Building Language with Visuals

Cross-posted from Ms Marcelle’s Blog


Having just returned from the ELLSA (English Language Learning Specialists Asia) conference I wanted to try out some ideas I got from Jen Lemery’s workshop on Utilizing Visual Arts to Enhance Language Output and Cognitive Understanding. Jen showed us Ormie the Pig, an animation short and demonstrated through the use of Brainframes how to generate language with EAL students so that they were better able to write with detail.


Building the language

My own aims were to pre-teach and practise language before my grade 4 students would watch The Mekong River’s Controversial Dams video as part of their unit of inquiry on Peace and Conflict. The see- think-wonder routine was a good way to build language and cognitive understanding so they would have more confidence to participate in class later on.

The children first viewed some scenes of an unspoiled Mekong river and then they were introduced to some pictures of people protesting, the construction of dams and the effect on the environment.


I introduced words and scaffolded their responses to ‘I see’ and these were recorded on the board so that our emerging bilinguals could start labelling some of these words with the pictures. I teamed up my emerging bilingual with a student who spoke some Mandarin and asked him to write in Mandarin or draw pictures. Our other emerging bilingual used a mixture of English (for labelling what she saw) and German for more complex structures.  I got a lot of information from their work about their language needs as well as their understanding. Not everyone made the connection with dams being built, electricity and the livelihood of people. Not everyone was constructing sentences with ‘I wonder’ correctly (e.g. I wonder lots of oxygen) so now I had the information of where to take them next as well as give their teachers information on what they struggled with.

Here are their responses:


Sara wrote down the English words to what she saw and used German for her thinking.









Practising the language

Later, children wrote why they thought there was a conflict. They played snowball and read out each other’s sentences. To practise language, we ended by playing the Change Places circle game. ‘Change places if you think the dams are affecting people who live on the Mekong banks.’ If they exchanged places, they would have to say to the person sitting next to them ‘I think dams are affecting people who live on the Mekong banks, because…’




You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *