World Language Role Playing With a Photo

Steven Smith describes the role playing oral testing which is one of the three parts of the oral testing for the GCSE (General Certification of Secondary Education) in the UK. He describes the activity in which a student asks questions and answers questions.The questions are based on common topics/themes. The same situation can be used at all levels of the language but the language sophistication increases. This type of testing eliminates pre-learned conversations/ presentations.

Steve writes the following:
Instructions to candidates 
Your teacher will play the part of your French friend and will speak first.
You should address your friend as tu.
When you see this – ! – you will have to respond to something you have not prepared.
When you see this – ? – you will have to ask a question.

Tu parles de ton collège avec ton ami(e) français(e). 
• Ton collège – description (deux détails).
• ! Sciences –ton opinion et une raison.
• Projet – septembre (un détail).
• ? Matière favorite.

I have done a variation on this activities for many years. Each group of two students sees a photo (projected via PowerPoint) that they have never seen. They role play the situation such as a party, a family at a restaurant, two friends at a sports event,or students in class. One student picks a person in the picture and his/her partner picks another person in the picture. Each student has to ask and answer questions or react about the situation or problem; the goal is a total of ten (different questions + answers/reactions) for each student in three minutes; students need to have a fairly equal number of questions and answers/ reactions. To be counted each answer has to be comprehensible and appropriate.

Since I do this activity in pairs during class time, all my students speak at the same time. They record the number of questions and statements by writing a question mark (?) for each question asked and writing a slash (/ ) for each said response or reaction. They try to improve their score each speaking time.

During the actual testing, I listen to a pair of students. I find that when students talk to each other, their speaking is more natural, they ask critical questions, and they give authentic responses. They usually pick a topic and talk in depth about it. Sometimes they do one topic and go to a related one such as this restaurant food to food at a birthday party).  contains many communication activities for beginning to  advanced students; the activities have high structure to help students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.
90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities contains many speaking activities
for beginning students. Students enjoy using their mobile devices as a basis for

Photos Provide Context in Modern Language Speaking

When native speakers have a conversation, they use context. They talk about what they see and experience or have seen or experienced.  Visuals supply our students with a context to improve their speaking. Visuals such as photographs provide a scaffolded structured technique to talk about common topics.

One way for teachers to obtain photos is to search Flickr ( in the target language with the topic and the country such as the  ”casa venezuela”.

When teachers do a house unit, teachers can have their students talk about the rooms in a  house that they see projected on the screen or that they have taken on their cell phones.  The vague “Talk about a kitchen” does not have any meaningful context to the students but “How does this (projected) kitchen compare to your kitchen?” has a very meaningful and concrete context.  Students can use all the visual clues to help them talk more. Students can see what is in the projected kitchen, go through the kitchen item by item, and say many comparisons.

Photos allow students to get engaged in a situation.  As students exam the people, their activities, the objects, and the location in a photo, they explain what is happening. The teachers ask their students to explain,  in detail, to their partners in the modern language,  “Will you stay at the party or leave?  Why?” as they look at a party photo from the target language area. Students can give many reasons in the modern language to support their opinion.

Projected images from sources like Flickr have the additional advantage of being culturally authentic. For example, as students do the house speaking, they are looking at an actual  house in the target language country.

How do you put your students into meaningful contexts for speaking through photos?

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at

I have developed 27 Spanish activities  and 4 Modern Language Visual activities for students to begin to express themselves in the modern language and to move toward spontaneous speaking Teacherspayteachers:

My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at