Student Engagement

5 Image-Based Activities for World Language Learners

Discussing images of people, places, and foods from the target culture helps world language students develop a variety of skills.

March 25, 2022
Frances Roberts / Alamy Stock Photo

Teaching is an endless source of exciting and enriching discoveries. As a world language teacher, I’ve discovered, for example, the importance of providing activities that help develop world language learners’ viewing skills. Viewing enables learners to become reflective and creative thinkers as they see, analyze, and evaluate visual texts and other multimedia from the target culture.

When world language teachers tap into learners’ viewing skills, they also touch on other skills of equal importance, such as grammar, speaking, and cultural knowledge.

5 Activities That Combine Viewing and Other Skills

These classroom-based activities combine viewing and many other world language skills in one, and teachers can adapt them to other world languages. 
1. Icons and pronouns. With the viewing part of this activity, learners study different icons from the target culture. This not only exposes them to culturally relevant materials but also allows them to recognize visual images in relation to other language learning skills, such as grammar and speaking. To develop learners’ grammatical skills, world language teachers can ask learners to use pronoun-fronted sentence patterns to introduce who or what the icon is.

In my Tagalog class, I use images of Filipino icons (national heroes, for instance) to review Philippine culture and history. Sometimes I use the same activity to engage learners in a naming game, where they identify as many icons as they can, provided that they use the required sentence pattern.

For example, I showed them a picture of José Rizal, national hero of the Philippines: Siya si José Rizal. (“He is José Rizal.”) The speaking part serves as the last skill to tap, since the teacher then asks the learners to say who the icon is.

2. Places and adjectives. In this activity, learners view images of places in the target culture’s location and later describe them using a sentence pattern fronted by an adjective. I use these images as material for my exit slips. For in-person classes, I print photos of the places and turn them into flash cards. The learners line up before exiting the classroom and give one sentence each about the photos.

For my virtual Tagalog classes, I download photos of the places and use them as my virtual background. Before each learner logs out of the online platform, I ask them to give a sentence with an adjective in the target language. Aside from thinking about the images they’re seeing, they’re also actively engaged in reviewing grammar, culture, and history, and further developing their speaking skills.

I once used a spectacular photo of Mount Mayon, one of the known active volcanoes in the Philippines, to draw learners’ attention to Tagalog adjectives. They then gave a sentence or two that described the volcano: Maganda ang Mount Mayon sa Albay. (“Mount Mayon in Albay is beautiful.”)

3. Food and verbs. This is a good brain break activity. I show the learners photos of ingredients of popular dishes from the target culture, and by studying and synthesizing the relationship of each ingredient to the others, the learners come up with the name of the featured dish. To make it more challenging, I ask the learners to add some of the cooking steps for the dish, using verbal sentences in Tagalog.

The key is to introduce the dishes before the class, perhaps during a culturally relevant discussion. I remember asking learners to guess a popular Philippine dish known for its sour and salty taste called adobo.

The following questions prompted them to use the given visual clues to come up with the correct answer and the verbal sentences for the steps:

  • Question: Ano ang lulutuin ko? (“What will I cook?”) Reply: Adobo!
  • Question: Ano ang mga hakbang sa pagluluto nito? (“What are the steps for cooking it?”) Reply: Ihalo ang toyo at suka sa manok. (“Mix the soy sauce and vinegar with the chicken.”)

4. Commercials and interjections. I’ve always used commercials in teaching Tagalog as a world language. Not only do they entertain the learners, but they help develop learners’ viewing skills, along with grammar and speaking. In my class, I use Jollibee Studios commercials (short films produced by a popular fast-food restaurant in the Philippines).

To enrich the language experience, I ask the students to shout out one Tagalog interjection, phrase, or expression to describe the commercial itself or the experience of viewing it. Afterward, we talk about the twists, turns, and other interesting details from the video. Grabe! Maganda ang commercial! (“Wow! The commercial is beautiful!”)

5. Editorial cartoons and opinion markers. For the last activity, the learners’ interpretive skills are the focus—understanding the meaning behind editorial cartoons. I consider editorial cartoons to be useful visual material for learners to experience an in-depth connection with the target culture, especially current events in the Philippines. To avoid volatility and divisiveness in terms of the learners’ responses, I give them editorial cartoons that have affirmative connotations, such as notable events in the country and international achievements of Filipinos.

After carefully looking at the given editorial cartoon, the learners share their comments about the featured event or story using opinion markers in Tagalog. My advanced-level students studied an editorial cartoon about the phenomenal win of Hidilyn Diaz, the first-ever Filipina athlete to win an Olympic gold medal for the Philippines in weight lifting.

The learners’ sentences (for the comments) were fronted by Tagalog opinion markers: Sa tingin ko, napakasaya ng mga Pilipino sa pagkapanalo niya. (“I think that the Filipinos are very happy with her win.”)

These viewing activities are only a few of the many ways we can better engage our world language students in learning the target language. One useful perspective, though, is to think about viewing-relevant materials as a springboard to activate other language learning skills and integrate them spontaneously into each lesson. With enough instructional preparation and creativity, world language teachers can nurture an enriching language experience for their learners.

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