Talking Pictures: A Free App That Engage Students in Speaking and Listening Activities


Tap on the link to download the app.
The Pedagogic Principles behind the Speaking Activities.
In EFL speaking activities students need a message to communicate and a reason to listen to each other. Especially when producing a monologue, a clear purpose, helps them structure their speech. Basing a monologue on a picture provides content and scaffolds its organisation. Viewing a picture which another language learner is talking about, increases listener comprehension and facilitates the listener in asking for clarification and making follow up comments. This in turn shows the speaker that they have been listened to and understood, which increases feelings of success and consequently learner motivation.
Language learners need to gain confidence in speaking spontaneously. However, it is difficult to think of both the content message and language needed to communicate that message in real time communication. Repeating what someone else has said, especially when supported by a visual aid, is a powerful stepping stone towards impromptu explanations.
In order to deliver a monologue fluidly and speak fluently, students need time to prepare and rehearse. Rehearsal is most beneficial when students can listen to and assess their own output, making decisions about what to improve, asking advice about areas they are unsure of etc. Audio recording apps really facilitate this process, encouraging extended rehearsal and a focus on accuracy as well as fluency, especially when learners know that their finished product will be shared publicly.

Lesson Idea One: I have a picture to talk about.

A model is given to students, providing them with a clear idea of their goal. The model can be teacher produced or can be an example of student work from a previous round of this activity.
Students choose a picture to describe. They can use the Skitch App to create a picture dictionary of the vocabulary in the photo.
Students listen to the model again and note down the language structures that they may like to use e.g. In this photograph you can see, in the background there is, in the foreground there are, the building in the middle of the picture is… etc.
Students write out their description, showing it to the teacher and/or peer reviewers for feedback.
Students record their description using the Talking Pictures App. They listen to it in preview mode. They can re-record their description as many times as they wish until they are satisfied with it. Headphones are recommended for this part of the activity.
A filler activity is necessary at this point, as some students will complete the task earlier than others. Students can listen to previously recorded models of Talking Pictures sent to them by email.
Classroom meta-communicative language such as ‘Can I tell you about this picture?’ ‘Yes, go ahead.’, ‘Sorry, someone already showed me that picture.’ ‘Thanks, that was great.’ can be drilled so that as much communication as possible is carried out in English during the ensuing mingle activity.
Students need to have their own iPads clearly identifiable and their auto lock switched off for the mingle part of this activity. Students find a partner and exchange iPads. The partners listen to each other’s recordings whilst standing close to each other. Headphones are recommended for this part of the activity. After listening, students ask each other clarification and follow up questions. They need to prepare themselves to describe their partner’s picture to another student. They can listen to the recording several times and even shadow repeat the message (repeat the message a few seconds after the speaker has spoken.)
Using the meta-communicative language drilled at stage 7, students approach others and describe their friend’s picture. They are not allowed to play their friend’s recording. The purpose of this stage of the lesson is to give them practice in real time communication.
Students exchange iPads once again. So now, Student A’s iPad is with Student C. There is a pause in movement during which students can listen to the original description on Talking Pictures using headphones. Then students find a new partner and describe their third picture to their third partner.
A possible follow up activity as a whole class is for students to comment in which pictures they liked and why.

Lesson Idea Two: Which picture am I talking about?

A model is given to students, giving them a clear idea of their goal. The model can be teacher produced or can be an example of student work from a previous round of this activity. Elicit that descriptions start off with what is common to all four photos, and eventually moves to what differentiates the target photo, so that the listener has to listen carefully and follow a process of elimination.
Students use the Pic Collage App to make a compilation of four pictures on a page. They need to choose pictures that look similar, so that their peers have to listen carefully to distinguish between the images. The collage is saved to Camera roll so that it can be uploaded to the Talking Pictures App.
Students listen to the model again and note down the language structures that they may like to use e.g. There is/ are, in my picture you can see…., adjectives and nouns etc.
Students write out their descriptions, and the teacher provides feedback. Descriptions should be kept secret so that every student in the class is part of the guessing process. If the task is challenging, pairs can co-author one description.
Students record their description using the Talking Pictures App. They listen to it in preview mode. They can re-record their description as many times as they wish until they are satisfied with it. Headphones are recommended for this part of the activity.
A filler activity is necessary at this point as some students will complete the task earlier than others. Students can listen to previously made models of Talking Pictures sent to them by email.
Depending on the class size and time available, individuals can either mirror their iPads on Apple TV and have the whole class guess which picture they are describing, or they can work in groups, using their iPads as a screen. Alternatively, students can upload links to their Talking Picture on a learning management system and learners can listen individually and write down which image each student has described.
NB. We are unable to provide you with an example of the audio recordings at present as there is a glitch in the system when sharing the link via Dropbox, Box or Google Drive. The email link created by these three sharing systems when processed by Safari, fails to open up in the appliance, but rather links with Web Dav or iFiles. Each recording can easily be shared by email, but that has its obvious limitations.

Video Edit For Free App Empowers Speaking and Listening


Click here to access the video link

Video Edit For Free is a video editing tool which enables users to combine videos from different sources so the they can be played in smooth succession. Videos can be uploaded from the Camera Roll or filmed directly on the app. Up to ten minutes of video can be combined. Unlike iMovies, we were able to email 5 minutes of video footage without a problem from Video Edit For Free.
Speaking Lesson Pan Idea: Spot the Lie
1. Students prepare a monologue about themselves, for example their daily routines. They incorporate an obvious lie in their story. The purpose of fellow students listening to them will be to spot the lie. For example, when students talked about their daily routines, one slipped in that he travelled to work by camel everyday, and another one said he went to the park with his 50 children each evening.
2. Students use an audio recorder such as Sound Note or Audioboo to rehearse telling their story. They can listen to themselves and decide when they are ready to be recorded by the teacher. For time management purposes it is essential to have self study activities available to students so that they are occupied whilst other students are being individually recorder by the teacher or a student designated to be that cameraman for the day.
3. Students are issued with a three columned table: col 1. Student name., col 2. The Lie , col 3. Feedback to the student. As the video is aired, learners write down each student’s lie and a feedback comment. Our feedback comments included: look at the camera more, try not to read from the paper etc.
Comment: The first time students do such an activity, they may feel nervous and prefer to read from their written text, rather than recount the information they have planned. On later occasions, they can be guided to freer speaking, by only allowing them to write down key words on a piece of paper and using these as prompts.

Students’ Presentations: Getting Ready for Speaking Exams

This semester, we have been teaching groups of level 1 students. A while ago, we shared some lesson ideas on getting ready for speaking exams and today we would like to share some short clips of our students getting ready for speaking exams by presenting to their classmates. Please note that the entry and exit CEFR levels for Level 1 students are A2 and A2+ and that they have only had 10 weeks of instruction prior to these videos being taken.  Therefore, we feel they have done an amazing job preparing for these presentations and presenting in front of their classmates and teachers.  The students prepared their presentations on Keynote App and connected to the Apple TV in our classrooms with ease. A big thanks to all our lovely students for agreeing their videos to be shared with you on our blog:)

Abdulla’s Presentation

Humaid’s Presentation

Ebrahem’s Presentation

Jassim and Mohamed’s Presentation

Emirati National Day

December 2nd is National Day in the United Arab Emirates.  This year will be the 41st anniversary of the unification of the Emirates. Today we celebrated at college with a car parade of cars adorned with national flags and photos. There were also stalls displaying local products and artifacts such as henna painting and reed weaving. I took lots of photos and videos with the belief that they will be useful for future iPad projects.


I initially used the photos in class to help students students prepare for a paired question and answer speaking exam. As a teacher the beauty of doing this on the iPad was that it literally took 15 mins maximum to put together as a lesson, once I had taken the photos. The Audioboo was unrehearsed and I thank Robert Dobie  for agreeing to make a spontaneous recording. Robert produces

Here is the steps we followed:

Provide an example of the speaking task :

Task Prompt: Look at the three photos and decide which stall you would visit if you were at the National Day Celebrations, but only had time to visit one stall.  ( The car is part of a decorated car parade. There is a prize for the winner.)

Play Audio boo to demonstrate the task and elicit key language.

Use Skitch and photos to name items in photo, brainstorm words onto the photos that students can use during the speaking task.

Practice would you like to… Do you like verb ing  Questions ( optional)

Students carry out the same speaking task  from the Audioboo. This scaffolds them into the task.

Students swop partners and  repeat process with new pictures

Students record themselves conducting the speaking tasks using Audioboo, then  listen  and evaluate their performance .

The whole class listen to a number of class generated recordings and discuss strengths and things to work on .


The 6 photos were collated  using the Pic Collage App.


 Here are two videos from the celebrations. One of the car parade by students, and another one of the Emirati National Dance performed by a group of students.

car parade

dance video



I am sharing some of these here as one of the great things about e-learning is that students have access to many cultures and traditions previously unavailable to them. Please feel free to use them.

For really professional photos of the U.A,E taken by a colleague Peter Waters, please visit his blog:

I will post more photos of the celebrations taking place on National Day itself- December 2nd.


Skitch: Providing feedback, Giving Instructions and Developing Games

Skitch is free and can be accessed via its website or as an App. It allows users to annotate and share a new photo, one from their Camera Roll, or a web screen shot making it a very flexible classroom tool.

An Aid to Classroom Management

Students can be photographed either individually or according to where they usually sit, at the beginning of term, and their names or college identity numbers written over the photo.  This will help the teacher learn student names quickly or at least have a quick reference tool when in class. Students who have individual iPads can take a photo of something easily identifiable to them and use Skitch to write their name on the photo. This can be set as the Home Screen and Set Lock Screen, so that the device is easily identifiable.






The blank slate function can also act as a whiteboard which teachers can use when moving amongst students. It can be used with individual students or with the whole class via the projector.

An Aid in Providing Feedback in Written Work

Teachers can take a screen shot of student work, which then becomes saved in Camera Roll. After importing the photograph into Skitch, they can annotate the student authored text using a variety of colours and choose between handwriting and typing. Lexical items, sentences or areas of text can also be boxed and commented on.  Now in image format, the marked work is emailed to students who save it, insert it into a writing document and make the changes necessary to improve their work.

An Aid to Giving Clear Instructions

Annotated images provide students with clear directions on which icons to tap, the sequence to follow, the codes to submit etc. Individual images can be embedded into a Keynote Presentation or a Camera Roll Slideshow, and used in whole class lockstep or at the learner’s individual pace. These instructional clips enable teachers to circulate and provide individual help. Skitch annotations can also be embedded into PDF instructional sheets.








An Aid to Classroom Games

The Pixel-blur function helps create information gaps which lead to genuine classroom communication. For example, target vocabulary items can be partially blurred, adding another dimension to naming lexical items. Instead of simply asking ‘Can you name this word in English?’ the teacher challenges students to use their imagination.





The same effect can be achieved with the crop function. Blurred images can be effectively used in tandem with the flashcard App A Pro +.  Blurred images prompt the use of modal of possibility, as in the man up the ladder might be cleaning the windows or he may be locked out of his house.

In the thieves’ scenario, one witness can describe thief one to the police and, the other thief two. Before being interviewed by the police, the witnesses also share their descriptions with each other.






Ease of Use

Skitch is very easy to use and share, although there are occasional glitches during which the delete icon keeps reappearing whilst users try to write with the pen and sometimes marks slide down the page. One tip is to save the image to Camera Roll before writing too much. As Skitch is owned by Evernote, it also works more reliably and offers a save option if you have an Evernote Account to which it is synchronized.

I would certainly recommend this versatile programme as a key mainstay of your teaching toolkit.

This App review first appeared in Perspectives Volume 19 No. 3 produced by TESOL Arabia and was republished in this blog with their permission.



Something old, something new – marrying the two.

Some lesson material works again and again regardless of its age and for me, one of my golden oldies for practicing the simple past and simple past question forms is Willie the Kid from Streamline Departures by Bernard Hartley &Peter Vinney, OUP (






The wild west theme works well with male students and also matches a character set and background from the Puppet Pal App.  Thus, we have language input in the form of a story and output in the form of an interview between a journalist from The Dodge City News and the sheriff delivered via a puppet show.


This is a brief summary of how we worked through the lesson.

This comic strip was projected on the board and used to elicit the setting and possible scenarios. Students then worked on vocabulary in Spelling City.









As students had newly been introduced to the simple past, their work mainly concentrated on learning the endings of regular past verbs.  Students then listened to the story and filled in a gapped text which again focused on regular past verb forms. This can be done with a pencil and paper or if a digital copy is preferred,  words can be blanked out using the white pen  in Skitch by the teacher, and the worksheet sent to the students as an image . Students then use an annotation app such as Neu Annotate to fill in the words, then listen to check their answers. An alternative is to send students the original text and get them to highlight all simple past verbs using an annotation tool.








This is an old fashioned form focused,  consciousness raising activity which students enjoy because  it helps them manipulate the target language at an early stage of learning it and it is achievable.  Whilst doing this kind of activity essentially constitutes substituting the iPad for the book, I think it still has a place in iPadagogy because it is a scaffolding step on the way to potentially public, student generated digital product centering on the use of language they are acquiring.

Students next asked and answered questions about the story orally. All prompts came from the online teacher’s book found at the  


These questions help students automatize simple past question and answer forms, so that when they come to analyze the language, they have a visual and audio memory of form. Simple past question formation was then elicited onto the board using ‘Write and Slide’ sheets.




This language structure work was left on the board for peripheral learning and as a resource whilst students produced their own questions during the communicative language activity.




Students worked in groups of three to produce their interview puppet shows. so that they had three screens were available to them at once: one student had the original text, another wrote up the interview dialogue and a third prepared the characters and background for the show. Each student contributed to every production stage.









Once students had written and practiced their interviews, they found a quiet spot outside the classroom to record them. Finally, we had a class screening of different productions.

The puppet show interviews varied both in the questions they asked and in the way they began and ended their dialogues. Some groups even had the sheriff’s horse or Willie the Kid’s horse speaking. All groups used simple past question forms and answers, although they did not all use them correctly.  The results were much the same as when I first used this activity in 1985. However, I feel that students had a more personalized, sustainable experience of my Willie the Kid lesson now that it is delivered with the  iPad.  This springs from our using the Spelling City App which enables students to work on vocabulary at their own pace and to be able to repeat an activity as they see fit. Each time students open an exercise they have a clean slate. A variety of games focus on different features of the target lexis including pronunciation, spelling, meaning and the sentence grammar of the word. The competitive gaming element encourages students to concentrate and they appear to learn words more deeply, than if they were doing paper based vocabulary exercises. Secondly, students take their recorded interview away with them. It is no longer transient as it was in 1985. In the past, students took away a written version of the dialogue, but now they have both the written and spoken versions and they are accessible where ever they are. They can share them with pride, revise from them and use them to evaluate their own performance. The Puppet Pal interviews can also be stored in an e-portfolio as evidence of  progress.  Thirdly, the prefabricated characters and background scenery encouraged student creativity. I have done this activity many times, but have never had a talking horse giving his opinion before.







   ”Popplet is a platform for your ideas. Popplet’s super simple interface allows you to move at the speed of your thoughts. With Popplet you can capture your ideas and sort them visually in realtime.”

With its simple interface, Popplet allows iPad users to create visual mind maps in seconds. As teachers, we have been using Popplet to plan our lessons and create workflows. With a tap, it is possible to put differently colored popples, connect/disconnect, move and resize popples on the pinboard. Popplets can be saved as photos on  iPads or e-mailed as PDf or jpeg fies. Teachers can name the popplets with the date of the workflow, or the theme of the lesson for record keeping.




We have also been encouraging our students to use Popplet, especially for brainstorming before writing. The easiness of being able to crate a colorful visual mind map has been welcomed greatly be our students. They have been brainstorming on Popplet before writing and inserting the Popplet into Pages to refer to while writing. This, we must say, works really well and makes Popplet one of our most commonly used Apps!


Audioboo App for iPhones and iPads

Audioboo enables you to create, store and store and share audio digital files across multiple devices.   The free app gives you 3 minutes of recording time, and there appears to be a limitless number of Boos you can make. Audioboo Plus paid App costs £60.

The sound quality is excellent, the instruction panel is not text dense and there is a pause and resume button, is a feature which many recording apps do not have.  Boos can be tagged for easy retrieval. Tags are keywords or terms which allow words to be repeatedly located through ta searches. For example, students could pull up all Boos associated with describing people, telling stories about journeys or holidays etc. Tagging is a digital literacy skill all students should acquire as tags in order to manage disparate pieces of work. Boos can also be given titles and signature photographs for easy recognition when searching archives.

In an EFL environment teacher or student created Boos can be used as models for others to emulate or for level appropriate listening practice. Students were able to write in Pages, keep it open, press the record button in Audioboo and scroll back a screen to their Pages text, to read it out, or use the key words highlighted there as to scaffold their speaking. Knowing that their end products would be available for others to listen to, encouraged our EFL learners to raise the bar.  Many students recorded and re-recorded their descriptions before sharing them with the class via a direct email option. Peers listened to each other’s Boos and wrote comments. After feedback from students, they improved their recordings, before they are entered into their digital speaking portfolio on iBooks.

As the Audioboos produced by others can be searched for and listened to either under the Chanel Tab or on the website, Audioboo is also a great source of authentic listening materials. Channels Boos include recordings by the BBC, The Redbull’s Formula 1 Team, Manchester United Fan Club etc. Although many of these recordings are of CEFRL C1 or C2 level, they can be used with lower level learners if the task to be achieved is within their reach. For example, commentary by the BBC may require students to simply list the countries mentioned, that from the Manchester United Boos could require students to write down the number of goals scored and who scored them.

Finally, it is obvious that Boo Head Quarters are spending a lot of time developing this App and its support website. There are some interesting mini articles on how Audioboo is being used in education. It is certainly an App and a website that it work checking out.

Please also see the Lesson Plan Section of this blog, where you can find a lesson plan focusing on teacher made Boos.

Capturing Student Sentences After An Oral Pair Work Activity With Explain Everything

Workflow Plan: Using the Explain Everything App to Capture Samples of Student Language in a Semi-free Oral Activity

Description: Students challenge each other to make sentences using language randomly selected from a grid. Sentences are then recorded in spoken and written form. App:Explain Everything

Class email address




Materials Needed:Battleships grid (downloaded from





Lettered squares contain the names of people & subject pronouns, numbered squares contain adjectives.




Plan APP Outcome/Rationale
Students retrieve their allotted worksheet from the class email inbox e.g. and open it up in Explain Everything. Class email addressExplain Everything 
Oral Pair Work Stage:Students work in pairs.  They sit back to back so they need to listen to each other carefully.Each partner has a grid with different words on it.

St. A says ‘Choose a letter and a number’

St B says ‘ I’ll have ….. and …..

St A reads the words in the chosen squares

St B incorporates the words into a sentence adding because and supplying a reason e.g. Policemen are happy because they help people.


Explain Everything

Students produce language at the sentence level.Students revise subject and verb agreement.They work on simple cause/effect relationships.
Language Capture Stage:Students minimize the Battleship Grid providing room to write down some of the sentences they have just produced orally.The teacher circulates, giving feedback and using the highlight and writing function to draw student attention to learner errors.

Students record several additional sentences.


Explain Everything Writing and recording sentences produced during the pair work activity helps students internalize the target language and provides a record for later recycling work.
Sharing Student Work:Students tap the save icon and name the document.Students tap the share icon and email the document as a PDF to the class email address.

The teacher either opens up emails or asks students to mirror their work onto the board.

Whole class error correction work and remedial teaching can take place and be captured on the board.

Students photograph the board, return to Explain Everything and insert the image next to their sentences and Battleship Grid.

Explain EverythingCamera Sharing work motivates students to produce good quality work and students can learn from both the errors their peers have made and the good language examples their peers produce.Sharing work exposes students to more comprehensible input of the language in focus.

An example of the student page including a photograph of a boarded remedial slot from another part of the lesson.