My photo: You see it, but can you say it?

Ben Humphreys, Deakin University


Quick guide

  • Key words: Vocabulary building, nouns, pronunciation, spelling, realia, warm up
  • Learner English level: Beginner to intermediate
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school to adult
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 10-20 minutes
  • Materials: Students’ photographs, red marker, whiteboard & marker, pen, paper, and stopwatch


The language classroom is an inherently face threatening environment, and learners need to speak with an extremely limited vocabulary, resulting in mistakes and communicative content well below their intellectual capability (Dornyei, 2001).

Japanese students learning English use their native language exclusively outside the classroom, and often find it difficult to suddenly switch into English mode. This warm up activity is aimed at easing students into thinking and speaking in English at the beginning of class.

The objective is for students to identify English objects (nouns) in their photographs. This is an enjoyable and non-anxiety producing activity, promoting co-operation rather than competition.Classroom activities that emphasize co-operation help to foster positive attitudes regarding learning, higher self esteem and self confidence (Dornyei, 2001).



Step 1: Ask students to bring in photos of themselves and friends, at home, school or anywhere else having fun, prior to the day of the activity. Photos that contain a variety of objects and people in the foreground and background are best. If you don’t have students’ photos, images sourced from the internet are fine. 

Step 2:  Review some of the photos beforehand and circle nouns to give students a target to aim for.

Step 3: Teachers may wish to bring in their own photos as well, to share their lives and interests with students.

Step 4: Before class, select some of the students’ photos and copy and enlarge them to A4 size. This activity involves groups of four students. For example, if there are 28 students in the class, you will need seven A4 copies of one photo. This game is played in rounds.  To play three rounds you will need three different photos, and copies for each group.



Step 1: Prior to commencing the activity, give each group a red marker. Instruct the group to nominate amongst themselves one student to: 

circle objects identified in the photo with red marker (finder)

 write a list of the objects identified (scribe)

 report the results to the class (reporter)

Students should take turns as finder, scribe and reporter in subsequent rounds. 

Step 2:  Distribute the same photo to each group of four students.

Step 3:  Instruct students that they have two minutes to write down as many nouns as they can identify in English. The group with the largest number of correctly identified nouns will get the highest score. Check that the word “noun” is understood, i.e., a person, place, animal, thing, or quality.

Step 4:  Start the timer. Using a stopwatch, give the students two minutes to complete the activity.  The energy level should be high, with students calling out nouns in English and Japanese. 

Step 5: After two minutes, call “Time!”, and make sure all groups stop writing. Ask each group’s reporter to read out their lists. Each correctly identified English noun is worth one point.

Step 6: Keep a tally of each group’s totals on the whiteboard.

Step 7: The group with the largest number of nouns correctly named wins.

Step 8: In the next round, repeat the activity with a new photo.  To give all teams an equal chance of success and maintain interest, use a photo from the team which had the lowest score in the previous round.



Spelling. Instead of students reading their lists, ask them to write their lists on the whiteboard.  A point will only be awarded for correctly spelt words.

Pronunciation. Students receive one bonus point for each word that is pronounced satisfactorily.  For example, kam-ruh rather than ka-me-ra. 



This is an entertaining and simple warm up activity. It stimulates students’ thinking and speaking in English, and assists them to learn and reinforce vocabulary. Students like talking about themselves, and teachers can learn more about their students, which is useful for future lesson planning. The variations also provide an opportunity to manipulate the objective, such as practicing spelling and pronunciation.



Dornyei, Z. (2001). Motivation strategies in the language classroom. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.