Powerpointing My Office

It goes without saying that any good beginner level (and many elementary) coursebook has a picture appropriately labeled to tell the students what everything is.   If it's aimed at general learners, it'll be the kitchen or the bathroom or perhaps all the rooms in a house.  If it's aimed at Business English students or ESP learners, it'll be common instruments they probably come into contact frequently.

But here's the thing... why use someone else's picture when your students actually live in houses, work in offices or manufacture on site?

My tech-tip to bypass the coursebook or rather personalize it, if you wish, is this:

1. Ask students to take photographs of the room they need to describe or refer to in common speech. In the example above, we've used an office.  By the way, these were taken with Torsten's mobile phone.

2. Get your students to load the pictures up into a Powerpoint document.

3. Ask them to now work in groups to share each others best guesses at what things are before checking their dictionaries (online/on the phone/in hard copy).  

If you're working individually, as I am in this case (not many beginner level students in Germany!), talk through the items together, ensuring that the student does most of the work, using words he's already come in contact with before and look up others together, rather than you giving him all the answers.  

4. Ensure that your student(s) do all the labeling themselves.  

5. If you're working on an online platform with students, you can also jpeg the slides and upload them into a common album.

Why is this such an amazing resource?

Aside from the fact it's a very personal photograph and therefore has a real and immediate relationship to the learner and his needs, you can use these pictures/Powerpoint slides, repetitively, to
  • practice articles
  • practice this and that, these and those
  • practice prepositions
  • discuss functions of items
  • review vocabulary
What other things could you get your own language learners taking pictures of and labeling?  What other language functions can these pictures help practice?

Have you ever tried anything like this?   How did it go?   Do you think that the pfaffing involved is setting something like this up is prohibitory (it took us about 10 minutes to go around the building snapping pictures... about 5 minutes to load the pictures from his phone into Powerpoint but then I needed to teach him how to make boxes and label, that was about another 10 minutes - I'd refused to give the instructions in German) - we did this about a month ago and his feedback was that he knows the words because he 'sees' them whenever he looks at things in the office now.

Useful links related to this posting: 


14 Responses to “Powerpointing My Office”

  • TEFL Ninja says:
    June 07, 2010

    I reckon prezi.com would be a fanastic tool for this idea, off to give it a try ( :

    So far I've only used it with my son, in a one-on-one situation. He produced this (see the second presentation, invertebrates, the first one I did to see how it worked)


    I'm thinking of how to stage a group lesson of the same age group to use the same tool and I think your idea would be an excellent theme.

  • Neil Barker says:
    June 07, 2010

    Great idea by the way. I can use this with a few one-on-one classes I have to help students improve describing places and giving directions. Thanks!

  • Eric Burgess says:
    June 08, 2010

    Have you checked out Microsft's Mouse Mischief? It's a PowerPoint add-in. Works great in class as a collaborative tool!

    More here: http://microsoft.com/mousemischief

    -Eric B.
    Community Manager, Mouse Mischief

  • Mike Church says:
    June 08, 2010

    A ridiculously simple idea, Karenne. So ridiculous, so simple, it never even occurred to me. Nice one! I think I might even try it :)

    Thanks, too, Eric, for the Mouse Mischief tip. The more mischief, the better, as far as I'm concerned.

    I also teach a lot of 1:1 classes. They usually start out bigger than that, but there's always one diehard who manages to survive the whole course with me. Once in a while, I like to take them (= him or her) to the supermarket over the road and walk around the aisles, naming food, drink, etc. Very simple, totally preparation-free, dogme-friendly activity, I believe. That's enough waffle from me.

    I *love* your site, Karenne :)

    June 08, 2010

    Hi Sarah, loved the Prezis and glad it helps - actually Neil and Colin thanks for the vote there, I must confess I wondered if this was too "obvious" an idea and then I thought well... it was only after I started working on my blended learning platform (Ning) that I started playing around with Powerpoint and figuring out ways to make my classroom more and more student-centered... I'd always stepped out of course books but now dunno, investigating real materials with digital permanence if that makes any sense...

    Thanks for the hat tip on mousemischief, Eric, confess I haven't played around with it yet but I really should as I keep seeing the words flying around the blogosphere and want to know what the buzz is about!


  • Evan says:
    June 08, 2010

    Nice post Karenne.

    The pictures I like using are the ones of the views from the learners' windows - a variation on one of Mark Powell's small talk activities (see Unit 9 of In Company Upper Intermediate (2nd edition)). Basically the learners bring in pictures of views from their homes or office windows. In class they work in pairs or small groups to look at the view and discuss what they see, exactly as they would in real life. Works every time, and very easy to set up. Very personal too.

    June 08, 2010

    Love this idea, Evan... I guess you just planned my class on Friday (or several of my students' homework at the very least)


  • Walton says:
    June 11, 2010

    I do a low-tech version of this. After we go over everyday words, I put post-it notes on everything with the English word for it. That way, if someone forgets a word for something in the classroom, I can just point. And everyday they get reinforcement. I encourage them to do the same thing to their room/apartment/office until they feel they have memorized the names of everything/

    June 13, 2010

    hee, hee Walton, yes - post-its work too, just not as permanently, referenceable...(not a real word)!


  • Emma Herrod says:
    June 13, 2010

    Neat idea Karenne and one I can use for sure in the coming weeks with my business English students and my younger learners.

    Regarding your question about 'faffing' and whether it's worth it. I would say it is definitely worth it and as long as we do as you did and keep the instructions to the target language, then it is all 'language food' as far as I can see. Perhaps, to get around this fear (and perhaps perception from the student's side), the activity could be done following a lesson on giving instructions and tie the prep in to that??

    Thanks again for a great idea :)

    Emma x

    June 13, 2010

    Thanks Emma, Yes! Sometimes I get a bit paranoid about the whole pfaffing thing.. it's a bit strange having to explain how to create a label box in powerpoint to a grown-up! (But sometimes we assume adults know more than they do when it comes to technology) :-)

    And you're totally right because Torsten learned box, circle (other pics not shown here plus we powerpointed grammar prepositions in the follow-up task) and the words label and arrow!

    :) ach, it's all English! Pffaffing or no Pffaffing.


    June 13, 2010

    Oh, forgot to say that by the way, weeks later when you do a walk through of something that you've photographed (in our case the office) the recall on the new vocabulary is very high! (including words like fire extinguisher)

  • Portuguese-4U says:
    June 13, 2010

    Hi Kalina! That's very useful!

  • John Brezinsky says:
    June 15, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    I'll second Colin's sentiment that this is phenomenally simple and phenomenally great. It really takes the idea of labelling nouns and makes it immediately relevant to the learner--plus they're practicing PowerPoint.

    Great idea all around!


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