided.

If you have a really creative group you can ask them to make a short film with a different type of campaign referring to one of the problems discussed.

Hope you liked it. Share - comment - enjoy:)

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Image challenge - How to teach IDIOMS using picture?

Image challenge - Week three


to kill two birds with one stone

I'm so happy that more and more teachers join our IMAGE CHALLENGE. I'm still wating for more feedback from you. How do YOU use images in the classroom? What are YOUR methods?

This week, I want to present you a great way to teach idioms. We all want our students to sound more English and be able to use colloquial language. However, most exercises in the coursebook connected with idioms are usually gap filling or matching type. Students need more visual aspect of it. 

Colorful language and powerful imagery make idioms a lot of fun for all ESL learners. So how to teach them in a more creative way? Well, here is what I do.

Show your artistic talent

Teaching idioms can be engaging only if it's enjoyable for your students. I ususally tell them that there is a competition for the best picture of an idiom. Students must humorously illustrate the literal meaning. It makes students laugh but also helps them to understand or guess what a phrase mean. It's usually done at home. 

Imagine that you have FCE or CAE students, for example. They are usually 16-19 years old and we hardly ever do arts and crafts with them. It's simply not this age. But I try to encourage them to use their imagination rather than artistic talent to present idioms. 

You won't believe it but it works very effectively. Some ideas are even shocking. It's always up to them which idiom out of, let's say 10 covered during one lesson, they are going to prepare. Sometimes, it happens that 3 people in the group draw the same one but in a very different way. Sometimes they are very similar. For example, the idiom on the top: to kill two birds with one stone will probably be presented in a very similar way. But what about, let's say, to take sth with a pinch of salt? Below there is the picture of one of my students. In this small pocket there was real salt! It's not only vision that is stimulated but other senses, as well.

to take sth with a pinch of salt

to foot the bill

to smell a rat

Mime it - show it!

Next, I collect their drawings and show them one by one to guess what idiom it is and what it means. It's a kind of revision at the same time. Later, they draw lots and have to present it to the rest of the group without using the sound. There is so much laughter each time we do it:))

Role plays with idioms in context

It’s important to not only teach the meaning of idioms, but to also teach how to use them correctly and effectively. Now students work in pairs and draw a picture with an idiom and they are given 5 minutes to create a short dialogue with the use of the idiom in context. It's important to remind them that idioms are informal and are often used in everyday conversations.

Hang up in the class and teach others!

Finally, after the lesson I put some of them on the board in the class and every time advanced groups have idioms, other groups learn as well, as they are extremely curious what it shows and what it means. IMAGES attract attention. Even some of my 10 year olds learned advanced idioms this way.


What if you have not time at all and you want to find great photos of idioms? There are plenty of them in the Internet but I would like to recommend you a special one. There is one great website with unusual, original and outstanding photos. Just check yourself!!! Example below.

a storm in a tea cup

Website address:

And if you are bored with still images, you can use moving images and play a short film full of fantastic pictures and examples that your students will remember for sure. The example of vegetable idioms below:

Youtube :

Finally, the website which lists all idioms on one website together with their meanings:

Website address:

I hope you enjoyed it and you will find it useful in your classroom. Comment - share - enjoy:)