Category Archives: Picture Description

Step by Step: How I train my students to pass Part 2 (the pictures) of the standardized speaking exams. Part 1.

Alright, alright!

I know this is the third time I’ve posted this week. It seems I’m full of energy after the Christmas break. I really needed that break, didn’t you? Anyway, happy to go back to teaching, but hanging ominously over my head like a black cloud about to burst is the pressing necessity to start training my students to take their standardized speaking exams which will allow them to promote to the C1 (advanced level).

For those of you who are not familiar with the exam, let me explain how it goes. You might find you can apply it to your own classes, even though it’s not exactly the same kind of exam.

There are two tasks in the speaking exam.

  • Part 1: examiner-led conversation. The examiner asks questions about a topic and the students give full answers.
  • Part 2: the monologue, where the students are given a set of pictures (normally two or three).

About Part 2

In this second part, the one this whole post is built upon, the student is offered two or three colour photographs. Normally, the photos are in contrast or represent different options of the same issue.  Also, there is a title or a statement which suggests the topic of the monologue. After some thinking time, normally a couple of minutes, the student is given the opportunity to speak for about 4-5 minutes without interruption.

At this level, students are expected to talk about the topic using a wide range of vocabulary and grammar structures and they will have to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the most important issues related to the topic.

Students face different fears when preparing for the oral exams. Some of them are:

  • Do I know enough specific vocabulary?
  • Will I be able to use a variety of structures or will I stick to the simple subj+verb+complement structure?
  • Now,  the topic is “food”?  3 or 4 minutes talking about food? Seriously?  For heaven’s sake, I cannot even talk for one minute, let alone three or four!

Vocabulary and ideas. Keywords here.

How I train my students. Topic: Food

This is how I help them step by step. Bear in mind this is the first post of a series of posts dedicated to training students to pass the oral exam. As students gain confidence, guidance will be less necessary and some of these steps will be either unnecessary or done by students as part of their learning process.

1. Brainstorming vocabulary. Learning progresses through prior knowledge, so tapping into students’ prior knowledge is an essential part of learning.

On the board, we brainstorm the vocabulary they already know. This is an important step because it helps students reinforce and bring to life the vocabulary studied in previous courses.

Then, I ask them some very simple questions where they can activate this vocabulary: What’s your favourite food? What is the most expensive restaurant that you have ever been to? What did you eat there?

2.Acquiring new vocabulary. We work on new vocabulary using a number of written and oral exercises. (Any good course book provides enough vocabulary input, at least to get started). It’s important to emphasize here the importance of learning words in chunks. Surely, you can teach the word “ obesity” on its own, but there some other words you really want to teach in collocations like, for example, “eating disorders” or to “be obsessed with”. Also important, essential I should say, is pronunciation.

3.  Getting Ideas. Reading and Speaking. More often than not students find it hard to think on their feet. They find it difficult to come up with ideas that will fill in the 3 or 4 minutes allowed for this part.

You might disagree with me here, but I always tell them that oral exams are like the rest of the exams they might take. They need to prepare. They need to study.

Lack of preparation might result in something I’ve seen very often when assessing oral exams; students might talk for one minute and then, suddenly, stop. Now, you might wait patiently for them to come up with something else but the truth is that very often, when prompted to continue, they just repeat the same ideas they have already used. Why? most of the times due to lack of preparation. They mistakenly think that they don’t need to study for oral exams. They do.

So, listen up dear students! You need to study for oral exams.


Reading about different issues related to the topic not only reinforces the vocabulary they have learnt and gives them a chance to see it used in context but also gives them ideas of what they can talk about when doing the real task.

I normally use short extracts from The Pais in EnglishHere’s my choice of extracts for the topic of food. This how we do it:

  • We read the extracts in class or set the reading task as homework.
  • We underline relevant vocabulary.
  • Students discuss the questions in pairs, followed by class discussion.


4. The pictures. I am lucky to have a computer and an overhead projector in my class, so I normally display a collage with two or three related pictures on the board. You can see the ones I have used for this topic here and here.

Together we read the title and brainstorm ideas to fill in these 3 or 4 minutes. This step should be easy now as we have previously discussed some ideas in the previous task. Some ideas could be:

Together, we brainstorm vocabulary

  • Pesticides
  • Label
  • To be obsessed with
  • Bulimia
  • Fats
  • Proteins
  • Carbs
  • …etc

  1. Tips.
  • Look at the pictures and the title if there is one. It will hint at what you need to talk about.
  • If you are given some thinking time, use it.
  • Remember that you are not asked to describe in detail what you can see in the pictures. You are asked to compare and contrast the pictures talking about the topic.
  • Focus on three or four ideas and develop them as much as you can without repeating yourself. Start with a short introduction about the topic, talk about the first idea, develop it; start with the second idea and repeat procedure.
  • Don’t forget to use specific vocabulary and a variety of structures.
  • Essential: practise a lot and record yourself taking the exam.

6. Homework. Further practice. Collaboratively writing on a Padlet.

This follow-up task has two main aims:

  • to reinforce acquired knowledge and strategies
  • to share ideas. By asking students to write on a  collaborative Padlet, they benefit from each other and see other ideas which might help them improve their own performance.

All the Padlets created for this purpose will then be shared in a single one where students, at a glance, can decide what topic to revise.

In the next post, we will move from writing to speaking on a Padlet.

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Oral Exam: Monologue Based on One or More Pictures. Some Tips and Ideas to Get Started

In the intermediate and more advanced exam you will be presented with one, two or more pictures about the same topic but in clear contrast. It’s important to remember that you are not supposed to give a detailed description of everything that is happening in the picture(s). On the contrary, what is important is that you talk about the topic or idea suggested in the picture(s). If you are given  for example 3 minutes to talk, use just one minute of this time to describe in general, using appropriate language and structures; the rest of the time should be dedicated to talking about the topic and giving your opinion.


  • Make a list of the most common topics asked in the exam.
  • Brainstorm vocabulary you can use related to this topic. Mind mapping works perfect here. I use the free site Goconqr.

Mapa Mental creado con GoConqr por Cristina Cabal

  • Practise using sets of pictures in contrast. You can use my own selection here. (Scroll down)
  • If your problem is that you never know what to say, I suggest you have a look at some conversation questions you might be asked about the given topic. It will probably help you get started. Have a look at some common topics with questions here.
  • Listen to other students taking the exam (for example here) or read some examples here (fashion, global warming, jobs, new technologies and food)
  • Time yourself to control the time it takes you to develop your ideas.
  • Record yourself and then listen to the recording and see how you can improve it. You can use the app Soundcloud, which allows you to stop the recording and write comments.

(You can write a comment on a track through the text box below the waveform that says ‘Write a comment…’ and press your return or enter key to send. The comment will appear at the point on the waveform where you first started typing. Alternatively, you can click any free space in the comment section to leave a comment at that specific point)

  • The day before the exam, revise all the topics and the vocabulary you can use.
  • Half an hour before the exam, don’t speak your mother tongue. Spend the time listening, doing some silent reading or pronunciation exercises in English.


Before you start speaking:

  • If you are allowed 1 minute to organise your ideas, use that minute. I have often seen candidates not taking this minute and making a mess of the exam just because they didn’t take the time to organise their ideas.
  • Scan the pictures and identify the topic. Sometimes there is a title or a heading that helps you.
  • Try to come up with three ideas about the topic suggested by the pictures. Expand on these ideas.

Taking the exam:

  • Begin by giving an overall idea of what the pictures are about, using a variety of structures, modals to indicate possibility and the useful “look” or “seem”.
  • Talk about the topic. It’s easier if you relate it to yourself, but if you don’t have this experience, talk about a friend’s or just lie. This is an English exam, not a lie detector.



  • Develop your ideas. Try to use linkers to connect your ideas.
  • Don’t give too complicated explanations. I’m sorry to say, you’ll probably make mistakes.
  • Give your opinion. Say which one you prefer and why.

Some expressions you can use:

Remember it’s better if you start by giving a general idea of what the pictures are about.  Don’t start like this:

In the first picture I can see

Start like this:

  • In this worksheet there are two photos. They both show different ways of (shopping).
  • These photos are clearly both connected to the topic of (science)… but in two quite different contexts. In the first one… In contrast, the second picture shows…
  • The photo/picture shows …
  • The first thing that strikes me about this picture is…


Remember that you are describing a picture, so you cannot be 100% sure of what is happening. Use language that suggests this:

  •  I think…
  • Maybe / Perhaps…
  • I guess they are…
  •  Modal verbs of deduction: she must / can’t /
  • Modal verbs of possibility: could, may, might
  •  She looks/seems… (tired)/ She looks like … (a teacher). It looks/seems as if (it’s raining)


Go to  and scroll down to the section SET OF PICTURES FOR PRACTICE and just “practise”. “A  lot!” 🙂


Tips and Links to Prepare for the Oral Exam at Home

I love trying new tools and today I’m trying Wideo, which is a tool which lets you create beautiful animated video content in a very easy way. Although I’ll write about some of  its pros and cons below, the reason why I’ve chosen Wideo today is because I needed a tool that allowed me to insert interactive buttons in an easy way and Wideo is perfect for this.

So, here’s the video: Tips and Links to Prepare for the Oral Exam at Home

Play the video. It will stop where interactive buttons are provided (last two slides). Click to resume the video.

What I like about this tool:

  • it’s free, easy to use and very intuitive.
  • It provides free video hosting
  • Lots of professionally-designed templates to choose from
  • You can upload your own picture, music and background images
  • You can add interactive elements (clickable buttons and contact forms)
  • It provided a unique url and an embed code
  • You can switch from video mode to presentation mode for slide-by-slide presentation.

 What I don’t like:
    • Time limit: on a free plan, the length of the videos is restricted to 3o seconds.
    • You have to pay to download your video

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Lesson Plan: Families

FAMILY, in capitals, because is there anything more important in this world?

“Family is not an important thing, it’s everything.”Michael J. Fox. How far do you agree with Michael J. Fox?

This is a lesson for Intermediate students (B1) about Family. In this post you will find

  • A video about traditional and non-traditional families.
  • Some vocabulary you might need to revise/learn when discussing this subject.
  • Guided speaking: questions to discuss+ answers offered by a native speaker  (Flip Cards).
  • Freer Practice: pictures to describe and some questions to discuss in pairs or small groups

The first activity in this lesson (the video) will be set as homework.

1. The Video. What Is a Non-Traditional Family? – Definition of Options.

It is a long video. It lasts 8 minutes so I’d suggest breaking it up and asking students to work on different parts of the video.  In the video five non-traditional /alternative households are mentioned.

  • In class, show students the video and explain it discusses traditional and non-traditional families.
  • Explain that everybody will need to listen to the introduction where the concept of traditional family is explained (from the beginning – 1:02).
  • Explain that in the video Erin Long-Crowell, an educational psychologist, talks about five different non-traditional/alternative households.
  • Form groups of five students and tell them that in the next lesson they will be working in groups of five and each of them will share what they have learned about their assigned non-traditional household.
  • Assign tasks for the different students in the  group

Student 1: single parenthood 1:07-2:20

Student 2: cohabitation 2:20-3:23

Student 3: GLBT 3:23-4:32

Student 4: Polygamy 4:32-5:21

Student 5: Singlehood 5:21-6.30

(video no longer available on youtube) Click here to see it

2. Vocabulary. Family Life

Phasal Verbs

  • To take after your mum/dad
  • To bring up a child
  • To fall out ( with your sister)
  • To make up
  • To get on (well) with sb
  • To get along with sb



  • To raise your children
  • To adopt
  • To quarrel with your siblings
  • To get divorced/ to be divorced
  • To share ( a bedroom)
  • To cohabit/kəʊˈhabɪt/
  • to start a family


  • To have (a lot of) things in common
  • To get together
  • (A cousin) on my father’s side
  • To be close to
  • (not) to see eye to eye
  • To be the main breadwinner= the person in the family who earns the highest income
  • to be under age
  • to come of age


  • A family gathering/ reunion /get-together
  • Childhood
  • Birth rate
  • Birth order
  • relationship
  • Immediate or nuclear/extended family
  • Twin
  • a spouse
  • Sibling (rivalry)
  • A parent
  • your significant other = Aspouse or long-term sexual or romantic partner
  • one-parent families
  • In-laws
  • Exhusband
  • Half brother
  • relationship
  • Step brother
  • A relative
  • Ancestors=aperson, typically one more remote than a grandparent, from whom one is descended
  • An only child
  • memories


  • traditional and non-traditional family
  • single parenthood
  • Close knit family

PDF here

3. Speaking .Guided speaking: questions to discuss+ answers offered by a native speaker  (Flip Cards)

  • Students in pairs. Display question 1 and allow two or three minutes for students to discuss this question. Flip the card for them to see how a native speaker would answer the question. Follow the same procedure with the rest of the questions.

Conjunto de Fichas creado con GoConqr por cristina.cabal

  • Freer Practice: pictures to describe and compare.
  • Freer Practice:conversation questions.

PDF here

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Picture Description Intermediate: New Technologies and Food

Once again I thank my students for  kindly contributing to this blog. These  two examples of Picture Description have been sent by Noelia and Carmen from the Intermediate Level.

Thank you girls! Well done!

FOOD by Carmen Gayol

These pictures are clearly both connected with the topic of food.

The picture on the left shows two women who are cooking in a kitchen. One of them is younger than the other, but they seem to  get on well; I’d say that they have a lot in common, they could  be mother and daughter or have  a close relationship.

In the picture on the right, we can see a young couple eating. I think they are in a restaurant, an oriental restaurant because the decoration that can be seen in the background.

 We all need to eat to live, but It‘s clear that the food, in our society, is something more than nutrition. Nowadays, we all use the meals to socialize. We have family meals, business meal, and we all enjoy eating with friends.

Sometimes we prefer eating at home, like in the photo on the left, but other times, we eat out.

However, the main problem isn’t where, but what we eat. In my view, today people tend to eat fast food because they don’t have enough time to prepare a meal and they are always in a hurry. This food isn`t   always healthy, it is many times junk food which contains many calories and carbohydrates and there is a good chance  people will get overweight.

If I had to choose one of the photos, I’m sure I’d choose the first, because it makes me remember old times with my mother , and in addition, I believe that it’s a good way to enjoy eating and cooking.


These two pictures show a connection with the topic of new technologies ,especially with the  internet.

In the first photo there is a woman sitting behind  a desktop and she has a tablet between her hands; probably she is in an office, maybe her workplace. In the second one, a little girl looks as if  she is surfing the internet and she  seems very interested in what she is seeing.  Although I can´t be sure ,I think  she is at home.

Nowadays, both pictures are very common in daily life, although in different ways. The first one shows a typical day at work in all the offices in the world.It is generally accepted that today no company would be operative without the  internet and the  new technologies because they would be unconnected and inefficient. And in the second one, children tend to be connected to the internet every day. When I was child, there was no internet, mobiles or computers, only some privileged people could afford them, but I was very happy playing traditional games with my friends in the street, for example with a  ball,  my dolls …

In my opinion, internet is very important in our lives, I couldn´t live without my mobile, my laptop etc… everybody surfs the net, everybody knows Facebook and even some people work vía Internet. However, I believe sometimes it could be dangerous especially in teenagers and children because there are parents who don´t control what their children are uploading or downloading onto the web and who their children are in  touch with.

You might also find  this section interesting. Check it out!




Picture Description: Speculating

Picture Description is an important part of the Oral Exam and it needs to be practised. Two weeks ago, I published a post containing Some Useful Guidelines and Techniques for Picture Description that you might want to read.

One of the things that you need to take into account when describing a picture is that you cannot be 100% sure what is happening in the picture. Therefore, you need to use appropriate language to show you  are guessing. You have to speculate about the pictures For example: He is likely to / she’ll probably find it quite tough… etc

Some structures you can use:

  • Look as if + sentence/ Seem as if + sentence : he looks as if / seems as if he is looking for something
  • Seem + to infinitive: he seems to be tired/ he seems to be having a great time
  • Look/ Seem + adjective: They look/ seem quite tired
  • Appear + to infinitive : She doesn’t  appear to be concentrated on what she’s doing

Some modal verbs  you can use.

  • Must : for positive deduction. He must be happy because he’s smiling. The photo must have been taken in summer.
  • Can’t : for negative deduction. He can’t be going to school because he is not carrying books.
  • May/ Might/Could : for posibility. He could be telling her something she doesn’t like. The photo might have been taken in winter as they are wearing winter clothes.

Words like : perhaps, maybe…

Let’s listen to an example now.

You’ll hear a girl called Magda practising this part of the Speaking test


Source: Complete First Certificate  by Cambridge

Preparing for the Oral Exam? Some Useful Guidelines and Techniques for Describing Pictures

For better or for worse the course is coming to an end and exams are just here. I can almost see them beckoning me and you. I am ready, the question is … are you?

In the oral exam you’ll have to  demonstrate your speaking skills as well as your ability to communicate and for this, it is essential that you practise… a lot. 

Here are some Guidelines and Techniques  to help you score a high mark in the Picture Description  Part of the exam. I hope they are helpful!!

Click here to download the pdf

Click here to see the Slideshare 

♥Click here to see the presentation mode of the Infographic below



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Picture Description: Homes 2

In this post you’ll find some  material to practise describing two pictures about Houses/Rooms in a House. There is some useful vocabulary  and expressions as well as  two different sets of pictures  with some questions that might give you some ideas of what you need to talk about in this part of the exam. Remember that you’ll  need to practise describing , comparing and giving opinion . Download the pdf here

To see an example of two students doing this exercise, go to Pictures Description Homes : Part 1

For further practice, visit the Picture Description Section in this blog.

Step1. Study this vocabulary and expressions before you start describing.   Useful Expressions:

  • It is too expensive for me to rent/buy a house
  • decorate in my own taste
  • a place of my own
  • live on my own
  • can’t afford to rent
  •  crowded with furniture
  • the room is airy and light

Special Attention to Prepositions:

  • live in a city/the country
  • live on the outskirts of a city
  • live on the north coast
  • live on the second floor

Types of Houses

  • a detached house
  • a semidetached house
  • terraced houses
  • cottage
  • bungalo
  • block of flats
  • a motor house
  • skyscraper
  • a mansion
  • a house boat

Step 2. Practice 1: Describe, compare and give opinion Some ideas to help you:

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a house or a flat?
  • How many different homes have you lived in? Which did you prefer?
  • What do you think about people keeping big dogs in flats?
  • What is your relationship with your neighbours?
  • What is your general feeling about the architecture in your local area?

  Step 2. Practice 2: Describe, compare and give opinion   Some ideas to help you:

  • Do you have a lot of decorations in your home or is it bare?
  • What would you say the decoration style of your home is?
  • What would your ideal house or apartment look like?
  • Is your home clean? Are you a very organized person?


Guess Who!

Good morning folks!! I hope you are having a great week!!! Me?? So far, I can’t complain!!

Here we go once again with an activity where you ‘ll need to use your writing abilities in a game . Have a look at the mosaic below; I guess you’ll recognise most of our celebrities but if you don’t , don’t hassle , for this game you’ll need to write about one of them .


Aim: to describe both, physical  appearance and personality, of one of the celebritities in the mosaic  without mentioning their name.


♥ Choose one of the celebrities  and without mentioning who he/she is ,write a description of both physical appearance and personality.

♥ Don’t forget to use adverbs of degree  : quite, slightly, a bit, a little

♥ Show off, I guess you can see the difference between these two sentences: I think she is 70 years old  and I think she’s a 70-year-old woman. You are an Intermediate student, let the whole world know!

♥ Write a maximum of eight lines. See what other students have done here

♥You think you have finished? Right, you haven’t !! Now,  read what you have written several times to correct grammatical and spelling errors .

♥Now that you are confident everything is Ok, click on the “leave a comment” section and write your description.

♥In class, all descriptions will be read and the celebrities guessed. Enjoy! 😉





Picture Description .Intermediate Level.

Yes, yes I know classes have finished. So what? If you haven’t taken your speaking test, this post might still be useful .

I just couldn’t let it pass. I saw it and I immediately thought about you,  struggling at home, getting  no help at all and feeling utterly miserable without my wise guidance 🙂 ha,ha,ha

Well, let’s stop rambling and get to the point. What you’ll find below are two pictures and someone comparing the two pictures.

Well, they are clearly both connected to the topic of science… but in two quite different contexts. In the first one, there are two people- they’re probably lab technicians from the coats they are wearing- or I guess they could be research students or something like that. Anyway, they seem to be watching some kind of monitor but I am not quite sure why. The guy in the foreground seems to be holding something which might affect what they can see on the monitor. … it’s not all that clear.

In contrast, the second picture is of four schoolchildren, probably in a science class. They’re all wearing plastic yellow glasses of some sort… probably to protect their eyes from chemicals or something. They are sitting at the same desk. the one on the right, .. he is holding what looks like a plastic bottle.. which must have liquid in it.  There’s some kind of tube-like thing and plastic containers on the desk.

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