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

10 Seconds to Learn a Modern Language Vocabulary Word

Vocabulary is critical to language learning.  Some teachers believe that the students have to repeat and repeat the modern language word and the English word  many, many, many  times before the student will learn the word.  However,  according to Brian Nielsen (  “mnemonic and non-mnemonic elaboration techniques involving deep semantic processing of target words have been shown to be more effective than memorization strategies involving only shallow processing, such as oral rote-repetition” Furthermore, he  states “There are two versions of the Keyword Method, one based on the construction of visual images and the other based on the construction of sentences. Evidence exists that the visual imagery version is superior to the sentence construction version in facilitating recall of words…“Consider, for example, the Spanish word carta meaning (postal) letter. Using the keyword cart, a learner might generate either an image of a shopping cart transporting a letter, or a sentence such as The cart carries the letter.”

In my class, I go over visualization techniques (the weirder and sexier the better according to Memory Experts such as Harry Lorayne).   When we learn a new word, the students have ten seconds to connect that modern language word to the English word meaning.  Once they have an image or use it an oral sentence, they review it to see if the image is hooked in.  I use the image of velcro; the image or sentence has to attach the modern language word to the English meaning. We review their connection over  the next few days;  if they cannot remember the word, then they need a better mental connection.

How do your students learn modern language words?

    My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (20+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at