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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

film roll
Created: Fri 12th Jul 2019

When considering the Chinese language, the Chinese proverb ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ is apposite. Chinese is a complex language of symbols, strokes and pictures, where each picture can mean several words.

Images are a universal language and their power in the classroom shouldn't be underestimated. In this article we look at:

Mother checking child's online safety on screen
Created: Sat 27th Nov 2021

Everyone recognises the importance of staying safe online - but it's not always straightforward. For many of us, computing - including social media, information technology and cybersecurity - is a whole new world, with its own conventions and language. Now consider the added element of dealing with all of this quite literally in a different language! That's the situation our EAL learners find themselves in. Having arrived in a new country, they need to learn English as quickly as possible, for social as well as academic reasons.

Subject-specific vocabulary book
Created: Tue 14th May 2019

Maths is often a subject that is not given the same priority as others when it comes to the teaching of learners with English as an additional language (EAL). You may have heard the statement that maths is a universal language: there is often an expectation that EAL learners will be able to access the subject in the same way as their monolingual peers, without being given any additional consideration.