Most ESL students have difficulties being creative and imaginative in regard to creating sentences and expressing their thoughts and ideas. Most of the time, ESL students tend to stick to simple sentences that can easily be understood and created. This is alright, but it doesn’t really add new vocabulary words, and this will hinder the flow of students’ creative juices as they get used to this practice.


Something that I have learned from my teaching experience is that you have to push students to answer specific questions. “Push” may be a harsh word, but this can be done in several milder ways–more of like a nudge. When asking questions, smile, be friendly and try to sound cool. The students will appreciate it and they won’t feel so pressured, and at the same time, it encourages them to be more vivacious and enthusiastic in answering you.


A technique that I’ve done numerous times is having ESL students do a captioning and describing-a-picture activity. It may be simple, but it truly works. Most ESL teachers use this technique to encourage students to expand their abilities in terms of constructing well-structured sentences and adding flavor by injecting new vocabulary words. In my opinion, this exercise has proved very effective as a teaching resource for oral and written communication.


Describing and Captioning a Picture Procedure:


1. Provide a picture, preferably, an action shot, that has many things going in it. The picture above is an example, but you can always provide one that’s more action-packed.


2. Then ask the student to describe the picture. Say things like: “Student A, can you describe what you see in this picture, and create sentences out of it? Please add the new vocabulary words that we have learned at the last class.” You can pretty much use this activity as an extension of the student’s previous lesson.


3. The student will describe what he/she sees, create sentences and inject some new words. Write down the sentences that the student has created.


4. Ask the student to create 10-20 sentences, depending on his/her English level.  Attention ESL students: Be as creative and imaginative as you can. For instance, create sentences about the color of the swing, the trees in the background, the intricate design of the swing, the color of the sky, etc. Use the whole picture; you don’t have to focus only on what’s on the middle of the picture.


5. If you use Skype or other platforms, open up a new Microsoft Word document and type the sentences there. That way, the student will be able to see and review the sentences he/she has created.


6. When the student is done, ask the students to read the sentences aloud. Ask the student if he/she thinks that the sentences are okay. Usually, the students hesitate and then they start correcting the sentences on their own! Reflect the changes, using track changes on the review tab, so the student can review them later. If you notice any mistakes, mention it to the student and explain why it’s wrong. This will help the student understand how to write the word or sentence correctly next time.


7. After the class, send the corrected activity sheet to the student so he/she will have a copy. Also, use this as a reference for the next class. Say: “Student A, did you get a chance to review the corrected activity sheet from the last lesson?”


8. Alternatively, ask the students to correct their sentences as an assignment or homework. Then, for the next class, you and the student can review the assignment/homework together.


This activity is as easy as 1, 2, 3, but it’s an effective and efficient way of inspiring ESL students to stretch their imaginations and expand their English skills through pictures.