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Why Visual ESL Activities?

Speakers of other languages all over the world are speaking, reading, listening, writing, studying, and learning English all the time. Visual tools and techniques can be useful in any classroom, especially when there are multiple languages spoken or where the teacher and the students do not share a common language. Storyboard That can be used for a range of different activities in all areas of ESL teaching, including some of the potentially drier areas like vocabulary and grammar. It can also be used as a powerful tool for teachers to create resources for their classes, like worksheets or posters.


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Visuals add an extra dimension to communication that can help students understand the material more easily. They can also give students a higher chance of remembering what you are teaching them. Using images alongside text and audio can help fill the gaps in understanding. These visual tools will help all learners in your classroom, not just the visual learners. Pictures can cut down on the amount of teacher-talk in a lesson, giving your students more time to do and not just listen. Images can express complex ideas in a much shorter time, freeing up the teacher to do other things. Creating resources takes time, something that teachers don’t always have. Storyboard That has a range of resources you can use straight off the shelf, or quickly adapt to suit the needs of your students, saving you precious time.

There are several great export features that allow you to turn your storyboards into handouts or PowerPoint presentations. After creating a storyboard, teachers and students can even add audio too. The record feature allows for up to sixty seconds of audio to be recorded and saved with the storyboard. Students can create storyboards showing dialogue, then record and save their voice(s) acting out the dialogue in order to practice pronunciation.

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As well as being a great tool for teachers to produce visual resources, Storyboard That also allows students to create their own storyboards. Activities are easy to find and can be adapted and sent to your students by creating assignments the teacher dashboard in educational accounts. Assessment criteria can also be created and embedded into the activity using Quick Rubric.

You can also use Photos for Class to create visualizations. Photos for Class is a tool that allows students to search through millions of images and incorporate them easily into storyboards. The site works seamlessly when creating storyboards on Storyboard That: just type your term in the search bar, then drag and drop the image into the storyboard. Images can be easily blended with text, props, and characters to create interesting and descriptive storyboards.

English has a very rich vocabulary and students need to learn the meaning of many words. What we try and avoid is having students making endless lists of words. These lists can be boring and they don’t help students remember the definitions very well. Students can use a variety of layouts on Storyboard That to create visual definitions of important words. These visual definitions can help your students learn and remember the definitions and context of key vocabulary. Visuals can be created for a range of different levels and topics.


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Visual Activity Ideas

Below are some of the ways you can incorporate Storyboard That and visual learning into your classroom! It's very easy to customize any of the examples and ensure that your lessons are tailored to your students. If you teach ELLs of varying levels, you can adjust the activities as needed and help scaffold for those who need a little extra guidance.

Classroom Labels

You can easily create your own storyboards to create flashcards for your class or visual labels for the classroom. The latter activity allows you to turn your classroom into a living vocabulary resource, and helps students practice new words as they navigate every day life. Simply create the visuals, print them out, and tape them with their corresponding item. Students can even be a part of this activity, by being the ones to match the label with the object it belongs to.



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English Grammar

Grammar is often students’ least favorite part of English language learning. When not taught well, it can become dry and repetitive. Sometimes lessons can focus too much on the rules and don't give students the opportunity to practice using the grammar. Storyboard That allows students to create sentences with the target grammar structure, often describing a scene or context alongside a visual.


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Timelines can be really useful as a visual resource for teaching tenses. Students can often get confused with when to use each tense. A timeline helps set boundaries and a linear visual to follow that helps students understand the difference between each tense and when they're used.


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English Literature

For some English language learners, trying to read in English can be difficult. However, the benefits of having students read stories in English is immense. They get to learn lots of new vocabulary words and see them in context, the same way they likely did in their native language. Students can often find this a big challenge, depending on the complexity of the language in the story.

Storyboard That already has an incredible amount of teacher resources for different stories, plays, poems, and novels that cover a variety of grade levels and difficulties. These resources can make it easier for students to access stories in English and provide resources and activities to help them analyze the language. For young students, you could have them read the story of "Cinderella" and complete some activities analyzing the story. Older students, or those with a more advanced level of English, can read and analyze a more challenging novel, like George Orwell’s 1984. Students can examine themes and vocabulary from the story.

Writing in English

It is key that students use the English they have been learning in their classes. Students often find it daunting to write in a different language without any scaffolding or stimulus. Students could search for and find photos using Photos for Class and use these as a starting point for their writing. Have them find an interesting picture and then write or talk about their image. If you want your students to write a story, have them map it out into storyboards first. Alternatively, students can produce storyboards in English with the help of a story starter.


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Tailored Worksheets and Posters

At some point, you may want to incorporate worksheets with visuals into your classroom. To help get you started, Storyboard That has created a worksheet template gallery full of different types of worksheets and a poster template gallery for all your visual needs. While any of the templates can be useful, there's some that are certainly more beneficial for ESL activities and classrooms.


  • Labeling worksheets are incredibly helpful when students are learning new vocabulary and if you want them to identify objects within a scene. How do all those individual school supplies fit together in the context of a classroom? Or food in a grocery store?

  • Images and text worksheets make it easy to create visual vocabulary worksheets and have students write sentences to describe a small scene or an item.

  • Matching worksheets are beneficial for matching images to the new vocabulary or English to the native language.

  • Flashcards are helpful for recall and vocabulary practice, and you can make custom ones for any unit and level.

  • Story cubes can be used to give students a "random" assortment of objects or people to write sentences and stories about, to help them practice using vocabulary in context.

  • Conjugation posters will brighten up the often boring parts of conjugating verbs and can be customized with visuals and whatever verbs you're studying that unit.

  • Visual vocabulary posters can also be hung in the classroom and provide students with another way to see and absorb new vocabulary.

In addition to these specific ESL activities and resources, there are a wide range of different classroom resources to help your students. These resources are not only useful in the English language classroom, but in all subject areas.

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