IEP Newsletter

IEP News, Volume 21:4 (November 2004)

by User Not Found | 10/26/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair of IEP IS
    • TESOL Announces Position on B-visas
    • TESOL Announces Position on the Value of IEPs in the United States
  • Articles
    • Exploring Social Issues Through Short Stories
    • IEP Newsletter Column: IEP Survival During Difficult Times
    • Fifteen Ideas for Using Pictures as Prompts for Speaking or Writing
    • Note from the Editors
    • IEPIS Steering Committee, 2004-2005
    • About This Member Community

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair of IEP IS

Dear IEP Interest Section members,

I hope that this fall issue of our Intensive English Program Interest Section (IEP IS) newsletter finds you well and productively engaged in your ESL work and studies. If you have taken a quick scroll through your e-copy of this newsletter before settling in to read the articles, then you have probably noticed the start of a new era in the look of our online newsletter--color photos! The IEP newsletter coeditors, Tamara Jones and Tiffany Wilson-Mobley, and I have been discussing ways to make the people behind the articles more "real" for you so that you (hopefully) feel a more tangible connection to some of the members of our extended IEP IS family; hence the digital photos. One longer term goal of this enhancement to our newsletter is for you to be able to more easily put faces and names together so that, for example, at the next TESOL conference you won't hesitate to say "Hello" to one of the newsletter authors you bump into or to chat with any of the IEP leadership team to personally convey your thoughts and ideas. The addition of photos to the newsletter is, in itself, a fairly small change, but one that we believe may lead to big results. Please let us know what you think!

Another topic that Tamara, Tiffany, and I have been exploring (aren't conference calls a cool thing?) concerns how our newsletter can become an even more effective vehicle for professional sharing among our IEP IS members. IEPs and the teachers and administrators who are part of them are indeed faced today with a variety of pressing issues as the pejorative effects of a number of draconian changes in U.S. immigration policies have been realized. We are interested in having you share with the membership what you and your IEP are experiencing in this era of declining enrollment. What is your program doing to address decreasing numbers of students or the complexities of immigration policies? In what ways has the life of the roving adjunct teacher (you or someone you know) been affected? Help us reach out to the IEP membership and create a dialogue by putting your thoughts and experiences into a short article for the next issue of the IEP newsletter. Do your part to build a stronger community of IEP professionals by contacting Tamara Jones today ( to find out how your article can contribute to moving the discussion forward as we confront the challenges and changes before us.

Tim Cauller photo.We hope to hear from you soon and wish you all the best during the festive weeks ahead.



Tim Cauller, e-mail:, 2004-2005 IEP IS Chair.

TESOL Announces Position on B-visas

At its October 2004 meeting, the Board of Directors of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL), announced the association's position on the use of B-visas for short-term language study in the United States. The statement reads:

"TESOL supports the use of B-visas, the visa category used by the Department of State for tourists and business visitors, for short-term language study in the United States."

The position statement is also available from TESOL's Web site in the Professional Issues: SEVIS/Student Visas area.






TESOL Announces Position on the Value of IEPs in the United States

At its June 2004 meeting, the Board of Directors of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL), announced the association's position on the role and value of intensive English programs (IEPs) in the United States. The statement reads:

"As a global association committed to advancing excellence in English language education, TESOL values accessible, high-quality education, collaboration in a worldwide community, and respect for diversity and multiculturalism. In today's interconnected environment, these goals have never been more important or critically needed, and international education and exchange serve a vital role in advancing these goals.

Language education and training are an important part of international exchange, and within the United States, short-term intensive English programs (IEPs) have served a unique role in advancing cross-cultural communication and understanding. Not only do IEPs often serve as gateways to higher education in the United States, they also serve an important cultural role as well. Through their study of English, students at IEPs are exposed to U.S. culture and society, and through interactions with their fellow students on campus and in their local community, IEP students gain firsthand knowledge of the United States, its values, and its people.

Such active cross-cultural interaction has the dual benefits of enriching the students' experiences and those of the local communities in which these programs are located. Such interaction advances mutual understanding, and as these students return to their home countries, they carry with them the knowledge and experience of their time spent in the United States.

The important role IEPs serve in foreign diplomacy should not be underestimated either. Many IEP students go on to important leadership positions in business, industry, and government, so their time spent in the United States shapes their viewpoint and opinion.

TESOL strongly supports and values the role IEPs play in promoting high-quality education, collaboration in a global community, and respect for diversity and multiculturalism, and urges the U.S. government to put in place regulations that facilitate, rather than hinder, students' access to English training in the United States."

This position statement is available from TESOL's Web site in the Professional Issues: SEVIS/Student Visas area.



Articles Exploring Social Issues Through Short Stories

Sybil Marcus, e-mail:

Why Use Social Issues?

This paper is based on a course I taught to advanced ESL students at University of California-Berkeley Extension's English Language Program. The majority of these students were currently studying or had just finished a bachelor's degree at a university back home and hoped to continue their studies in the United States, whereas a minority had come because they needed English in the workplace. But no matter their reason for studying English, my mission was to show them that the process of excavating a literary text would yield tangible benefits in critical thinking, discussion, reading, vocabulary, and writing skills, not to mention an increased knowledge of the English-speaking culture in which they were immersing themselves.

The beauty of looking at the major social issues of our time through the prism of short stories is that true to their genesis as works of fiction, stories offer multiple perspectives of the pressing social issues of the day, and unlike newspaper articles, great stories never date. In each lesson we looked at a new issue from the perspective provided by the story's author as well as from a wider perspective provided by supplementary newspaper, magazine, and Internet material. Occasionally, I showed a film clip that vividly illustrated a particular point. I went out of my way to choose different approaches to the same topic in order to expose the students to its multidimensional nature. Whenever possible, I tried to inject a humorous story dealing with a serious theme in order to lighten the atmosphere.

Although we certainly did some literary analysis (how could you read a short story and not want to see what makes it work from a literary point of view?), we concentrated on reading and discussing the social issue(s) that the story encapsulated. And frequently, the most interesting discussions bloomed around how different cultures handle the same issue. If you have only one culture represented in your class, that's fine too because you can compare your culture with the one represented in the story.

I always point out to my students that there are no easy and simple answers to the pressing social issues of our time. What is right for one person may be absolutely wrong for another. Our main objective is to discuss an issue in all its complexity, certainly feeling free to express our feelings as to whether certain actions are right or wrong, according to our own code of ethics, but always remembering that we don't own an exclusive right to the morality of our position. I encourage students to respect the opinion of others, even when they totally disagree with that opinion. And because most great stories contain an ambiguity at their core, these guidelines help create an atmosphere in which opposing opinions are tolerated. We frequently debated issues from both sides. I arbitrarily assign half the class to discuss the pros of an issue and the other half to come up with the cons. Or I give a written assignment in which they are to take up one position or the other and defend it.

Topics Covered

It does not take a great leap of the imagination for foreign students studying in the United States to recognize the cultural dislocation that comes from being transplanted to another culture. So we tackled that topic in the first lesson through two of the vignettes that compose The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

I like to begin any course with stories that look accessible to the students to get them over the fear factor posed by literature. The House on Mango Streetis a rich source of stories that deal with the cultural dislocation of Hispanic immigrant communities. The simple surface of the stories belies their more complex theme of cultural displacement. We read and discussed "Geraldo No Last Name." In this vignette, Geraldo is an illegal immigrant who has a fatal accident after attending a Saturday night party and who, because he is undocumented, disappears from the world's radar without a trace. The young girl who danced with him that night at the party serves as the narrator of the story. She reflects sadly that nobody from the United States or Mexico is there to mourn this young man's death.

We also read and discussed "No Speak English," a vignette that poignantly outlines the predicament of an elderly Mexican mother who is transplanted by her son to American soil. However, when the mother arrives, she immediately incarcerates herself in an upstairs room and stays frozen between terror at this unknown and, for her, unknowable country with its foreign tongue and longing for her Mexican home.

First we spent time appreciating the surprising details about immigrant life that are covered in this story in a very spare fashion. After analyzing the story we then discussed current immigration issues in the students' countries. Students outlined the main immigrant groups to their countries, what kind of work they usually do, and the attitudes of the host community to the immigrants. I also brought in several topical articles on immigration to the States, which we discussed fully.

Our next short story, "The Man I Killed," explores the ramifications of war in an intensely personal way. And given that the United States is currently engaged in a war, the topic assumes an immediate resonance because of the daily articles and features about what is going on in Iraq and about the personal consequences for the soldiers abroad and their loved ones at home, as well as the broader consequences to American and Iraqi society. This story from The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a semi-autobiographical account of O'Brien's time in Vietnam in which O'Brien explores up-close the visceral physical and moral agonies in the life of the common foot soldier. In "The Man I Killed" he describes the conflicting emotions of the young American soldier who has just killed his enemy counterpart. After reading this story I brought in articles discussing America's involvement in both Vietnam and Iraq and drew the parallels that seemed plausible. We then read the obituary of a young soldier from Chico, California, who had been killed in Iraq and noted how the O'Brien story and the obituary covered the same wrenching ground in different ways. We watched a clip from Apocalypse Now and discussed it. Afterward we had a class discussion in which every student took a position on whether war could ever be justified and if so, what kind of war could be supported.

In a lighter vein we also read "My Oedipus Complex" by Frank O'Connor, a story told through the eyes of a five-year-old child and in which the narrator humorously examines the disconcerting shift in family dynamics after his father returns for good at the end of the war. This story provides a welcome relief from the seriousness of the other texts and also offers a chance to look at yet another aspect of war--its dislocating effects on family relationships, as pertinent today as at any time in the fighting history of mankind.

We tackled the thorny issue of abortion through two stories: the oblique and unsettling story by Hemingway, "Hills Like White Elephants," and the emotional narrative of Alice Walker's "The Abortion." After discussing the issue in all its complexity, I divided the class into pairs and had one person argue the pros of the issue and one person argue the cons.

Then we moved on to the poignant issues of old age and loneliness that Bernard Malamud's story "The Model" raises. In this story an old man, in a last-ditch effort to stave off his feeling that his life has lost all meaning, sets up a painting session in his home with a nude female model as his subject. A sad misunderstanding arises between the painter and his subject and they both end up humiliating each other. The story is rich in inference and I encouraged the students to tease out all its inferential details. We also discussed the story fully from both characters' point of view. Then we moved on to a comparative study of old age in our various countries. Once again I pulled a wealth of material off the Internet, including jokes about old age and memory. Students also made a list of the plusses and minuses regarding aging and we discussed them.

We moved from the problems of old age to the no less pressing problems of teenagers as described in the story "Teenage Wasteland" by Anne Tyler. Here the main character Donny exhibits delinquent behavior, which nobody, no matter how well-meaning, in his family or school appears able to deal with. Donny lurches from misadventure to misadventure until he is finally expelled from school and then runs away from home. We talked about who we thought was most responsible for this downward spiral in Donny's life and then went on to look at the most common teenage problems in both the students' countries and the United States, seeing where they overlapped and where they were distinctly separate.

After that we discussed "Disappearing" by Monica Wood. In this story an obese woman embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance through her mastery of swimming. Her journey, however, turns into an obsession as the woman makes as her goal the death-like wish to become one with the water. The story, written in an interestingly elliptical style, gives the reader ample opportunity to examine the issues of obesity and anorexia, topics that are flooding the news these days.

It was easy to supplement the story with a number of articles on body issues from current publications and the class discussed at length standards of physical perfection in their cultures and the concomitant pressures to conform to them. This was one of the rare times I went through every word of the story as I wanted to make sure that the students had caught onto and mentally paraphrased all the elliptical expressions.

When I gave out the story "The Legacy" by Virginia Woolf, I set the students the task of coming up with the social themes they thought it embodied. Their list was impressive. Among the themes we discussed were class divisions in England, suicide, the role of the upper-middle-class wife, poverty versus wealth, and the right to privacy.

Next came "Like a Winding Sheet" by Ann Petry, a story that explores the pernicious effects of racism in a more traditional narrative style. The writer unfolds a day in the life of a Black factory worker, who is subjected to real and perceived racism during and after his factory shift. Two additional themes are interwoven in the story: wife beating and inhuman factory conditions. There was so much that could be done with all three themes that we stayed with this story over two lessons. Students discussed which population groups in their countries are the target of discrimination. I brought in articles on wife beating, and we watched a segment from L.A. Law on the subject.

Next came an analysis of social divisions in the United States encapsulated in the short story, "The Swimmer," by John Cheever. In his allegorical story, Cheever presents us with a man from the upper stratum of American society who loses his money and is subject to the fall from grace that this entails. The story is a satirical look at the distorted values of the moneyed class in the United States with its preoccupations with wealth and status issues. We looked closely at the text of the story. As this is a long and sometimes confusing story, I spent quite a bit of time actually analyzing it. Afterward, students told me they really enjoyed the illumination that came with the detailed analysis. Then I sent everyone home to reread the story, which they all did.

After that I gave out two follow-up articles to read: The first, from the New York Times, was a column dealing with the return of the super rich to the United States as a result of the obscene leap in compensation awarded to CEOs today. In contrast, the second article looked at the struggles of people trying to make it today on the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. We then spent time discussing what constitutes the social distinctions and economic disparities in the students' home countries. Their answers included education, money, region, accent, religion, and family name.

We finished the course with a reading of "The Boarding House," James Joyce's masterful and ironic examination of Dublin society, with particular reference to the church as arbiter of society's mores. I used this story as a peg on which to hang a discussion of religious issues such as the role of religion in the students' lives, its role in general in their country, and the issue of the separation of church and state, which is a timely concern in today's United States and in quite a few other countries as well.

Some Comments From Students' Exams

For their final exam students were asked to choose one of the issues we'd read and explain how reading and discussing the story helped them to understand that particular topic more deeply. What follows are three unedited sample excerpts:

Sherry from Taiwan chose "Disappearing":
When I read the story with its elliptical style, my heart was touched by the succint words. I felt I could understand the main character very well because I am a little bit overweight and I think it is unfair that society has stricter standard on women's appearance and body image than men's. Why do women have to be evaluated by men's viewpoint which is just like an X-ray examination? … I truly believe that everyone has a need to be needed, to be noticed, to be cared, and to be loved, so I felt very sorry for the main character when I read the part in which she thought she was invisible.

Marie from France chose "Geraldo No Last Name":
The bitter sweet tone of "Geraldo No Last Name"pleased me a lot. The story is so short and so full of feelings and truths. Who was this person? It is sad to consider that he and also us are nothing finally. Pieces of sand in the vast world. I feel maybe sadder for the memories of these persons: how badly they will be considered in death, those who were brave to leave and to find work in hazardous conditions, considered as nothing in the country where they lived, considered as undependable in the country where they had their families.

And Woo-Sung from Korea chose "Teenage Wasteland":
This story is very attractive story for me because I was a Donny. Daisy is a controlling mother. She loves her children but she doesn't know what a child wants, what a child needs and how a child can live happily because she also had a miserable adolescence herself. She loves Donny too much, gives too much concern and wants to let him never fail and go wrong. But I think that it is almost impossible. I think that the the freedom to fail by himself can be also valuable because someone can experience and recognize his mistakes through the failure. And also failure can be a good experience to prevent another bigger failure like a preventive injection.

Some Student Evaluations at the Conclusion of the Course

Finally, winding up the course, I gave out some evaluation sheets with the idea of eliciting students' responses to the course. Here are some unedited comments:

Masaki, Japan: I can know about various social topics which I hadn't paid special attention to until I took this class. I'm really interested in listening to the opinions from other cultures' point of view. The contents of the stories are really meaningful.

Fabrice, Belgium: This class helped me to make the first step to be more interested in reading English. As a result, I have just bought my first book written in English and I can see that I feel comfortable in my reading.

Augie, Mongolia: This class helped me to get information about social life and add many new words to my vocabulary. I really enjoyed the choice of short stories.

Bernard, Korea: It is said that literature always reflects the state of society and people's lives. In this class, I have read varous literary stories which contain the sense of value, history, philosophy, and problems of those days. Though it is an indirect way, I could understand history and culture of America more deeply and broaden my outlook.

Comments like these indicate that the course was a valuable one in which multiple language skills were advanced, with students learning and practicing skills such as listening, reading, discussion, writing, and vocabulary in an engaging and organic context, while simultaneously increasing their knowledge of the culture in which they were immersing themselves.


The short stories mentioned in this paper come from the following anthologies:

"Geraldo No Last Name" and "No Speak English" from Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street (Vintage Books, 1984).

"The Man I Killed" from Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried (Penguin Books USA, 1990).

"The Abortion" from Alice Walker, You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (Harvest Books, 1981).

"Hills like White Elephants" from Ernest Hemingway, The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (Scribner's, 1987).

"My Oedipus Complex," "The Model," "Teenage Wasteland," "Disappearing," "The Legacy," "Like a Winding Sheet," "The Swimmer," and "The Boarding House" from Sybil Marcus, A World of Fiction: Twenty Timeless Short Stories (Longman/Pearson, 1995).

Sybil Marcus, photo.


Sybil Marcus teaches language skills through literature to advanced ESL students at Berkeley, California, U.S. She is the author of a textbook, A World of Fiction: Twenty Timeless Short Stories.

IEP Newsletter Column: IEP Survival During Difficult Times

By Myrna Santos, e-mail:

If your institute is not experiencing a decline, what are you doing to avoid this?

Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is not presently experiencing a decline in Intensive English Programs or attendance. I am an adjunct at NSU, teaching writing and ESL. We at NSU are constantly working and striving to establish a comfortable, easy-to-navigate atmosphere for our international students, thus making their transition to academic and everyday life in the United States less traumatic and less stressful. Many support services are offered in addition to the study of English itself. These additional services can be very encouraging to the hesitant and apprehensive prospective student. I have taken the following from our university's Web site ( it can serve as a guide:

The Office of International Students (OIS) is enthusiastically committed to providing essential services to assist international students and visiting scholars at NSU achieve their academic goals. OIS serves as a resource to the university community and provides services and counseling expertise aimed at guiding individual students and scholars through the complexities of U.S. government visa regulations.

Over 700 international students and scholars from more than 90 countries have selected NSU as their academic destination. Our office provides a wide variety of support services in the areas of (but not limited to):

F-1 and J-1 Visa Information
International Student Orientation
Travel Documentation
On- and Off-Campus Employment
Practical Training (CPT and OPT)
Extension of Stay
Obtaining a Social Security Number
Transfer to/from NSU
Permission for Off-Campus Courses
Authorization for Reduced Course Load
Health Insurance Requirements
Financial Aid Information

The OIS is committed to welcoming international students, scholars, and their families while facilitating their transition to life at Nova Southeastern University.

Myrna Santos presently teaches English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) and Writing at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Davie, Florida. At NSU, she has implemented an ESOL Workshop Program designed to target the writing needs of nonnative speakers, focusing primarily on developmental writing and writing as a process. Prior to teaching at Nova, Myrna taught intensive English for EF Education in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to her teaching obligations at NSU, Myrna teaches intensive ESOL study online for as well as for her own website She has taught all ages and levels in Florida and in Massachusetts for about 16 years. In addition, she has formed an organization called ESLCARE to address the transitional needs of people beginning a new life in the United States. Myrna is very active in all ESOL support groups, and has served on the Board of Directors for Sunshine State TESOL.

Fifteen Ideas for Using Pictures as Prompts for Speaking or Writing

By Julie Seek Sharp, e-mail:


The inspiration for using pictures came to me when I started preparing for a trip to teach English in China. I wanted to brighten up a drab classroom and to maximize student participation--a challenge in a class of nearly 40 conversation students.

The first activities I used were "Around-the-World Conversations" and "Student-Led Conversations with the Bell." These two are still my favorites, but since that time I have discovered many other techniques to use in my ESL classrooms here in Maryland. Hopefully these suggestions will inspire your own ideas for how to use pictures in your classroom.

On a practical note, all of my pictures have come from magazines; it is not difficult to find loads of useful, bold pictures in a short amount of time. I store them all in clear plastic sleeves together in a fat binder but currently have no system of organization. I just flip through the hundred or so pictures with a general idea of what I'm looking for and whisk them off with me to class.

1. Wh- Elicitation / Short Stories

This easy activity provides a structure to help students construct a story.

  • Remind students of the question words: who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  • Provide a picture to each student
  • Ask students to prepare a story based on the question words about their picture.

Some examples of short stories students in my class have come up with are as follows:

  • A boy and his dog / went for a walk / yesterday / in a field / to find a stream.
  • An orchestra / played music / in the evening as the sun went down / outside / to celebrate a happy day.
  • A woman / sat worrying / after her diagnosis / in the hospital / because she knew she had cancer.

Of course this is not the only proper sentence order for English sentences, but the activity does provide one nice structure for students.

2. Discovering a Theme, Writing Questions

This is an advanced activity. It is useful in itself or as preparation for several other activities (noted below).

  • As a class, brainstorm for themes. For example, a picture of the Marlboro man could prompt ideas of independence, hard work, human/animal interactions, vegetarianism, stereotypes, smoking, pets, and rodeos.
  • Use the brainstorm to generate questions to append to the picture. For example, "Which appeals to you more, a desk job or a job outside? Why?"
  • After the class gets the hang of writing questions about themes, give groups or pairs a picture to brainstorm and write questions about.
  • After the class has generated a dozen or so pictures with questions, attach the questions to the pictures and use them for the "Around-the-World Conversations," "Fluency Workshop," or "Student-Controlled Conversations with the Bell" activities.

If this activity seems too complicated for your class, you can generate the questions yourself and just use the expansion activities.

3. Around-the-World Conversations

This is an idea I have used with many different themes. On the first day of class, I have hung pictures and asked students to identify the type of people (old man, baby, manicurist) and tell their partner about people they know like the ones in the pictures.

I have also chosen sets of pictures according to themes such as men/women, cultural issues, sports, or stress. The students know the theme and then discuss the picture according to the theme.

Another idea is to post pictures with questions generated from "Discovering a Theme, Writing Questions." Students discuss the questions and the pictures.

  • For a class of 12 students, hang six interesting pictures around the room.
  • Assign students to be either "A" or "B."
  • Ask each A/B pair to go to one picture and discuss it for one minute (or three).
  • Give a signal for the pair to split. "A" goes left and "B" goes right.
  • They each now have a new topic and a new partner.
  • Continue until every student has discussed every picture.

For this activity, and for Fluency Workshop, I always come to class with my stopwatch.

4. Fluency Workshop

I'm not sure who deserves credit for this idea; the basic concept is not mine, but it's great. I've adapted it for use with pictures.

  • Provide each student with a picture, which they discuss in pairs.
  • Seat students in two rows with chairs facing one another. Partners sit across from each other.
  • For 3 minutes, A explains his/her picture to B. B doesn't talk at all.
  • Then for 3 minutes, B explains his/her picture to A. A doesn't talk at all.
  • SHIFT. (One row shifts: A moves to the right. The person at the bottom of the row moves to the top.)
  • For 2 minutes, A explains his/her picture to B. B doesn't talk at all.
  • For 2 minutes, B explains his/her picture to A. A doesn't talk at all.
  • SHIFT.
  • For 1½ minutes, A explains his/her picture to B. B doesn't talk at all.
  • For 1½ minutes, B explains his/her picture to A. A doesn't talk at all.
  • Ask students to return to their seats. Discuss the improvement they observed as the time to talk was reduced.

Pictures are best if they involve a familiar theme--such as gardening, musical instruments, or illness--that students can generate schemata from but don't often talk about.

Action English Pictures by Takahashi and Frauman-Prickel is also a great source of pictures for this activity.

I have also used this activity with objects instead of pictures. Students bring in a small symbol of themselves or their interests and do a show-and-tell in Fluency Workshop.

5. Student-Controlled Conversations With the Bell

This activity is excellent because as soon as a student runs out of something to say or loses interest, he/she can switch the topic.

  • At the front of the class, put a stack of 12 pictures/discussion questions (perhaps generated from "Discovering a Theme, Writing Questions" from above).
  • Ask a volunteer to come to the stack, show one picture, and read a question.
  • Pairs or small groups discuss/respond to the question.
  • As soon as a pair finishes, one student from that finished pair comes to the front of the class, rings the bell, and shows a new picture and asks a new question.

Sometimes students are initially reluctant to take the initiative to change the topic. When I notice a group seems to have slowed down, I nudge one of them to go to the front, show a new picture, and read a new question.

6. Brainstorming

This beginning-level activity is a simpler version of "Discovering a Theme, Writing Questions."

  • With one picture, as a class, brainstorm on the board for nouns and verbs. For example, for a picture of a woman on a bicycle, they might come up with a noun list of bicycle, woman, helmet, race, and transportation and a verb list of relax, ride, pedal, walk, exercise, race, and cheer.
  • Ask students to write sentences about the picture using the brainstormed nouns and verbs. For example: A woman raced her bicycle while her friends cheered.

The words students generate do not necessarily need to be present in the picture; students can feel free to use their imaginations. Sometimes some associations might need some explanation, though. For example, one group of students had a picture of two children do-si-doing in a desert. A sentence a student generated was "The snake behind the cactus scared the children." The picture had no snake and no cactus, and the children weren't scared. The author of the sentence explained that the event in the sentence took place just after the picture was taken.

7. Before and After

Lots of creative ideas come from this activity. It's fun to see the differences groups think of as they put the pictures in different sequences.

  • Show the class two pictures that contain the same subject (or what could be the same).
  • Ask them to decide which came first and to write a story about what transpired between "before" and "after."

My favorite example of this activity occurred with two pictures of a woman--one as a bride and the other solemnly looking out the window. One group wrote a story about the happy wedding day after years of waiting for the proposal; another group wrote about regret in a bad marriage.

8. Odd One Out

I introduce this activity with another activity. On the board I draw three shapes: a five-pointed star, a five-beamed sun, and a crescent moon. I ask students to explain which two go together and why. Initial answers are something like "the sun and the moon because they are both in our solar system" or "the sun and the star because they are both stars."

But as students consider all the possible combinations, they see there are many possible right answers: The sun and the star both begin with the letter s; in Chinese, the character for sun is within both the star and sun characters, but not in the character for moon; or the star and the moon are both self-contained characters, whereas the sun has separated beams.

This activity encourages students to think outside the box and be creative yet is very simple to do:

  • Present three pictures. In pairs, students decide which two belong together and which one does not. In three sentences (or five or eight), they present their decision to the class.

For example, consider these three pictures: (1) a dog with dentures, (2) a geisha playing a mingling game, and (3) Perry Ferrel standing on the ceiling.

Students could respond that in (1) and (3) something is happening that shouldn't, or in (1) and (2) someone is making a silly face, or in (2) and (3) the subjects are people. There are many other possible ideas. Students are limited only by their creativity.

9. What Do You Remember?

This activity requires students to form questions, but they get so distracted in completing the task that language becomes just a means to an end.

  • Give each pair one picture, which both students study for a minute.
  • One member of the pair (student A) takes the picture so the other can't see it.
  • Student A then asks questions, such as "What color is the carpet?"
10. Eliciting Details

Instead of allowing both partners to see the picture, as in "What Do You Remember?", a variation allows only one student to see it.

  • In groups, one student (A) briefly describes a picture without showing it to the group. The other group members listen.
  • Other group members then ask questions to elicit more details from student A.

For example, the first student might say, "There's a woman standing at a table." Then the group might ask, "Is there anything sitting on the table?" "What color is the pen?" "Can you see the wall next to the table?" "Are there any windows?"

Of course you can request that students make either general or yes/no questions.

11. Twenty Questions

Yet another variation on the questioning is the classic Twenty Questions.

  • One student of a pair chooses a picture. This student decides what subject and what location the other student will be trying to ascertain.
  • The other student gets to ask up to 20 yes/no questions to discover the subject and location of the picture.
12. Questions

This activity is a version that involves writing questions instead of speaking them.

  • Give each student a picture; have them compose three questions about it.
  • Have them pass the picture and the questions to the next student who answers the questions.

For follow-up, you could collect the papers and use them to prepare another activity. For instance, look through the sentences for common errors. At the beginning of the next class, write these sentences on the board and have a contest between teams to correct the sentences.

13. Matching Sentences
  • Either give each group/pair several pictures or post several pictures at the front of the room.
  • Ask students to write one sentence for each picture.
  • One at a time, groups present their sentences and pictures. The other groups decide which sentence goes with which picture.

I have used this idea for generating dialogues, too. Students create dialogues that go with a picture. Other students guess which dialogue goes with which picture.

14. Collaborative Story

This activity is a variation on a familiar one.

  • Give each student a picture, which they write about for three minutes. Ask them to write the beginning of a story based on their picture.
  • Pass papers to the next person who continues the story for three minutes.
  • Have students volunteer to read completed stories.
15. Preferences and Why
  • Students choose a picture and prepare a quick presentation on it. For a minute they explain the content of the picture and why they like it.

With all these activities, as students discuss I circulate and help with vocabulary or grammar. However, I try to correct as little as possible to avoid stifling a flow that is part of the intent of the activities.

My students enjoy the variation that pictures give. I hope yours enjoy it too.

For six years, Julie has been collecting pictures to use in her ESL classes. She has an MA in TESOL, a BA in French, and a passion for Chinese.

Note from the Editors

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Tamara Jones, Coeditor:
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IEPIS Steering Committee, 2004-2005

Past Chair: Dawn E. McCormick,

Tim Cauller.
Chair: Tim Cauller,

Elizabeth Anderson.
Chair-Elect: Elizabeth Anderson,

Tamara Jones.
Co-editor: Tamara Jones,

Tiffany Wilson-Mobley.
Co-editor: Tiffany Wilson-Mobley,

Dayna Ford.
Secretary: Dayna Ford,

Judy Dillon.
Historian: Judy Dillon,

Member-at-large: Christie Ward,

Member-at-large: David Ross,

Member-at-large: Jim Bame,

Katherine Wood.
Member-at-large: Katherine Wood,


About This Member Community Intensive English Programs Interest Section (IEPIS)

TESOL's Intensive English Programs Interest Section deals with methodology, curriculum design, materials development, placement, evaluation, and research relevant to the teaching of English primarily to nonnative speakers who are foreign students attending intensive/semi-intensive programs prior to (or during) regular academic study.

Intensive English Programs Interest Section Community Leaders, 2004-2005

Chair: Timothy Cauller, e-mail
Chair-Elect: Elizabeth H. Anderson, e-mail
Editor: Tamara Jones, e-mail
Coeditor: Tiffany Wilson-Mobley, e-mail

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