ELTpics: A Digital Picture File for English Language Teachers

In the previous blog post in this series, How to Create More Engaging Conference Presentations, I talked about how conference presentations can be made more interesting by using images that fill the entire screen to convey ideas. Of course, as teachers, we also want to use images in our own classrooms. Although the Internet is full of wonderful pictures, it can sometimes be a challenge to find just the right picture that is also free of copyright restrictions.

Slide Sorter

A rack for sorting 35 mm slides

When I was first starting out in the field, about 35 years ago, no self-respecting English language teacher would venture into the classroom without that key audiovisual aid known as the magazine picture file. To make a picture file, a teacher would painstakingly comb through popular magazines, cut out photographs that might be useful in the classroom, and then paste them on construction paper or card stock. Some teachers even laminated their pictures. You would then organize these in some kind of filing system, perhaps by category. So you might have one set of pictures that you would use for a lesson talking about food and another set of pictures for a lesson talking about clothing. You might have a section of pictures representing action verbs that you could use in the classroom as prompts. Teachers would also organize 35 mm slides to use in class to show images.

Today’s teachers, of course, are much more likely to use of digital materials. And now the picture file has gone digital as well. Fortunately for you, an enterprising group of teachers got together and harnessed the power of their collective knowledge and cameras to create a massive online picture file for English language teachers. The website is called ELTpics. The idea came from a group of international teachers who gather regularly on Twitter to discuss classroom ideas and other issues of interest to language teachers. They combined their knowledge and put out a call to teachers to contribute photographs of their own that could be used without any royalty payments.

ELTpics Albums

Albums by category on the ELTpics Flickr site

ELTpics exists in two locations. The first is at www.ELTpics.com. This website explains how ELTpics works. Every two weeks teachers and others involved in ELT are invited to take and share photos on a given theme. This theme is publicized on Facebook and Twitter and users are encouraged to post photos related to the theme. The site’s curators then take the pictures and upload them to the ELTpics photo-sharing Flickr site. Teachers are then free to go to the Flickr site and download photos for noncommercial use.

On the Flickr site, the pictures are organized in more than a hundred categories called albums. The albums are listed in alphabetical order. They include photos on such themes as adjectives, animals, beverages, body, colors, daily routines, and so on. Instructions on the ELTpics website explain how to download the photos for classroom use.

Dolphins from ELTpics website

A photo of dolphins from the ELTpics category of animals. Photo by ELTpics/@cerirhiannon

So, the next time you are looking for good pictures to use for teaching purposes or for a blog post, check out ELTpics. And if you feel like giving something back, take a look at the categories and consider contributing some photos of your own.

About Joe McVeigh

Joe McVeigh
Joe McVeigh works independently in the field of English language teaching as a consultant, author, and teacher trainer. For over 25 years he has taught at universities in the United States, including the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California, and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. He has lived and worked in countries including China, India, Chile, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia. He has taught students from more than 50 countries. He is co-author with Ann Wintergerst of Tips for Teaching Culture: Practical Approaches to Intercultural Communication (Pearson Longman) and a co-author with Jennifer Bixby of two books in the Q: Skills for Success series (Oxford University Press). In addition to writing and consulting, Joe speaks at conferences and workshops, and maintains a blog and website on issues of interest to teachers of ESL. You can also find him on Twitter: @JoeMcVeigh. Joe is a past chair of TESOL's Intensive English Programs Interest Section and served on the TESOL Board of Directors from 1995-1998. He lives with his wife and son in Middlebury, Vermont, USA.
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