Warm-up: Picture Story Using Key Vocabulary

Warm-up Activity for ESL Conversation Class

Make a Story: Pictures + Vocabulary Activity

Basic Idea: Have students put together a story using pictures and key vocabulary from the previous class(es).

Total Time: 15 minutes (depends on the number of groups)

Strengths:  entertaining + allows students to use their creativity + facilitates review

Levels: Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate, Advanced

Preparation (before class) :

  • Cut-out some interesting pictures from a magazine. Cut out enough so that each student group will have three pictures at least. The more interesting/provocative the pictures, the better.
  • Look over the vocabulary/key language items you have taught the students recently. Pick about seven or eight items (e.g. "chat up", "bribe", "used to", past perfect, etc) that you want students to use in this activity.


  • Write the vocabulary/language items on the board. (You may briefly review them, but don't spend a lot of time on it. They don't need to know them _all_ for this activity. If they forget one or two, they'll learn it later as the activity unfolds or you can review it at the end.)
  • Divide your students into groups of two.
  • Distribute the pictures (three or four to each group). Have them take the pictures before you explain the activity.
  • Tell them that they have to make a story. The story should:

1) Reference each picture they have. (Clarify that there should only be one story -- not separate stories for each picture).

2) Include five of the seven (or roughly 70%) of the vocabulary items on the board. Students may initially think this will be hard, but in my experience, they always do a really good job. I don't require them to use all the vocabulary items in case they are unsure about the meaning of a few of them or that some items are too specific to match their pictures.

  • Give them 3-5 minutes to prepare their story, together, in pairs. If they are a mid/high-level class, have the students prepare their story together in English (not in their native tongue). Tell them to make their story 2-3 minutes long, and that they will each have to tell one part of it (e.g. the intro or conclusion).
  • Have the students present their stories to the class while showing the pictures. Write down their errors on paper and commend them on their work + review major mistakes after their story is over.

three-legged chari from United Nations
Brown Alien

pictures like these will ensure interesting stories


That's it. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes!

- Matthew Barton / English Current

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7 comments on “Warm-up: Picture Story Using Key Vocabulary

  1. roba (Posted on 11-29-2011 at 09:03) Reply

    its the perfect way of learning

  2. neten wangmo (Posted on 4-19-2013 at 08:08) Reply

    this will be very helpful to the teacher and both student.

  3. Leonor Alcantara (Posted on 1-10-2014 at 12:50) Reply

    I think it is an awesome idea! thanks in advance, best regards, Leonor A.

  4. Leonor Alcantara (Posted on 1-10-2014 at 12:53) Reply

    I have used this example for different topics best regards, Leonor A.

  5. Vaishalee from Finishing Touch (Posted on 6-30-2014 at 07:38) Reply

    It's extremely useful and a great way to teach Idioms & phrases. I am gonna use it in TESOL to adult learners. Thank you so very much!


  6. Teacher J (Posted on 10-24-2018 at 16:42) Reply

    I was so desperate how to tackle gerunds and infinitives effectively but playfully at the same time! This is perfect, thank you so much!!!

  7. Gary (Posted on 2-20-2020 at 20:27) Reply

    Brilliant, thanks.

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