Students Picking Pics (by Randy Poehlman)

When students are able to choose which images best represent the content of the lessons, they are instantly more engaged and they become far more active. Students can tailor the themes to their particular interests, or the general interests of their classmates, far better than a teacher can select relevant photography and illustrations. This bottom up learning style is particularly useful in encouraging visual students and passive students. It has the further benefit of allowing them ownership of opinions and sparks creativity.

dog in a cup

This approach also benefits the teacher in several ways from my experience. The teacher is able to quickly learn about the concepts presented from the students’ perspective as they are the ones doing the selecting. The teacher is also able to bypass the learning materials they believe to be inadequate or out-dated. The number of relevant discussions and questions that come from this activity are numerous. Students learn concepts in less time and study more. Think about this logically from a student’s perspective. Are you more likely to study flashcards and workbooks that were created for you, by professional educators that you have never interacted with? Or, are you more likely to study lesson materials that you created with your classmates and with your teacher based on the framework of those same professional materials?

Practical advice

  • Open image search results with the computer facing away from the students so you can scan image results for inappropriate pictures before the students see the search results.
  • Be conscious of time and allow the students to make reasonable selections in a timely fashion. If their search goes on too long, they will ruin the team dynamic and disengage other students.

Luffy is next to Chopper

Students have a stronger attachment to the materials and the concepts that they have assisted in creating. When their parents ask them, “What did you  in English class today?” they can smile and tell them that they found a picture of a dog in a cup, and perhaps even show them the picture/slide/ worksheet or flashcard they designed and made for the class. Review is also less time consuming and more productive if students can instantly identify with aspects of the lesson that they helped design. Of course, as a teacher you will be required to set achievable goals for the lesson and guide the students through this creative process, so that you can properly harness their creative insight and energy.

I like Usavich

Additional ideas for this type of image selection and content creation teaching style:

  • If you have access to a digital camera, you can use students to pose for pictures and even allow other students to try their hand at photography. Then you can incorporate the photos of the posed students to illustrate concepts.
  • You can use a stronger class to design materials for a weaker class. This will allow the stronger class to gain confidence in their skills while assisting the weaker class in their development with age and interest appropriate materials.

Note: I am currently using a tablet computer with a built in camera for this type of lesson. I am using common presentation software. I am teaching small groups between the ages of 6-13. A standard laptop or a desktop would suffice and the concepts could be adapted for larger groups with a projector.


Randy PoehlmanI have been teaching ESL for three years in Japan. I am currently working in Osaka, both developing and teaching extensive children’s programs. I am most interested in Bilingual studies, Immersion programs and Literacy development in young learners.

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7 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    Thanks, Randy!

    I’m generally afraid to allow my students to select images from a search, mostly because they can take a LOT of time to find just the perfect picture. But, you’ve encouraged me to give it another try.

    Do you also teach your students about copyright? Or do you just limit the searches to copyright-free or creative commons sites? I know that’s also something I have to work on with my kids, so they don’t think they can just take something from google 🙂

    I love the idea of students owning the language like this!

  2. Hi Barbara,

    One alternative to Google Images is Pics4Learning; it’s especially great for young learners.

  3. Randy Poehlman says:


    From my non-extensive research and discussions on copyright law, I am of the understanding that using pictures from anywhere on the web is alright as long as it is done in a non-commercial, educational way. (Fair-Use) Seeing as I am not intending to profit in anyway from the use of the images, selected by students, I allow them to freely choose anything found on Google.

  4. kylie says:

    Great idea! I like to have my students make slideshows or use to do this sort of thing, but next year I will be working with young learners, and this type of activity seems a little more appropriate for their age group.

    Thanks for sharing!

  1. May 23, 2011

    […] Teaching Village’s Students Picking Pics: This is a great idea for giving the students a bit more motivation and ownership in the lesson. […]