"A picture is worth a thousand words"...Yes, so how we get those words out? Picture Talks to the Rescue!
What is a picture talk and how do I use it to help my students with listening, speaking, reading, and writing?
You may be thinking that a Picture Talk is for primary students or for Beginner level ELLs. But that's not the case. Though picture talks do benefit primary students and Beginner ELLs, even intermediate and Advanced ELLs gain valuable insights from Picture Talks across all content areas.
Step 1: In a typical Picture Talk, the teacher begins by selecting a picture relevant to the unit of current study. If you teach science you might select a picture about the water cycle, life cycle of a butterfly, the Grand Canyon, etc. A social studies teacher might choose a picture from history such as The Boston Tea Party, Amelia Earhart next to her plane, the Constitution, or a map, graph, chart or timeline, etc. A language arts teacher may present a picture that exemplifies character traits or feelings, a picture that relates to a theme that is being showcased, etc. Even math teachers can use Picture Talks by selecting pictures such as pictures with shapes, graphs, clocks, money, etc.
Step 2: Share the image with students either in whole group or in a small group setting. (Day 1)
Step 3: Title the picture and label it together. (Day 1)
Step 4: Give students time to discuss the picture in cooperative groups and then orally compose sentences. Provide students with sentence stems, starters or language frames to support complete sentences. This step allows students to access their own background knowledge as well as tap into one another's knowledge. It builds on prior knowledge by supporting what they already know about a particular topic. For example, if you give students a picture of a tee-pee, and students share in their groups, some might say they see a house, while others would say it's a home or dwelling.. (Day 2)
Step 5: Next, record the oral sentences either on a chart or below the picture. This can be done whole group or in a small group setting. Students should read the sentences chorally with your after you write them. This reading practice supports language development. Not everyone will need the support of the teacher's example sentences. The students who can independently write their own sentences using the labels can work on their own while the teacher pulls a small group to model using the label to compose sentences. Consider asking the group the 5 Ws-Who, When, Where Why, What to help vary the sentences and create a strong understanding of the visual. (Day 3)
Step 6: Give students the opportunity to use the labels to write their own sentences. Provide students scaffolds as needed. Some will need sentence frames or starters. Beginner ELLs may need to copy your sentences. To push students who are at the Advanced level up a notch, give them the stem: Additionally, Furthermore, For Example. Teach them to use those stems in their writing. (Day 3)
There are many ways to vary Picture Talks to meet your own classroom and students' needs. There is no right or wrong way to do them as long as you are using pictures to develop language: listening, speaking, reading and writing. Picture Talks don't have to take long. They are not 45 minute lessons. And they are not solely for language arts classrooms. Pictures of historical events, cycles (water, life, etc.), geography, scientific experiments, math problems lend themselves beautifully to Picture Talk activities. Pictures are engaging, thought provoking, and help to make content comprehensible for students. The steps above are just suggestions. Make this model fit your students' specific needs. Try out a Picture Talk and see where it takes you. This language rich learning strategy requires students to listen, speak, read and write in the content area of instruction. That's why I love it!
Below are examples of a primary Picture Talk. The unit was on predators and prey. The teacher used the owl picture first to discuss one type of predator. After the Picture Talk cycle, the teacher modeled how to use the picture to support writing. Some students were able to write about a different predator or prey while Beginners and struggling learners wrote about the owl.
Ferlazzo, L., & Sypnieski, K. H. (2012). The ESL/ELL teacher's survival guide. ready-to-use strategies, tools, and activities for teaching English language learners of all levels. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.