Making the most of course book images

Making the most of the resources we have: Images in course books 

Let’s start by looking at the materials we all have to hand – course books. They are filled with photos, cartoons, graphs and charts. But do we actually use them?

If there is no specific task in the course book connected to the image, do you create your own?
7 votes · 0 answers


A study looking at the purpose of images in Business English books, revealed that 73% of the images in the texts were decorative and not linked to any task.  (Romney, 2012)

All these great images being practically ignored! What a waste of a valuable resource!

To increase the use of images in our teaching, we should view every photo, drawing or map we come across  as a STOP sign.

Stop and before beginning the reading activity or turning the page, ask yourself if there is a task you could add to make use of the image.

Imagine this is your new unit. What tasks could you do to make use of this image?

Imaginary unit
Imaginary unit

Here are some ideas:

Brainstorm Vocab.

-What is the longest word you can think of that is somehow connected to this picture?

-Create a list of words connected to the picture. As many as possible in 90 seconds. Try to come up with some words other students won’t think of.  When finished, compare with your partner. Explain the connection if necessary.

Pre-reading Predictions.

-What do you think the article will be about?

-Image this picture is taken from a poster for a film. What could the story/plot of the film be?

-With your partner, predict three things that could be mentioned in the article/story.

Photo Hunt

Students use their phones to take a photo of something connected to the image. The link doesn’t have to be obvious. They must explain the connection to their group. The group votes on the best picture.


Study the picture for 60 seconds. Close the book and write 8 sentences about the image. Use a different verb in each sentence.

That reminds me of…

Think of an experience you have had that is linked to the picture (travelling on an old train, having an adventure with friends, skipping class, being reckless etc). Tell your partner about your experience. Write the story.

Story starters

Look at the picture and think of some details to answer the following…     Who   Where   When   How   Why   What

Be inventive! Swap your notes with your partner. They can ask you three or four more questions about your notes. Write a story based on the picture and the notes you were given.

Hope these ideas help you get more mileage out of the images in your course books!


Sources: Romney, C. (2012). Images in ELT textbooks: Are they just decoration? In A. Stewart & N. Sonda (Eds.), JALT2011 Conference Proceedings. Tokyo: JALT.

2 thoughts on “Making the most of course book images”

  1. Hi Laura,

    Great ideas 🙂 I’ve never done the Photo Hunt or the That reminds me of, so that’s two more on my try out list! Thanks.
    I’m actually quite drawn by images and photographs.. I barely leave any overlooked. Can’t help it really :))

    1. Thanks, Laila. I remember reading on your eltfunatics blog that you have a passion for photography and some great ideas for using photos in class. It’s my new mini-mission to make better use of images when teaching. I’m sure I’ll be looking to you for more inspiration down the line.

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