Storytelling Through Photos

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Jeff Wastila, Musashi University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Storytelling, collaborative learning, active learning, smartphones
  • Learner English Level: High beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: University
  • Preparation time: Under 5 minutes
  • Activity time: 80 minutes
  • Materials: Smartphone

Do you feel that you need a fresh, fun, and dynamic lesson in order to extinguish the monotony of the usual teacher-led, textbook-laden lesson? Are you seeking a lively, fun, and engaging student-centred class where the students literally break free of the classroom (if only for 10-15 minutes)? If you answered yes, then this storytelling lesson will surely deliver. 

This storytelling activity combines the technology of the smartphone (camera) with traditional EFL storytelling techniques. In this class, students work in pairs in order to make a story from the photos they take during the ‘preparation’ phase of the lesson. The lesson is broken down into three parts: 

  1. Preparation phase (leaving the classroom to take several on-campus photos). 
  2. Writing phase (writing, collaboratively, a story based on those photos). 
  3. Presentation phase (telling their story in a speed dating, or rotating format). 


Explain to the students that there will be three parts to the lesson (as described above): Firstly, they will be instructed to take about ten photos on campus; Secondly, they will be instructed to write a story based upon those ten photos; and, finally, they will be asked to present the story (alongside the photos) to their classmates. 


Step 1: Write the words: Setting, Characters, Story on the board. 

Step 2: Brainstorm words or phrases that match each of the above. For example, have the students call out different characters they know: Marty McFly, Policeman, Bad Guy, etc. Then, do the same for Settings (campus, 1970; outer space, 2050, etc.) and Story (mystery, romance, comedy, etc.).

Step 3: Draw three simple pictures on the board and prompt the students to brainstorm a quick story as a class. For example, draw a child, a rocket ship, and the moon. Hopefully, these pictures will elicit a simple story which can be written under the pictures to give them a model to follow. Explain to the students that they are encouraged to leave the classroom for 10-15 minutes (they are always more than thrilled at this moment, even skeptical) to take photos on campus. Although photos of campus locations only are perfectly acceptable, remind the students that creative photos where the students perform acts in the photos (such as planned actions, expressions, etc.) are also encouraged. However, stress that the story should be written after they have taken the photos. 

Step 4: When the students have returned to the classroom, instruct them to use the photos they have taken as prompts and to write a story based on the photos (of course, all planning must be in English). At this time, help each group with any problems they may be experiencing. 

Step 5: Emphasize that each of the photos must ‘match’ the written dialogue. This means that the photo must complement the written dialogue with the goal of communicating the story (e.g., a photo of a hand on a doorknob should ‘match’ the written dialogue, e.g., ‘Yuki hesitantly opens the door to the …’). 

Step 6: When all of the students have finished writing their stories, divide the class teams into Team A and Team B. Then, using the ‘speed dating’ technique have each team present their photo stories to their partners. Then, rotate until the teams have told their photo stories as many times as possible. 


The students genuinely have a lot of fun with this lesson. Not only do they get to ‘escape the classroom,’ they also get a lot of English production time.