ESL Picture Writing Prompts

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

Pictures can be a terrific way of grabbing a student's attention and inspiring them to write. As such, pictures are a great resource to get ESL students to write interesting answers. This lesson gives you pictures along with the prompts that would get your students writing.

Images Ease the Way to Writing

Images are definitely powerful because they can make us wonder about what happened, what is happening, or what will happen. For this reason, you can easily engage your ESL (English as a second language) students into a writing task if you provide a cool picture.

While students know that they must adhere to the prompts, the fact they have to use their observation skills and their imagination gets them excited. Also, an image can make writing tasks look more achievable because ESL students can use the image as a tool.

Let's go ahead and take a look at some images we can use along with their prompts.

Technology Prompts

Work Without a Computer


Show students an image of a work station from long ago, preferably showing a typewriter, before asking them:

  • This picture is the image of how a working desk looked before we had computers. What do you think were the disadvantages for employees? What were the advantages? Imagine you have to do school work with this machine. How do you think you would do?

Together but Separate


Find and show students an image of people who are working on their phones simultaneously before asking:

  • Do you think the couple in the image prefers not to talk to each other? Could it be they are texting each other? Why would they do that if they are together? How often do you see others doing this? Do you think technology has brought people together? What is the paradox of being together but communicating with others who are not physically present?

Art Prompts

Your Body is My Canvas


Display for students an image of someone tattooing another person. Ask them:

  • Do you agree with the idea that tattoos are a form of art? How talented would you say a person needs to be to make tattoos? Look at the work the tattoo artist is doing; what do you think of the picture s/he is creating? Do you think the guy's talent should be used elsewhere?

A Bandaged Ear


Show students one of Vincent Van Gogh's self-portraits with a bandaged ear and inquire:

  • The painting shows you the artist himself: Vincent Van Gogh. Why do you think he wears a bandage? Imagine a story about what happened. Why do you think he decided to paint himself when he seems to be sick? Would you like to be painted if you were sick?

Sport Prompts

Brave or Crazy?


Find and show pictures of extreme sports such as skydiving. Ask:

  • What are the guys in the image doing? Can that be called a sport? Do you think they are having fun or they just seem like it? Are they really brave? Are they crazy? Imagine if you were given the opportunity to do what they are doing. Would you accept or refuse? Why?

Mind or Body?


Show to students pictures of gymnasts before asking:

  • Talk about how the people in the image appear? Do you think the gymnast is perfectly comfortable? Is he working only with his body? Does mind play a role in sports? Try to guess what the people who observe think while the gymnast performs.

Jobs Prompts

In the Shoes of the Doorman


Find and display pictures of a doorman and then ask:

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