How will pictures and illustrations help my students to learn?


  • Will pictures really keep my students talking?


  • Can students learn with pictures?


  • How will storytelling help my students remember vocabulary?


  • Does storytelling help students understand the deeper meaning of words?


Many teachers dislike it when students are reluctant to speak out of fear they’ll make a mistake. Teachers and leaders need to facilitate conversation and learning. We need to break the silence, get students talking, laughing and communicating.


Students who lack imagination, can’t think of a word, struggle to create full sentences… storytelling can help. 


There are students who know 10,000 words, but can barely utter a sentence. There are others who know 1500 words and sound fluent (at least to someone new to teaching).


Memorizing words is very different from being able to use them correctly and effectively.


There was one person who you may have heard of that is especially well known for thinking and creating with images.


And that’s my story for today…


Have you ever heard of this guy? 



He was a very quiet kid.


He hardly spoke at all until he was three years old. His parents thought that something was wrong with him and they consulted a doctor.


He was even told that he would never amount to much.


When he was about 5 years old, his parents gave him a magnetic compass.


And that is where it all began.


He was fascinated by the fact that no matter which way he turned the compass, the needle always pointed in the same direction. This new “toy” made him curious. It made him wonder about magnetic fields, which led him to become interested in physics.


That’s how his lifetime journey of exploration started. Many years later, he wrote about the compass saying: “That experience made a deep and lasting impression on me. ”


His name: Albert Einstein.


Most of us are not that level genius. But we do have the same capacity to be curious about new things. We love novelty.


Albert Einstein once said what?


He once said that all of his most important and productive thinking was done by playing with images in his imagination, “imagination is more important than knowledge.”


His work on gravity was influenced by imagining riding a free-falling elevator.


Everyone is born with an imagination. Storytelling is engrained in us. We are all storytellers to some degree. 


We are nothing like Albert Einstein, but visual images do help connect our thoughts. They can help us retain things by sequencing ideas together and putting words in context.


New words are novel and we should explore and create with them.


The mind and imagination are wonderful things. Our job as teachers and leaders is to give our students opportunities to use words. 


Don’t just ask them to memorize a random list of words and expect them to pass the test you give them. Give your students opportunities to grow. Ask them to tell you a story about their weekend (I mean a real story with adjectives and suspense, etc.)


Here’s some food for thought:,28804,1936731_1936743_1936760,00.html


Keywords: overcoming shyness, how to overcome shyness in the ESL-EFL classroom

What is the NGSL?


First off, what are high-frequency words?


A high-frequency word is a word that children and adults will come across “most frequently” in reading or speaking.


It is one of many common words that make up the majority of English.


Let’s put it all into context.


Depending on what your definition of a word is, the English language is made up of 1,000,00 words. (Stanford Research Group)


Or 350,000 in the Oxford English dictionary, but this doesn’t include words with distinct meaning which raises that number significantly.


According to Nation and Waring (1997), a university educated native speaker knows about 20,000 words.


Now THAT is a pretty daunting mission to throw at a beginner level student.


Okay class… you need to learn 20,000 words. Here’s the list…


Let’s see…


365 days in a year x 5 words per day …






For more than 10 years …


= STILL one year away from knowing 20,000!!!


That would almost bring a non-native speaker up to par with a university educated native speaker’s vocabulary level.


Learning 5 words per day for 11 years. WOW!


How many words should my students know?


The cool thing is that students DON’T need to know all of those words to understand everyday English.


According to Robert Hillerich, “just 3 words, I, and, the account for nearly ten percent of all words printed in English”


According to Paul Nation with 2000 words, we can understand about 90% of general English.1


According to Dr. Charles Browne, with 2800 words, you can understand 92% of general English.


Also, according to Dr. Browne, we can actually understand about 90% of spoken English with just 721 words.2


By “general English” I mean,


–  Newspapers

–  TV shows

–  Magazine articles

–  Everyday conversations


Now when browsing our lists, you will notice that some of your favorite words (think food) are not included in the high frequency lists.


This is because they are not all that useful when it comes to general English (proper nouns that is). This isn’t to say you shouldn’t teach them or encourage your students to learn them.


Simply put… you should.


You should encourage them to expand upon the lists with what they are interested in, like, prefer and are passionate about.


And fear not … though not included in the NGSL lists they are included in our flashcard library.


To learn English faster and more efficiently, students should focus on memorizing the most common vocabulary first. Learning words such as elephant, sports jacket and… are often the go to for English teachers, but not always the right choice.


Learning vocabulary by simply memorizing the definition is an ineffective way to learn words. Reading, listening and speaking will help students to use vocabulary in the right situations. That’s often where rote learning leads them astray.


Knowing a word is one thing.


Using it correctly and most importantly remembering it, is another.


1. David Hirsh and Paul Nation, What Vocabulary Size is Needed to Read Unsimplified Texts for Pleasure?, Reading in a Foreign Language, 8(2), 1992


Language and culture are connected at the hip, however cultural competence is often overlooked and under-covered when teaching English.

This week we will use one of our sets of flashcards to storyboard dining etiquette in a Japanese restaurant (the examples are meant to be very light and basic though we will touch on and cover cultural competence in varying degrees later on)

This blog references and uses material from the Pocket Passport storyboard library. This particular set was created to talk about and explain dining.

The example stories that I am referencing and including links to merely touch on a couple of methods to teach this lesson. There is a myriad of ways to use these flashcards.

These stories (the pre-made stories that I am using as an example) can be used by any level students. These are two examples of a very beginner and an intermediate lesson to show the level of English that might be expected and how the language can be scaffolded if teachers choose to create their own lessons (create their own vocabulary lists, scripts, listening, vocabulary and grammar exercises).

There are infinite possibilities of how and for what level classes/courses they can be used for.

Just a few examples…

For beginner level students, have them point to each card and model what the character is saying. For a warm-up to the lesson ask them to flesh the characters out. Elicit a name and basic backgrounds for each of the characters.

A few examples of some warm up questions are:

1.  What is (his/her) name?

2. Where is he/she from?

3. Why is he/she here?

4. What is he/she doing?

5. How long will he/she stay?

Brainstorm feelings, greetings and common expressions that people use in a restaurant. For lower level students it is okay to elicit it in Japanese since one of the objectives is to ask them to explain their culture and customs in English.

You should deter your students from using sweeping generalizations like, “we Japanese…” and instead teach them more common ways to introduce their understanding of their culture such as, “In Japan it’s common…” or “Some people in Japan…” etc.

Here is an example of the language we might expect to come from a low-level student. 

Here is an example of the language we might expect to come from a low- intermediate to intermediate level student.

A few sample flashcards 

Other Ideas:

– customs of dining in Japan

– comparing Japan and other countries dining etiquette

– greetings, meanings of greetings at a restaurant that serves dishes that  are not from an English speaking country

– customs and taboos of dining (from anywhere)

– conversation sketching and storytelling

Our extensive library can be used in a variety of fun and innovative ways to explain a number of things including: health and nutrition, social responsibility, environmental issues, cultural awareness, communicative competence, respect and manners as well as to build creativity and imagination with our fairytale and science fiction storyboards.

For more information email us at:

*Pocket Passport’s storyboard sets are made up of between 4 and 30 flashcards per set and touch on a variety of themes and topics.

**In addition to our storyboard sets we have over 2000 vocabulary building flashcards which can also be storyboarded.