Published 30th October 2017

Digital natives or screenagers – call them what you will, you may find yourself teaching them. The younger generation of students are undoubtedly more technologically-savvy than most of us teachers and this must surely mean that they learn differently to how we did. In fact, this generation are known as the visual generation as they rely on pictures for thinking and learning.

When you think about it, our students constantly have their phones and laptops near them. Their phones are used not only as tools for communication but as vehicles for social media. What is the biggest aspect of social media? Photographs, memes, emoticons. In other words: images.

So let’s harness this knowledge and utilise images in the classroom. Not in the traditional way that pictures were used to make coursebooks look better, but in a more engaging, more effective, learning-centred way.

We’ve looked at ways to use smartphones in the classroom before, but let’s now look at a few ideas for activities which specifically involve images.

Close up

For homework, ask your students to take a close-up photo of something – so close that it’s difficult to identify what it is. In class, students must show each other their photos and try to guess what the picture is. This is a great activity to practise using modals of speculation.

A Picture Story

Divide students into small groups. Each member of the group must find a picture; assign a picture category to each student. For example, one student must find a picture of an animal, another a person, another a place, and so on. Once each student has chosen a picture, they must show each other their pictures and come up with a story connecting all the pictures. This works well for practising narrative tenses or linking phrases.

Holiday Itinerary

Tell the students they are going on holiday and they need to plan their trip. As a class decide on a length of time for the holiday and a budget. In groups they must choose a city destination and then do their research for their holiday – accommodation, tourist activities, local food, for example. They must find pictures of each of these and present their itinerary to the class. The class will vote on who has the best trip. Besides practising vocabulary of travelling and holidays, this activity can be extended to practise comparatives and superlatives.


Pinterest can be used for a range of activities. It’s a great source of images on any topic. For example, if you are discussing food in a lesson you can ask your students to search for food on Pinterest and use the images as a basis for a discussion. Or you can get your students to search for films and use the images to discuss film genres and preferences. With Pinterest, the possibilities really are endless.

There is no doubt that the younger generations learn differently to us and so this means they respond better to different teaching methods. Using images is one small way we can try to connect with them and teach them in a way they understand.

Adapted from: Wasilewska, M. (2017) The Power of Image Nation: How to Teach a Visual Generation. In Kieran Donaghy and Daniel Xerri (eds). ELT Council: Malta.