IH Portugal Training Day Seminar – English voices part 3 – Dear Photograph

Part 3 of this summary of the English voices workshop at the IH Portugal Training Day looks at some teaching ideas which encourage learners to take on other people’s voices, and how doing so might help them develop their own voice in English.

As a quick recap, Part 1 looked at how some recordings of L2 speakers could be used as either models for how to do a production activity or as a means of giving feedback to learners after they had performed an activity.  Part 2 looked at some L1 recordings and how they could be exploited in the classroom for raising learner awareness of spoken discourse.

Here, we’ll look at some texts and visual prompts that can act as springboards or stimuli for production.  Later on I’ll post about some of the thinking behind these activities.

Dear photograph,

The website Dear photograph, consists of photos of old photos held up against their original location, or, as Time magazine better puts it…

Some of the Web’s best sites consist of variations on one simple idea. In the case of Dear Photograph, that idea is taking a snapshot — usually one featuring one or more people and dating from the film-photography era — and holding it up against the original setting so that past and present blend into a new work of art. The images contributed by the site’s readers are wonderfully evocative. Looking at the family photos of strangers was never so transfixing.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2087815_2087868_2087873,00.html #ixzz1lq40QaEv

The great thing about using the photos on this site for English teaching purposes could be the fact that these photos have voices.  Each picture is accompanied by a short text loaded with the personal emotions and thoughts of their owner.

Here is a suggestion for how some of these images could be used in class and some worksheets that include pictures and texts that we looked at in the seminar.

Dear photograph,

Photos and texts reblogged at:  http://phaticcommunion.tumblr.com/

1)  Find a ‘starter’ photo in which the original shot was clearly taken a few years ago and includes a person/group of people.  The original photo should include the person who posted the new photo and wrote a comment for it.  Cut away the outside part (the more recently taken photo) so that only the original remains.

2)  Give the adulterated photo to learners and ask them a few questions to get a few ideas flowing…”Where/when do you think it was taken?” “Who do you think the people are?”  “What is their relationship?”

3)  Learners brainstorm questions that they could ask the person/people who are in the photo.  Point out that the questions should be directed to that person today e.g. “What do you remember about that day?”  “Was this taken at the house you grew up in?”

4)  A couple of the students could then be interviewed in the role of the person/people in the photo.

5)  Give learners a copy of the complete photo and the text.  Does the text include any of the ideas they mentioned in the interview?

6)  In order to introduce a few more texts into the equation for more analysis at a later stage, you could present learners with some extra texts and images as a multiple-matching activity:  learners match 5 or 6 photos to their accompanying texts.  These texts can now be subjected to some language analysis including a look at the genre of these mini letters, e.g. tone and register.  With the texts on the slides we looked at in the workshop we decided that the texts:

  • shared a nostalgic, sentimental tone and some of them were quite moving and emotional.  They might even have been cathartic for the writer
  • often convey one important point
  • contain language for hypothesizing and longing for things lost (“If only I could…”, “I wish I could…”, “How we wish he didn’t have to…”, “I really miss that”)
  • contain language for comparing and contrasting past and present (“Where are the days when I could…”, “I’m still not used to coming home and finding you aren’t there”)

7)  With an awareness of these features, we could then ask learners to write texts to accompany more images.  This could either be completely free of further language input or be more guided…

Comparing past and present:




In those days…

Back then…

In the past…

Years ago…




…these days……today……nowadays……right now…

I still can’t get used to having to work / living so far away etc.

Past forms with a nostalgic tone:

  • In those days we would spend hours playing outside in the street…
  • Back then we used to play outside until it got dark…
Hypothetical forms:
  • I wish I could go back and relive those moments.
  • If only I could turn back the clock for a day and be that child again.
  • If I could, I would love to go back in time to that moment.
  • I wish / If only that …. had not happened.
8)  These learner texts could then be used for another multiple matching activity.  Learners could read each others’ texts and decide which photo they were written to accompany.  Finally, learners could read the original texts for their image and find out the real reason the photo means so much to its owner.
As I said before, I’ll post again on some of the thinking behind these activities.  Any initial thoughts?  Would these activities be useful, engaging to learners?
Would you use this material in class?  Any drawbacks?  Any reasons why it might not be appropriate or any considerations that should be borne in mind before doing so?
I’d also love to hear of any other ways that these images and the “voices” that accompany them could be brought into the classroom.

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