Images à la Dogme (by Chiew Pang)

I must admit that when Barb invited me to submit a guest post, I felt I wasn’t worthy of such an invite. Later, I thought… if she’d felt that I had something to contribute, well, then I couldn’t very well let her down, could I? Besides, one has to step out of one’s comfort zone every once in a while!

Barb thought perhaps I could write something on CLIL, but not having been involved with it for the past year, I felt somewhat detached from it. Deciding what to write for one’s own blog is hard enough, but deciding on something for someone else’s blog is even worse.

However, I’ve been doing quite a few interesting lessons based on images, à la Dogme, if I may be allowed to say so. In fact, if you’re doubting your capability of giving a lesson in the Dogme fashion, using images is a fantastic way of getting your engines revving. I’ve written several articles, giving tips on how teachers can use images as a starting point for a lesson (or two) on speaking. If you haven’t read them, I’d suggest you do that first:

Source of images

The best source is, undoubtedly, from the students themselves. As Scott Thornbury says in ‘Teaching Unplugged’, resources should be “whatever happens to be in the classroom”. Ask the students what images they have, be they pictures on their mobile phones, photos they’d pasted on their notebooks, doodles; in a nutshell, anything goes.
Sir Ken Robinson says “Creativity now is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” Ask your students to snap photos of their own. No rules. They can edit them, do a collage, go wherever their creative minds lead them.

For those still in the dark, we have our very own teachers’ images over at Flickr. Feel free to use them, and to contribute your own!For the purpose of analysing an image lesson, I’ll use a simple photo of mine, taken while waiting at a bus stop after a lesson at a student’s house.

Barred window, image by acLiLtocLiMB

Images are often used in the classroom, of that I have no doubt. What I find, however, is that, most of the time, only a fraction of their potential is taken advantage of. More detail on how to use this image can be seen here.

I start this with ‘Tell me what you see’. No doubt they will say it’s a door, or a window, which leads me to ask them if they’re sure, which, in turn, almost certainly, will cause them to change their minds! Whatever their choice, they will be asked to justify.

As you can see, a good few minutes will be spent talking about not only what they see, but on analysing what they see, especially the tiny details. Think question words. What is it? Where is it? Why is it barred? When did it happen? How? Who is the owner? What else can you see? The important thing is that the discussion doesn’t stop here. Tell students to imagine they have satellite eyes.

We zoom in – what do we see in this room? Think the five senses. The teacher’s role here is much like a presenter in a chat show. Minimum interruption. Ensure everyone speaks, one at a time. Prompt with questions to encourage imagination. Zoom in and out as you see fit. There may be a limit to how far you can zoom in (even so, there’s so much that can be visualised and verbalised – the room itself, the objects, the people, the neighbours…), but the universe is the limit when you zoom out! What’s outside? Tracks? Roads? People? Shops? What country? Endless questions, endless answers.

What is also important is to note down emergent language, including vocabulary. Go through the language from time to time, if necessary, or do it at the end or in the next lesson.

In a largish class, working in groups is advisable. A writing task to be done at home is equally recommended. Ask them to invent a story based around the image.

Emergent language

The beauty of using images is that they can be used for any level. I’ve used this particular image with different students at all kinds of levels. And they almost always surprise me with their imagination and their reasoning!


  • the outside – bars, rust, shutters; the inside: shelves, crates, overturned, spill, pungent, damp, etc.
  • words related to symmetry – one student deduced that the image is that of a door because of the metal bars, that they’re not symmetrical, suggesting that they continue further downwards!
  • countries & nationalities – where was the picture taken? Some suggested the Caribbean because of the colour of the paint. Cuba was mentioned, so were Venezuela, Jamaica, Africa…
  • farm and animals – someone suggested it could be part of a farm! This scaffolded onto animals, tools, farmers, and so on.
  • urban life – violence, drugs, pollution, poverty…

Analysis and deduction

Always ask students to justify their analyses:

  • I think it’s in Cuba because the houses are brightly painted.
  • Since the bars aren’t symmetrical, I’d say it’s a door.
  • There are likely to be other doors as this one is permanently barred.
  • It could be in a poor district with problems of crime and violence.
  • I doubt if anyone is living in here…

Good practice for these:
  • If there is someone living in there, the bars won’t be so rusty.
  • If this was the only door, they would have to cut the bars to be able to get in.
  • If the owner hadn’t got into drugs, this situation wouldn’t have happened.
These, then, are some examples of the language that are likely to arise, but like I said before, each time I use this image, I hear different ideas and different emergent language. Just remember that any idea, no matter how absurd, is valid. Just ask for justification: what makes you say that?

When you decide to take the plunge, be it with this image or with others, please don’t forget to share your experience with the rest of us! I’d just like to end here by thanking Barb for her kind invitation, and I’ll see you all in my own blog sometime!

Note: This article by Chiew Pang originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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19 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    Like most of teaching’s best ideas, this is simple yet elegant!

    In addition to using the idea for a planned lesson (which I definitely will) I think I might just add a few discussion-eliciting photos to my bag of tricks for those days when nothing seems to be working in class. A well-timed, open-for-interpretation photo could be a perfect energy boost for a dragging class (or teacher).

    I love it, Chiew!

  2. Hi Chiew and Barbara

    I really enjoyed reading this post and it’s full of practical ideas for classroom application. I love the image of the door and it leads to so many different interpretations. I have found that using my own images is very satisfying and I often encourage students to bring in their own to discuss and share.

    Thanks Chiew for demonstating how one can use images so effectively!

  3. LizziePinard says:

    Thank you for a great post that couldn’t be more timely for me! This using a picture or pictures to engender dogme-style class is something I have been thinking about doing and planned to do it next week. So all the info and links here are most helpful to me! 🙂


  4. acLiLtocLiMB says:

    I’m glad the both of you have liked it. So often, we restrict ourselves only to the ‘first dimension’ – what we see. This applies not only to images, but also to texts, music, etc. Why stop there? Where there’s imagination, there’s scope for conversation. I’ve applied this to video, for example (also in my blog somewhere). Get in, get out, fly around. Some students clamp up because they don’t identify with what they see; bring them beyond that, then. Go into their minds. I used this very same image again today, and a different story came up. It was a shop owned by an old bad-tempered lady, who loved cats…
    Do let me know if and when you use it!

  5. Good ideas can be used in a multitude of ways!
    Wonderful picture!
    Since my students are deaf we focus on reading and writing. The questions are good for reading comprehension practice &grammar. The vocabulary can be brainstormed togehter, with my help & the dictionary. THEN, in writing, the stdudents, in pairs come up with their different stories for the same pictures.
    May not be dogme anymore but certainly useful- Thank you!

    • acLiLtocLiMB says:

      You know, Naomi, I used to have deaf students, and some of them were great fun! They had hearing aid, so they could hear some things. I used a lot of audiovisuals with them, and they loved them. I used images to teach them vocabulary – I’d put them on slides, and test their memory by blanking them out one at a time until all they see is a blank screen. I also used my games a lot. And music – they might not hear, but they can feel it!

  6. Mark Kulek says:

    thanks for the terrific post Chiew. I like using images because it scaffolds both the speaker and the listeners. The conversation flows much better.

    • acLiLtocLiMB says:

      I agree, Mark, and there isn’t any limit to the scaffolding – it can go any which way! It’s also very rewarding to get the students to do it among themselves! Asking questions can be rather problematic with learners – not surprising considering it is usually the teachers who do all the questioning! So, every now & then, I ask them to do the questioning instead.
      This works especially well with their own photos!

  7. Haha ! You were right Barbara (and Chiew), I like it !

    This reminds me very much of the awesome presentation from Ceri Jones at IATEFL. She had a very similar approach to “drawing” out language from images. Great stuff, and I’ve found quite a bit of merit in this direction in class with tons of different levels and cultures.

    Congrats Barbara on your high ranking in the lexiophile competition !!!!

    Cheers, Brad

  8. Delighted to hear you had good experiences with students with a hearing loss. Haven’t “met” many PLN members who have! There is SO much to be done with visuals. Love your slide idea – I do “erasing” using the whiteboard and it works very well!

    • acLiLtocLiMB says:

      I also have had experiences with students with eyesight problems. I remember one who hated to put his glasses on to look at the board – you see, he had to keep swapping glasses (for the board & for his books), but he was enthusiastic – and that made up for a lot. Put these students together in the same class, and you can have quite a challenge!

      • You said:
        “Put these students together in the same class, and you can have quite a challenge!”
        I’m already there. Besides pupils having a wide range of hearing losses and different modes of communication in L1, quite a few pupils have additional problems, such as visual impairements, C.P, learing disabilities, ADHD, etc. Did I mention that in the same lesson pupils who can barely read in English sit next to pupils who can write a 120 word composition in English on the influence cell-phones on young people’s lives?
        I’m NEVER bored!!

  9. Nice post, Chiew, with a great example of ways of exploting a single visual. It reminds of a lesson I gave in my pre-Dogme days, based soley on a TIME Magazine cover. For a fuller description, see here:

    • acLiLtocLiMB says:

      Thanks for popping by, Scott, and taking time to read the post. Means a lot to me. Read your story – must have been a wonderful feeling, no? I’d like to try that one day!
      Don’t you get the feeling that sometimes the more we try the less result we get, and that the inverse holds true?

  10. Julie Raikou says:

    Hi, Chiew!

    So glad to come across this post. I’ve always loved images and you have provided some new ideas on how to use them effectively.

    @Scott..enjoyed reading your article. I also found that the 5 minutes I spent out of the room, the Ss were so much more productive..I think they need mesome of the time!

    • acLiLtocLiMB says:

      And I’m glad you “came across” it, too, Julie! Yes, so much can be done by so little. I’m extremely fond of the Tao Te Ching, and Dogme is so Taoist…
      Less means more!