Question: I've tried a number of brainstorming activities with my intermediate adolescent learners and have observed that many of them remain silent, allowing a very few articulate peers to lead the activity. Any new suggestions?

Answer:  "An Image is Worth Hundreds of Words" is an imagination exercise designed to help learners express themselves through images as an initial step to brainstorming ideas and specific topic-related vocabulary items.


The instructions are simple and straightforward; however,  you may wish to create a light and playful atmosphere with your teenage/adult learners before giving them.  This is because they may not have been asked by a language teacher to draw images before writing words (since the time when they were young beginning language learners!) 

One way to approach this new activity is to say:  "We are in the world of the 21st century in which much of our communication is done through images, so let's begin today's session with the drawing of images." 

A second tip is to reassure each learner that their drawings can be private, i.e. they will not be required to show, share or display them unless they want to.  Some learners feel self-conscious about their ability to render images as they imagine them, so reassure them that their language class is still about expression and communication and it has not changed into 'an art class'!

Here are two examples of the "An Image is Worth Hundreds of Words"  activity:

Example One: 

The topic of this example is intended to lead into a discussion of preferred learning activities and individual styles of approaching language learning (including study habits, learning styles, memory development...).

1.Ask learners to use a clean A4 paper and to choose pens, pencils or markers to draw with.

2. Ask them to think of a shape, form, or some object or symbol which describes the learning of the grammar of a foreign language.

3. Here is the spiral an individual learner drew:


His oral commentary was about how the repetition of various examples and constant exposure to listening and reading throughout his years as a learner of English gave him an ever-deepening understanding of  grammar.

For this topic, another learner drew a staircase, and commented that learning about one grammatical phenomenon at a time, like climbing the stairs one at a time, helps her keep focused and confident.

Example Two:    

1. In your learners' coursebook, the title of today's lesson  is "War and Peace". You can put this title on the board and ask your learners to keep their coursebooks closed and  to draw images which come to mind when   they think of this topic. 

2. Allow at least 2 minutes for them to draw.  For those who finish drawing     before the 2 minutes are up, suggest that they jot down words and phrases associated with their images in the margins of their papers.

3. As a next step, learners can sit in pairs/groups and share the phrases and words they can recall around the topic, writing down theirs and their partners' contributions.

4. Having done the "An Image is Worth Hundreds of Words" activity as a lead-in in the pre-reading/listening/viewing stage, the learners can make use of the vocabulary items, which they have brainstormed, to complete the book's tasks and the subsequent production activity.

RATIONALE:  This pre-writing/speaking 'right-brain' activity allows the learners to express themselves through imagery. It works especially well with learners who have many ideas, which they tend to keep to themselves, because they find working with words, in general, and specifically with words of the foreign language  challenging.  Their expression through images can unleash ideas, words and phrases around a particular theme and can provide them a visual  context to discuss, by sharing what they have drawn with a partner.

The drawing, sharing and oral discussion and the subsequent individual written brainstorming can aid vocabulary recall and can boost the learners' motivation to speak and write on the chosen topic.

NOTE: The abstract thinking, which can require thinking in images to 'represent' ideas,  may prove a great challenge to some adolescents; in this case,  you can adapt your instructions, suggesting they draw concrete objects associated with the topic.

Suzanne and Lilika

October 2019