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Using Images to Create Teaching Materials

Graphical images. Images are very useful when incorporated into text-based foreign language teaching materials. Images containing graphical material, such as a product label or a photo depicting a culture-specific situation, a famous landmark, or an unfamiliar object can serve various purposes:

  • They can be used to clarify or provide context for textual material.
  • They can be used as a starting point for free written or oral expression, where the student is directed to describe the images or use them as the basis of a narrative.
  • They can be used as a starting point for question and answer practice in pairs or small groups.
  • They can be used as grounding and point of reference for teacher-led discussions.

Text-heavy images. While this graphic content is what usually comes to mind when we think of images, digital image files often contain textual material which has been captured by scanning or by a screen capture program. These text-heavy images have their own advantages:

  • While they contain textual materials, they can have the look and feel of real newspaper and magazine clippings.
  • Since images such as scanned magazine ads contain both text and graphic material, they provide an interesting and entertaining way to introduce or reinforce otherwise dry linguistic material.
  • Images combining text and graphic material provide immediate graphical context for the textual content, helping students to situate the linguistic material in its cultural context and allowing them to practice using contextual cues to extrapolate from and extend their linguistic knowledge.

Embedding image files. A little known fact about image files is that they can be easily embedded in word processor documents to create rich instructional materials. This page will describe how to create a handout for students which contains a scanned magazine advertisement, enriched with a vocabulary list and questions for class discussion.

Creating an Instructional Handout from a Scanned Magazine Page

We'll now describe how to create an instructional handout centered around a furniture and home appliance ad found on a Swahili magazine page which has been scanned into the computer. You can apply the same techniques used in this project to create materials from precropped images found in the authentic materials of this web site, as well as from material clipped from PDF files as described in Working with PDF-Formatted Periodicals.

Raw Material
Scanned page from a Swahili magazine.
Finished Product
Handout with extracted ad,
supplemented with vocabulary notes and questions.

whole page scanned from Swahili magazine

finished handout

Tools. We'll need two pieces of software for this project:

  • Graphics program. This could be either the commercial Adobe Photoshop program or the free, open source program The GIMP. Since the latter is free and available for all popular platforms, The GIMP is the program we'll use in this tutorial. (Unfortunately, for the tasks in this project, the Windows XP Paint utility is insufficient because of limitations it has for working with large images.)
  • Word processor. The most ubiquitous word processor by far is Microsoft Word. If you do not own Word or work on a platform for which it is not available, you can use the free, open source program OpenOffice.org.

Materials. We will assume that you know how to use a scanner to scan in the image you want to work with. Scan in some page containing the graphic you'd like to use as the basis for a handout. If you don't have access to a scanner and you'd like to follow along the tutorial using the same Swahili magazine page shown above, you can download it here. (It is a much larger file than the one pictured above.)

Creating the handout. If you have access to the tools mentioned and a scanned image, you are ready to begin. The steps can be summarized as follows:

  1. Open the image.
  2. Select the area you want to clip.
  3. Crop the image, removing all unwanted portions of the image.
  4. Save as a PNG or JPEG file.
  5. Import into a word processing document.

The details of each of these steps are as follows:

1. Open the image. Open the scanned image in your graphics program. Use the View > Zoom tool. to zoom out enough that you can see the whole page in a single window, as has been done here in The GIMP: As you can see, The GIMP opens a window of tool buttons in addition to a window for each image opened.
image opened in The GIMP, zoomed out

2. Select and crop. In the window which contains the image, select the Choose rectangular regions tool by finding Tools > Selection Tools > Rect Select:

finding the rectangle selection tool

Now click and hold down at the top left-hand corner of the area you want to extract . While still holding the mouse button down, drag the cursor to the lower right-hand corner of the area you want to extract. When you release the mouse button, a rectangular area will be selected, indicated by a dotted line.

selection line

3. Crop. Now, while the area you want is still selected, we will crop the image, getting rid of all portions of the image outside the box we have drawn around the portion we want. To do this select the cropping tool by selecting Image >Crop Image:

finding the cropping tool

Once you have done this, the area surrounding the selection box is cut away, leaving only the selection:

selection after cropping

4. Save. Now save the image under a new name, in either PNG or JPEG format. You will be prompted for a few options. Simply accept the default options. (The GIMP on Windows can choose odd default folders for opening and saving files. Be sure you are aware of where the file is being saved.)

5. Import into a word processor document. Open a new word processing document and add a title. Then insert the image:

  • If you're using Word, do this by selecting Insert > Picture > From file.
  • If you're using OpenOffice.org, do this by selecting Insert > Picture > From file.

Click on the image and edges will appear around it which can be dragged to resized the image. Left-click inside the image, and you will be given a pop-up menu of options to format the image in other ways.Add supplementary materials such as vocabulary lists, questions, exercises, and activities to your document and print.

You can view the finished result of our project in PDF format here. If you'd like to work with the actual word processing document, it is available here in Word format and here in OpenOffice.org format.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

  • You may use and modify the material for any non-commercial purpose.
  • You must credit the UCLA Language Materials Project as the source.
  • If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
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