Flickr for “Low Level” EFL Students

A co-worker made a comment recently discouraging the use of Web 2.0 internet applications for our “low level” EFL students, arguing that their ability to even grasp the basics of English was too low to even bother trying. While this argument could be made for the use of weblogs, I think a photo sharing application like Flickr is ideal for beginning and lower level students.

Students can begin by constructing their own galleries and profiles, while adding short descriptions and ‘notes’ to their own photos. This can be coupled with tag searches for themes of interest, followed by building a contact list and making simple comments on interesting photos. It doesn’t take a linguistic expert to carry out these tasks, and they are fun to do, too.

Many of our lower level EFL students have already had six years of English study, but have retained little, due more so, in my opinion, to their lack of interest in learning the language rather than a cognitive handicap. Furthermore, they are required to take another year or so at the university level if they want a degree. Placing them in a Web 2.0 environment and showing them how to use its tools to meet people and express themselves, is far more likely to motivate them to want to learn further than sitting in a traditional classroom with their peers doing pair work - they’ve already been exposed to that and it has obviously failed to do the trick.

Imagine Kenji, a typical low level learner at our school: he doesn’t want to learn English because it has no relevance to him and his worldview. He does, though, like Japanese hip-hop and old American cars, particularly candy paint Chevy Impalas from the 60s. He dreams of owning one someday. In the meantime, he works at a local convenience store and spends his money on stylish clothes. In his dreaded ‘required EFL class’, his teacher introduces him to Flickr, and actually encourages him to take pictures of cool cars and trendy clothes with his cell phone, and construct a gallery of images. “Sweet” he thinks to himself, “Thank God I don’t have to spend all that time looking at some stupid textbook.” He happily goes about taking photos and uploading them - painless.

Suddenly he receives a comment from a guy named, Jose, in Miami, who owns several lowriders, including a ‘64 Impala with hydrolics and stainless steel rims. Kenji follows the link to Jose’s gallery and is blown away at his taste in cars and fashion. Having a contact in Miami would be an good source of new information, not to mention something cool to tell his friends. Kenji quickly grabs an English-Japanese dictionary to try and decipher Jose’s message. The journey begins….

How likely is a traditional classroom environment to tap into Kenji’s intrisic interests this way? Is it really a waste of time to introduce “low level” students to the Web 2.0? Why bother?

Trackbacks & Pings

  1. Teacher in Development :: Driving for Personal: 2.0 in the ESL classroom :: January :: 2006 on 12 Jan 2006 at 12:12 am

    [...] t around this that I really appreciated. Flickr for “Low Level” EFL Students “Students can begin by constructing their own galleries and profiles, wh [...]

  2. The Carnival of English Language Teaching :: CELT Midway #3 :: January :: 2006 on 21 Jan 2006 at 7:25 pm

    [...] Flickr for low level students is one of AP Campbell’s causes. Kudos to AP for being willing to take a dose of his own medicine. [...]

  3. Educational use of Flickr: visual storytelling, visual cues. on 04 Jun 2007 at 8:31 pm

    [...] More on the use of Flickr in the EFL classroom: I recommend this discussion @ Aaron P. Campbell’s blog. [...]

  4. Using Flickr in Langauge Classes at apcampbell on 17 Jul 2007 at 10:27 am

    [...] I’ve argued before that Flickr is an ideal social network for beginning and lower intermediate EFL learners, due to the abundance of short, ‘one-liner’ comments on photos, not to mention the fun factor involved.  So to build on this, I went ahead and fleshed out the handout I created for my presentation at JALTCALL last month.  Entitled Motivating Language Learners with Flickr, the document essentially lists practical and enjoyable activities that teachers can carry out with their students using Flickr.  My intention is to give teachers some ideas on how they might use a social network like Flickr in their language classes. [...]

  5. Using Flickr in Language Classes | cambridgen Blog on 27 Jun 2010 at 6:55 pm

    [...] argued before that Flickr is an ideal social network for beginning and lower intermediate EFL learners, due to [...]


  1. Bronwyn G wrote:

    I think it’s a good idea to introduce low-level English students to the Web 2.0 because it will help them with their speaking, writing, thinking, listening and reading. And there are great accessible ways to help like Flickr. They will be able to bring the technology back to their backgrounds, like the example of the Japanese student and his passion for cars. They could learn so much from blogging, for instance. Then they would realise that their words are important all over the world.

  2. Aaron wrote:

    Well said, Bronwyn. Are you studying to be a teacher by any chance?

  3. Jeremy wrote:

    Fantastic post, Aaron. It’s stuff like this that gives a faint glimmer of hope that kids stuck in educational institutions may be able to pursue their own interests and learning goals someday.

  4. Aaron wrote:

    Thanks Jeremy. It just seems so obvious to me that we should celebrate people’s true interests and encourage learning through those interests. This technology helps us to accomplish that. In spite of all the flaws in institutional education, I still have hope that it can change for the better. Technology is a big help, but ultimately the change must take place collectively within. We just need ongoing dialogue and support…

  5. Marco Polo wrote:

    What a fascinating, provocative question, Aaron! I can’t possibly pass this up!
    1) Here is a quote from a short paper by Vance Stevens (2005), called Multiliteracies for Collaborative Learning Environments (available as a PDF file here Here Stevens is quoting the New London Group’s paper of 1996, in which, claims Stevens, the term ‘multiliteracies’ was coined:

    What we might term “mere literacy” remains centered on language only, and usually on a singular national form of language at that…Such a view of language will characteristically translate into a more or less authoritarian kind of pedagogy. A pedagogy of multiliteracies, by contrast, focuses on modes of representation much broader than language alone. These differ according to culture and context…in an Aboriginal community or in a multimedia environment, for instance - the visual mode of representation may be much more powerful and closely related to language than “mere literacy” would ever be able to allow. Multiliteracies also creates [sic] a different kind of pedagogy, o ne in which language and other modes of meaning are dynamic representational resources, constantly being remade by their users as they work to achieve their various cultural purposes.

    I think this lends support to Aaron’s scenario of using Flickr (images) with low-level EFL students.

    2) Bronwyn G wrote:
    I think it’s a good idea to introduce low-level English students to the Web 2.0 because it will help them with their speaking, writing, thinking, listening and reading.
    I don’t disagree with Bronwyn’s opinion, but I think she misses the, or an, important point raised by Aaron’s “Kenji” scenario: that for Kenji, his hobby has more meaning than EFL, perhaps more than school in general; and that thru Flickr, Kenji finds meaning in contacting and communicating with other people around the world, perhaps even in English.
    Much of what goes on in schools, I suggest, is simply not meaningful to many students. Many of them may be only marginally aware of this. They may be more or less aware of the vital importance of finding meaning in their lives, of what Gatto calls “the need to create lines of meaning in their lives”. Because of the stultifying effect school has on a lot of children (thru the repeated rituals), children often grow up to become accustomed to this lack of meaning and not even question it. (The ones that do are often labelled “troublemakers” or “misfits”.)

    The need to find or create meaning in one’s life is so powerful, that it cannot be completely stifled. It is a demand made by life itself. It is a tremendous challenge for teachers to try and respond to this need, yet a very exciting one. As a a good friend of mine once said, “When life calls, will we respond? Or will we have a trillion questions first?”

  6. Marco Polo wrote:

    I think the key here is “meaningful activity”. Much of what schools require children to do is not meaningful and children know it. There is a very powerful human need to find and/or create meaning in one’s life. What happens in the Kenji scenario above is that Kenji discovers or is turned onto a meaningful activity. It is this that is key, rather than, as Bronwyn puts it

    I think it’s a good idea to introduce low-level English students to the Web 2.0 because it will help them with their speaking, writing, thinking, listening and reading.

    Gatto talks about the importance of young people creating lines of meaning in their lives, and the difficulty of helping those crushed by the school system to do this.
    I’ve been mining Gatto’s writing for ideas on creating meaningful activities for young people. Your Kenji scenario is an excellent example of such. This is much more important than having Kenji learn to read and write English, or graduate from university or whatever. The need for meaning and meaningful activity is so powerful, it cannot be completely stifled. It is not a theoretical matter, but a demand made by life itself. To respond to that request is a terrifying yet beautiful challenge for teachers and anyone responsible for the growth and well-being of young people. As a very good friend of mine once said, “When life calls, will we respond? Or will we have a trillion questions first?”

  7. Aaron wrote:

    I agree completely Marco. What we do with students has to be personally meaningful. I have yet to read Gatto, but certainly have heard a lot about him. Where should I start?

  8. Aaron wrote:

    Hey Marco, thanks for turning me on to that quote on multiliteracies. My students have flat out told me that using Flickr was far more educational and enjoyable than any of the other learning activities they were engaged in last year, including blogging and in-class conversation and study. I think they were able to experience communication better when text was combined with photos. There is an emotional element present that doesn’t come through so easily in text.

  9. Marco Polo wrote:

    First, apologies for the double posting. After posting the first one, I came back several hours later and didn’t see it! So I assumed it hadn’t got posted and did it again. Oh well…

    As for Gatto, go here: and type gatto in the search box, or just Google him. I took advantage of the uni’s interlibrary loan system to borrow “Underground History”, “Dumbing us Down”, and several others but I’d recommend those 2 first. You can actually read Underground History completely online if you so desire and save yourself some money. It’s not available via, but you can buy it online from Gatto’s website and they delivered very quickly.

  10. Aaron wrote:

    Thanks Marco. I think this year I’ll finally get around to reading Gatto.

    The reason comments sometimes don’t show up is because they have more than two links in them. I have it set up that way to stop spammers, whose comments tend to be link heavy.

  11. Nathan B. wrote:

    This was a really interesting post! I read it some days ago, but am going to re-read it now and then.

  12. Jamie wrote:

    Very interesting and inspiring post Aaron.
    In my experience teaching in Japan, most students in my classes find a lot of meaning and fulfilment in doing the textbook from cover to cover. They usually make up the majority. There is a minority who would prefer to do something else and 1 - 3 students who seem to hate the textbook and English with a passion. For these 1 - 3 students something like Aaron’s Flickr idea would be great. For the others, it would take some persuading. A lot of Japanese junior high schools and high schools have “English Clubs”. I think that this would be the perfect activity for an English club or a high school Oral Communication class.

  13. Sultan wrote:

    I am happy to share you in this meaningful debate .I think learners with low proficiency in language need more attention of all ELT experts .These learners increased in EFL situation. Here in YEMEN I found learners whom are actually adults but they are in low levels of language. There we have to teach them simple things as beginners and at the same time treat them as adults .So we need some tasks that are flexible start for example in writing from sentence level to paragraph level .

  14. salman wrote:

    i can’t open flickr page, why ?!

  15. Vance Stevens wrote:

    Hi Salman. Where are you? In the UAE Flickr is not always available either. Some countries block it, in the case of the UAE, on moral grounds.

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