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Image of a waterfall
Author: Sarah Jones, EAL coordinator, Lea Forest Academy

"One look is worth a thousand words." Barnard (1921), Chinese proverb.

Images are powerful as they can usually be interpreted regardless of the language spoken.

Have a look at this image:

Someone sitting alone isn’t always negative. A title can make all the difference. For example, ‘Hope!’ What does this picture mean to you? ‘Alone!’ Now what does it mean?

An image like this allows learners to explore emotions and reasons with structures like ‘He’s feeling…because...' (see downloadable resource).

Teaching and learning through a picture can enable learners to widen their vocabulary as it inspires them to articulate their thoughts. Studies conducted by CEMA have shown people learning an additional language can learn by...

  1. Looking at an image and listening to the name/phrase to understand the meaning.
  2. Practise saying the word visualising the image or/and doing an action to represent it.
  3. Putting the words into context/simple sentences/phrases.
  4. Initiate in simple conversations.

Image-based learning

It's a method adopted by many practitioners including Pie Corbett (mentioned below) and the Learning Village, which offers EAL blended learning using this simple methodology. Teaching learners through imagery allows them to instantly understand what is being communicated, whether it is survival language, key words, sentence structures, stories or other content.

According to Pie Corbett (2008), “Children will implicitly internalise language patterns and reuse them in their writing, if they tell stories and read a lot, or read repetitively, or are read a regular bedtime story.” Corbett is the creator of Talk for Writing, a very helpful method of teaching for EAL learners.

Talk for Writing

When delivering Talk for Writing, a model text is turned into a simple text map (see resource). The children learn the text through acting it out and other helpful games such as tennis (in pairs children take it in turns to say each word of the story) or chase (similar to tennis, but as a group). This strategy works well for EAL learners as it allows them to grasp the context of the story and enables them to easily chant it by following the pictures and key words. These text maps are very versatile as you can focus on any key words or language structures you feel would be beneficial to your learners. The focus can be on relevant elements in the text e.g. nouns, adjectives, auxiliary verbs, punctuation.

Once the learners are confident in retelling the story, the text is introduced and they are expected to identify certain skills by imitating them, for example ‘There are two penguins/There is a walrus.’ They then innovate the sentence content following the sentence structure using the learnt vocabulary, e.g. ‘There are three Polar Bears/There is a Whale.’ They then apply the skills to other concepts, verbally and then in writing through labelling simple scenes with key words to writing descriptive sentences. ‘It is a successful strategy that the learners enjoy and attain at an accelerated pace.’ EEF (2015)

Teaching and learning through imagery and drama allows learners to remember and link words, sentence structures and concepts in all subjects, in a fun and engaging way.


CEMA, (2006). Learning an Additional Language. Available here (Saturday 25th November. 2017).

EEF, (2015). Talk for Writing. Available here (Saturday 25th November. 2017).

Frederick R. Barnard, (1921). One picture is worth ten thousand words. Printer's Ink. December. P21-24.

The National Strategy Primary, (2010) Pie Corbett Writer-talk. Available here (Saturday 25th November. 2017).

Further learning - Blog

Teenagers reading
Created: Thu 1st Sep 2022

A wide reading programme is promoted as a key vehicle for learners of English as an additional language (EAL) to improve their English language skills and become successful readers in English. Typically, such a programme involves learners being exposed to an extensive variety of reading materials both as independent readers and in structured sessions facilitated by a teacher or teaching assistant.

Child learning remotely
Created: Fri 19th Mar 2021

It's now almost exactly a year since the UK education system went into lockdown. The ruling that schools must close to almost all pupils was a shock to teachers, pupils, parents and everyone involved in the education system - and the repercussions of the immediate crisis continue to ripple through our lives.

Created: Sat 17th May 2014

A School Language Profile is an invaluable tool!

In the previous article we looked at the thorny issue of EAL learners with specific learning differences (SpLD).  We discussed how identification of SpLD in EAL learners could be a long and frustrating process.  We looked at some possible, non-language based assessments.  At the end of the article we discussed the possibility of using a ‘language profile’ to help identify possible concerns at an early stage.