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Describing and Captioning a Picture by Chris Gunn

There are three levels of the activity described below:

Intermediate | Basic | Young Learners




Captioning and describing a picture, though incredibly simple as a resource idea, has proved to be an extremely valuable teaching resource for both oral and written communication. Simply put: teachers provide a picture –preferably with lots going on—and then ask students to describe what they see. As students describe what they see, they write it down on the blank space surrounding the picture. Alternatively, teachers can have the students write the descriptions down on a separate piece of paper though I find this is probably unnecessary.  While this is going on, teachers have ample opportunity to provide feedback to students. Depending on the age, the proficiency of students, the image, and whether we are doing it in class or for homework, I usually have students come up with between 10 and 30 sentences to describe the images on each sheet. As well, on some sheets, I have the students write a main caption which is helpful for developing the skill of identifying and describing main ideas. In a similar vein, I sometimes edit the title out of the image and ask the students to supply a title.

I have included a large selection of images for describing as this is an activity that I use again and again because the long term benefits are dramatic. In particular, students get a great deal of sentence level writing practice and really become comfortable with a few select areas of grammar such as writing in the present progressive, using prepositions of place, using there is expletive constructions, and writing about causes and effects. The images also allow for the introduction of select vocabulary in a very meaning focused way.

Using Present Progressive:

Because pictures are moments frozen in time, it is natural to use the present continuous to describe actions contained within the picture. In the first student sample, the students have produced sentences such as:

They are planting trees.

She is looking up.

he is digging.

She is holding an umbrella.

Preposition of Place:

The images also provide opportunities to describe the position of objects in relation to other objects using prepositions of place.

He is on the hay.

The hay is on the pole.

Expletive 'There'

The images also present opportunities to say what is in the picture using expletive construction with 'there'.

In student sample 2, the students write:

There are many roads.

There are two bridges.

There is a river.

There is a town in the castle wall.

As students are writing sentences like these, teachers have a chance to give feedback such as explaining subject verb agreement (there is versus there are).

Other areas of language that come out naturally using images like these are saying what something looks like: The dog looks sad. The horses look tired. Identifying cause and effects: She is unhappy because it is raining.

If students have problems coming up with ideas. You can suggest things such as what people are wearing, what they are holding, where they are looking and what things are made of.







Dinosaurs I


Dinosaurs II






Nile River


Medieval Town


Rabbit Running


Mice and Frogs


Country Life


Farm Life


Farm Life II


Pioneer Family




Viking Long Ship


Under the Sea


Maya Temple


Aztec Warriors


Wild West Explorers


Gold Rush




Japanese Festival


Japanese Fisherman






Age of Exploration


Aztec Market




San Francisco Gold Rush


Wild West Town




Civil War


Castle Siege


Medieval Aristocaracy


Medieval Battle


Medieval Fair


Medieval Feast


Medieval Hunt


Medieval Port


Medieval Tournament


Medieval Market


Medieval Village Life


Norse Village


Halloween Costumes


Greek Agora






Egyptian Battle


Egyptian Builders


Egyptian Farm


Egyptian Children


Native American Warrior


Native American Buffalo Hunt


Native American Tribe


Native American Warriors




Japanese Village


Greek Sea Battle


Lewis and Clark


Lewis and Clark Pacific


Gathering Maple Sugar


Egyptian Hieroglyphics


Egyptian Hunting


Egyptian Market


Egyptian Mummy


Egyptian Pharoah


Egyptian Families


Medieval Kitchen


Nobles at the Manor


Old Christmas


Picking Leaves


Sheering Sheep


Storm at Sea






Also try:

Spot the Differences














All materials  (c) 2007 Lanternfish ESL