Taking the Pics out of Coursebooks

The poor old coursebook. For such a long time it was the centre of my teaching world, but nowadays it has lost its prominence. Whereas it was once the glue that held my lessons together, it is now neglected and only used occasionally and begrudgingly.

But it does have to be used once in a while. Much like a couple trapped in a relationship that has long since lost its spark, we still have to make the odd appearance together. They say it’s for the sake of the kids even though they would probably be better off in the long run if we made a clean break and I carried on alone.

In such cases, cynicism and ridicule often come to the fore. However, this does not necessarily have to be detrimental to learning. I have found poking a little fun at the material we have to use, especially the pictures, can actually bring out a high level of creativity in my students.

Let me give you an example with the following picture:


Nothing too special here you might think - a standard picture of people in a hospital with various ailments. We could elicit vocab, speculate about the illnesses and injuries, listen to the accompanying recording and match names to the people.

OR we could speculate that the boy with the green face might be an alien and that plant next to him is actually a rather outlandish hat. We could also say that his mother is not particularly caring as she quietly reads her book and ignores her distressed half-alien son.

What about the girl in the tennis outfit who is crying? Did she fall and bump her knee? Or did she go into a fit of rage having lost the match during which she broke her mixed-doubles partner’s arm and is now in tears fearing the consequences?

What about the slightly dizzy girl who needs a nurse to help her put a lollipop in her mouth the right way round? Or the other nurse who is chatting on Skype instead of doing her job?

With some gentle encouragement from me, I have found that my students can really get their imaginations going and come out with some very interesting language. They are then keen to go on to the listening activity to see just how far off the mark their guesses were (in this case, we were not far wrong with one as it turned out the alien/boy with stomach ache had in fact been made ill by the cooking of his neglectful mother!)

And then they start taking the pics all by themselves as happened when this image came up:

Flyers Beach scene

Without any prompting from me, I had kids deciding the man with the beard sprawled on the sand was not in fact playing volleyball but was instead a castaway who had just collapsed on the shore after a marathon swim from his desert island. The small girl just behind the boy playing volleyball was not his team mate but rather she was helping the other girl by sneaking up to push him. The other interpretation they had was that the woman with the bandaged hand had been bitten by the dog the day before and was therefore throwing a stick at the mutt in an act of revenge! All stuff the students came up with using language and vocabulary far exceeding the targets of the book itself.

Some may say we’re not taking it seriously but I just say we’re taking the pics…. Smile with tongue out and getting creative at the same time. Smile

In one of my classes tomorrow, we are likely to come onto this picture:

Clean up

What do you think? How can we have fun with this one? What weird and wonderful interpretations might they come up with this time?


  1. Hi Dave,
    I've started to follow your blog since February.But this is the first time I wrote a comment.Your blog inspires me.
    It's really enjoyable to comment pictures in a weird way.I'm a visual learner and I like talking and writing about pictures.
    I think this picture has been taken in a sit-com set like "How I met your mother".The people who are cleaning the dormitory room are from the technical crew.They've just finished shooting the party night in the dorm and going prepare the studio for another episode/scene.This is my interpretation:)I wonder for the children's comments.They would be more creative.

    1. Hi! Thanks for the kind words. Such comments mean a lot to us edubloggers. :)

      I like your interpretation of the picture - very different to what I would have thought of! That's the beauty of 'making fun' like this - evryone can have a different idea. :)

    2. Sorry,I forgot to mention my name.By the way,I'm Dilek Gokce,a teacher of English who lives and works in Ankara,too.You didn't write about your students' interpretations.What did they talk about the pictures?

    3. Hi Dilek,

      Here were the best two write-ups (submitted as online homework via our class page on the school website):

      They got a hangover last night! They invited their friends to their room. When their friends arrived, they called the "Domino's Pizza". They started the party and they drank "Jack Daniel's". They had a jug on and they fell asleep. Having alchol is forbidden! While they were sleeping, the bell rang. Their "Bol Malzemos" (from the menu of Domino's Pizza) came. The man found out that the door was open. He entered the room and put the pizza on the table. He found one of the teen's wallets and took the prizc of the pizza.

      In the morning, when they got-up, the time was 10.15. Their teacher would come to their room at 10.30. They were very hungry and stressed. They found the pizza and they ate it for breakfast. When they're eating, one of their hands hit the pizza and it fell down. The room became dirtier. They are all afraid of their teacher. The teacher was very strict and so they starting cleaning room immedietly!

      And this one:

      I think they are moving from the room because they are universty studens and they will graduate in a week. But there is another reason too - their school manager forced them to clean the room and she said that:'if you don't clean the room I will do everything that I can to stop you graduating.' So the boy with blond hair is collecting the cans and the others are cleaning the other dirty things. And as you can see everyone is happy but only the girl is a little sad. I think she had lots of good experiences in the room and she don't want to leave. But I thinkiın spite of everything the school manager will let them to graduate.

    4. Thanks for these interesting interpretations,as I said before they are more creative:)
      The common point in the stories is the teachers/authorities are both strict and control/force them to do things and students afraid of them.This my interpretation from their writings.What do you think,is it a true observation?

    5. That's one way of looking at it. :)

      Another way is that the students only worry about following the rules when there is the threat of being checked up on or a deadline looming - all a matter of perspective. ;)

  2. Frigging fabulous, Dave! So funny! It ain't the song, it's how you sing it ;) Well done!

    1. Thanks Chiew! :)

      I do like to inject a bit of humour into otherwise 'stale' materials.

  3. I love this! Humor and creativity in the classroom, what a concept!

    1. But it should be something present in the classroom at all times. Humour + creativity = memorable learning experiences.

  4. Hi Dave,
    Great post! Laughed a lot while reading it. I truly believe in the power of images and the fact that sometimes, when using course books or other pre-fabricated materials, we forget their power and sometimes teachers end up entangled with the target language or vocabulary presented under each pic.
    Implementing creative thinking is not easy, but definitely worth giving it a try. This is the topic of the proposals I sent to the Braz Tesol and ABCI Conferences in July in Brazil. Will let you know how they go. =]
    -Eduardo @eltbakery

    1. Hi Eduardo,

      Best of luck with your proposals. As you say, implementation is not easy but little things like this are a good start.

  5. Hi Dave - love the gentle subversion inherent in this idea.

    The last photo you post above is quite obviously a gang of well-groomed delinquents ransacking somebody's room, stealing what they can and scattering rubbish on the carpet. One of them's even smearing excrement on the windows.

    Young people nowadays....

    1. Nothing like a bit of subersive fun at the expense of 'the system'. :)

      I like your idea of the room being ransacked - what makes it especially cruel is the girl stealing the vacuum cleaner to make life difficult for the poor sop who has to clean up. ;)

  6. Hi Dave. I was checking out your blog when I saw the picture of the waiting room. I'm one of the authors of the book, so I'm delighted that the pictures have inspired you and then your students to be creative! I'm also a very visual learner, so I definitely approve! Your blog looks great by the way - I'll be back!


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