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Picture Based Speaking Activity For ESL/EFL Classes

ESL picture speaking activity

I got the idea for this ESL picture speaking activity after we came across a well-known photograph in our textbook, and I was surprised how many students didn’t know it. Sure, young people are overwhelmed with photos all day long. Take Instagram for example, but it is usually photos of celebrities, fashion, food, Starbuck cups, you get the idea.

Another thing is that they often have no clue about history although they have to study it at school. What they are more interested in is the future; final tests, university, jobs, family.

I wanted to teach them something about the past, show them real, raw photos that deal with many issues that still resonate today. I chose 10 iconic photos, but you can add more that are more local or more significant for your country. This activity is a great starter for discussion about human rights, democracy, and equality, which are things that our modern society still struggles with.

I recommend you use this activity with students 16+ as the photos may be disturbing for younger students.

Teacher’s Sheet


1. Use this material after a lesson on photography, global issues,
human rights, etc.

2. Hand out the Student’s Sheets and explain the Ss that they will see 10
iconic photographs. They will finds vocabulary in the handout that can be
associated with the pictures. This serves as a warm up, and help in case they
don’t know anything about the pictures. Pull up the pictures on the
interactive whiteboard, or any equipment that you use. Show them each
picture for approx. 30 seconds. In this phase do not let the Ss to talk or share
any knowledge they might have.

3. After they finish, show them the pictures again, this time a bit longer. Tell
them to write anything they know, or can guess about the pictures.

4. Discuss.


Answer Key

  1. The 1968 Olympics Human Rights Salute was a political demonstration conducted by African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony on October 16, 1968 at the 1968 Summer Olympics in the Olympic Stadium in Mexico City. During the ceremony they turned on the podium to face their flags, and to hear the American national anthem. Each athlete raised a black-gloved fist, and kept them raised until the anthem had finished. In addition, Smith, Carlos, and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore human rights badges on their jackets.
  2. Young Charlie Chaplin
  3. Famine in India under British rule 1870s
  4. The Hindenburg disaster occurred on May 6, 1937, as the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station in New Jersey, US. Of the 97 people on board (36 passengers and 61 crewmen), there were 35 fatalities (13 passengers and 22 crewmen).
  5. Beatles, The Beatles’ album, Abbey Road, features the Beatles walking across the northwestern zebra crossing on the intersection of Abbey Road and Grove End Road
  6. Florence Owens Thompson was the subject of Dorothea Lange’s famous photo Migrant Mother(1936), an iconic image of theGreat Depression
  7. Young Joseph Stalin
  8. Phan Thị Kim Phúc is the nine-year-old child depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken at Trảng Bàngduring the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. The well-known photo, by AP photographer Nick Ut, shows her at nine years of age running naked on a road after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack.
  9. Thích Quảng Đức was aVietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who burned himself to death at a busy Saigonroad intersection on 11 June 1963. Quang Duc was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government. Malcolm Browne won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of the monk’s death.
  10. Muhamad Ali

Students’s Sheet

You will see 10 pictures. Write number of the picture next to the word which you associate with the picture.









Pulitzer Prize



Human rights


New York

Do you know anything about the pictures? Write what you know next to the number of the picture.











Download the photos in PDF format>>>>>>Iconic Pictures

Teacher’s Sheet>>>>> Iconic Pictures Teacher’s Sheet

Student’s Sheet>>>>> Iconic Pictures Student’s Sheet

Other speaking activities you might want to try:

Speaking Resource for ESL/EFL Teachers: Creative Storytelling

Speaking Resources for ESL/EFL Teachers: Picture Prompts

28 ESL/EFL Conversation Starters to Spark Conversation

Group Activity For ESL/EFL Classes: Famous Stories With A Twist!


6 thoughts on “Picture Based Speaking Activity For ESL/EFL Classes”

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