Possible Self Photo Albums

Mitchell Fryer, Tokai Gakuen

Quick guide

  • Keywords: Possible self, ideal self, describing pictures, feelings
  • Learner English level: Beginner to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school to university
  • Preparation time: 5 minutes over two class periods
  • Activity time: 40-70 minutes
  • Materials: Possible Self Photo Album activity sheet (Appendices), pictures from magazines or Internet, colored pencils

Describing pictures in detail via the target language is an effective way of engaging second language (L2) learners in communicative language use. Lessons incorporating description are beneficial because learners are encouraged to create texts in their L2 that show understanding of context. In Japan, this also prepares learners for the Eiken and TOEIC tests, where they are required to understand and interact with descriptions of pictures. Encouraging students to identify with a possible self-image and describe related pictures can also motivate them. Motivation is a significant individual learner variable in second language acquisition and plays a key role in sustaining long-term L2 learning. Thanks to new L2 motivation research and the integration of L2 motivational theories and psychology, imagery and the notion of self play an increasing role in EFL classrooms. Helping students identify with a future L2 possible self can encourage learners to link their self notions to their actions via their ideas of what they might like to become and what they are afraid of becoming (Markus & Nurius, 1986) to create their ideal L2 self (Dörnyei, 2005). Encouraging students to create and describe an ideal L2 self can promote communicative use of the target language in addition to providing an opportunity for them to identify with their possible selves, thereby facilitating L2 motivation. The following activity is similar to Hadfield and Dörnyei’s (2013), Future photo album; however, it focuses on describing four specific pictures and the associated feelings.


Step 1: The week before the main lesson, spend 5 minutes outlining the concept of possible selves. Ask students to think about themselves in the future using English and then bring in pictures, magazine cut-outs, or print-outs to class.

Step 2: Print the lesson handouts (Appendix A) before the main lesson.


Step 1: Encourage students to think about Picture 1, their image of their future self. Have them draw a picture or use magazine cut-outs to create one. 

Step 2: Instruct students to describe Picture 1. They should consider what they look like, reflect on their English learning, and cover other points they think are important.

Step 3: Encourage students to write down feelings associated with Picture 1 and related image. Possible self-images become stronger motivational tools when more than one sense is linked to the image.

Step 4: Have students consider the differences between themselves now and in the picture. Students should then outline a strategy to help them achieve their ideal self.

Step 5: Have students reflect and create Picture 2 featuring additional details (location, companions, and so forth). 

Step 6: Repeat step three.

Step 7: Encourage students to think about and then draw or create Picture 3, their feared or unwanted self. Explain to students that this is who they do not want to become.

Step 8: Repeat step three. Ask students about how the image makes them feel and how they would feel should they become the image.

Step 9: Encourage students to think about then draw or create Picture 4 (a situation where they use English successfully).

Step 10: Repeat step three. Ask how this image makes them feel and how they would feel using English successfully in the future.


This activity can be adapted for lower-level students by providing examples and encouraging peer scaffolding. Students can present in small groups or to the class upon completion of each picture or when the activity is finished. Future lessons or presentations with a focus on achievement and changes can be implemented to realize the full motivational potential of this activity.


Dörnyei, Z. (2005). The psychology of the language learner: Individual differences in second language acquisition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 

Hadfield, J., & Dörnyei, Z. (2013). Motivating learning. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954-969.


The appendices are available below.