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Dec 2018 - Year 20 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Digital Self-access Materials for Inclusive Picture Dictation Games

Elisa Bertoldi is a Primary School teacher of English. She has ten years of experience in working with children from 6 to 11 years old. She’s also a Research Assistant at the Department of Languages, Literatures, Communication, Education and Society (University of Udine, Italy). She’s interested in new technologies applied to foreign language teaching. E-mail:



An increasing number of educational applications and tools offers new opportunities for teachers to create resources and materials to meet Primary School pupils ‘educational needs in the learning process of English as L2. Integrating digital tools into lesson planning can be considered a measure to support all pupils during class activities and promote inclusive education in ELT.

This article, after considering the role of picture dictation games as communicative and interactive activities in the language learning process of young and very young learners, aims to show how to support and engage the whole class using digital applications and tools to create self-access materials meeting pupils ‘needs during the task.



Since Learning another language offers a series of benefits and assets in life such as an extended range of employment, recreational opportunities and a better understanding of others in cross-cultural communicative contexts (European Commission, 2016: 29), teaching strategies, inclusive activities and support materials ought to be used to ensure all students full access to the L2 lessons. Depriving young and very young learners of the chance to experience a foreign language may create anxiety in later stages (Pavlenko, 2005: 209), for this reason, much attention has been given in recent years to inclusive L2 teaching in Italy which is the context of this study.

In the Italian Primary School context, 15 per cent of students are classified as BES (Bisogni Educativi Speciali) which is an umbrella term that includes all those pupils who are in situations (medical conditions, communication and interaction difficulties, socio-economical disadvantages, behavioural difficulties, family background or previous educational experiences) that hinder their learning and development process (Ianes, 2006: 17). This definition includes also those pupils whose procedure to identify specific learning difficulties is not complete and comprehensive yet. If we consider such a wide category, we might say that the use of strategies to overcome pupils ‘difficulties and meet their learning needs in the L2 learning process, could benefit the whole class. English teachers should find strategies, materials and activities in order to allow all pupils taking part in the L2 lessons, interacting with their classmates and teachers using the foreign language, being part of the learning process feeling safe, stimulated, supported and appreciated ad the same time.


Picture dictation games as activities to promote communication and interaction among students in the L2

Language learning is a social process, in which new language knowledge is jointly constructed between the learners and their interlocutors. As Cameron (2001: 109) argues “Children encounter English through talk and practise English through talk”, so it is important to give them the opportunity to talk to each other using the target language. The Italian Primary School Curriculum official document (2012: 46) underlines that the most important aim of language teaching is to introduce children to communicative language competences which empower them to act through specific linguistic means. In the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (2001: 14) great relevance is attributed to the interaction in language use and learning in view of its central role in communication. Children’s communicative language competence is activated in the performance of the various language activities. Planning activities and providing for supports in order to make all children interact and communicate is fundamental in L2 teaching practice to allow oral skills improvement. Teachers should provide for opportunities that allow pupils to work together and communicate using the language in meaningful contexts for realistic purposes with low levels of stress and anxiety (Nijakowska, 2010: 98).

Educational games are very useful activities in this sense. Martin (1995: 1) gives a definition of educational games for L2 teaching as fun activities which offer young learners the opportunity to practice the foreign language in a relaxed, enjoyable way. Games offer relevant and motivating tasks, they stimulate interest and enthusiasm, they are challenging but manageable and familiar to pupils. They have an important role in the learning process in general, providing for a significant experience since pupils are engaged and focused on the task and they have fun at the same time (Caon, Ongini, 2008: 69). Using games that are based on oral interaction and communication between players can be even more useful in language learning. Teaching L2 through games allows teachers to create motivation for children to use English for communicative purposes. Games are activities that children are familiar with: playing is part of pupils’ life, and this activity is usually linked to positive feelings and emotions. For this reason, the choice of games as educational activities contributes to creating a positive and stimulating learning environment which is an indispensable condition to involve the whole class in L2 communicative activities (Méndez Lòpez, 2011: 55). 

Picture dictation games are one of the most frequently used activities at Primary School in L2 lessons to engage young and very young students in oral interaction. Picture dictation games belong to the fluency-focused games category (Brewster and Ellis, 2002: 176). This type of game is based on communication and focuses on developing fluency and collaboration with others. They are based on cooperative tasks and they are usually done in pairs or small groups. The main aim is listening and understanding for specific information, and giving instructions to complete a picture (2002: 176); pupils have to work together by describing, explaining and clarifying, checking, agreeing and disagreeing. During this kind of activities, the language is contextualized and meaningful, it is part of the rules and it is related to specific actions, children’s attention is focused on the efficacy of communication which is indispensable to achieve their goal and verbal expressions become a means to reach the goal.

Since classes consist of children with a huge variety of different educational needs, teaching strategies for inclusion often come up with differentiated activities tailored to fit the abilities and needs of each individual child. Using differentiated activities sometimes is a necessary strategy to meet pupils ‘learning needs, but if we refer to picture dictation games, and the main purpose of involving the whole class in the oral interaction and communication, instead of planning differentiated activities for children who struggle with the task, teachers can offer support to students scaffolding the learning process and guiding them step by step through the activity in order to encourage participation and involvement.


Creating digital self-access materials for picture dictation games

Although the use of picture dictation games has lots of positive effects on language learning process, before integrating them in a lesson the teacher should consider some problematic aspects and difficulties pupils might encounter during the different game stages.

Reduced phonological short-term capacity, slow and inaccurate word-recognition skills, difficulties with phoneme awareness and acquisition and pronunciation of new sounds are just some of the problems children might encounter during L2 learning process (Kormos, Smith. 2012: 61-64). Pupils’ weaknesses, such as understanding and following instructions and concentrating on the task, a very limited working memory and problems in understanding verbal communication and speaking in an L2 (Delaney 2016: 28) have an impact on their ability in completing the task and might compromise their participation in the game. Any student can experience these difficulties at some point and might need for a support during the activity but if we consider that during picture dictation games children should work simultaneously, it might be difficult for the teacher to help each child who struggles with different aspects of the task. To overcome this critical aspect of class management teachers should use strategies in order to support all children during the activity without depriving them of the opportunity to interact and play freely and in order to be able to observe and listen, monitor pupils’ language, give feedbacks and explanations to the whole class while pupils are playing the game.

Delaney (2016: 37) suggests the use of self-access materials in order to allow children to work independently and overcome their difficulties without needing the constant presence of the teacher. The use of self-access materials is a strategy to make the learning environment supportive and creates a context in which all students, in particular those who have learning differences, feel confident and willing to participate (Méndez Lòpez, 2011: 55).

Web 2.0 applications are a resource for teachers as they become tools to create self-access materials for pupils and give all students the opportunity to participate actively in a huge variety of L2 learning activities getting through their difficulties autonomously (Strasser, 2012: 10), giving them more freedom during the lesson and reducing the teacher’s presence and pressure during a task. 

Taking into consideration these difficulties, I will suggest some digital tools that can be used on laptops or tablets to create self-access materials to support Primary School students during picture dictation games.

First, to help pupils concentrate on a task it is important to have all the information and useful resources on the same main view using an Infographic application or an aggregator tool, this strategy is aimed at avoiding distractions caused by autonomous web searching and surfing, which can also be dangerous for young learners since they can end up in the wrong website.

Thinglink is a free online application, available at, that allows content sharing via online images. After the user uploads an image from a personal device, this application allows to add different tags on the picture, each tag corresponds to a content or a link to a website.

An example of self-access material for a picture dictation game aimed to review physical descriptions. It has been created with Thinglink free online application for a second class of primary school. Available at )

The teacher can use an image related to the topic of the picture dictation game in order to focus the pupils’ attention on the task. The tags are revealed every time the user scrolls the mouse over the uploaded image. By clicking on the tags, it is possible to visualize the related content or to access to the linked website. It is important to select the applications that will be linked to the Thinglink image carefully in order to include information and contents that can help students carry on with the activity, overcoming their difficulties, so that they become more independent learners. I will give some examples of digital resources that can be useful during a picture dictation games.

When Students have difficulties in understanding and following instructions (Delaney, 2016: 24); using simple sentences and simplify instructions is fundamental to prevent information overloading, but it might be also necessary give them the opportunity to read the information or listen to the explanation more than once. For this reason, one of the tags on the Thinglink image should be linked to an explanation of the rules and the stages of the game. There are different solutions to make instructions more understandable for all students, for example, a web-based sticker note service available at, gives teachers the opportunity to summarize the stages of the game and the rules using colour coding: with this application, it is possible to write information on differently coloured virtual stickers that can be arranged in a sequence, to each colour it could be associated a stage of the game or a rule.

Pupils who struggle with reading will gain more advantages from an oral explanation especially if they have the opportunity to listen to it more than once. Adding a tag with a visual presentation of the task will facilitate students too (Kormos, Smith 2012: 112). Teachers can make a short video with instructions or about the stages of the game associating the oral description with demonstrations, showing the materials of the game (worksheets, pictures, cards) and how they might be used. Then it can be uploaded onto a platform such as YouTube, available at, or Vimeo, available at

 and the URL can be linked to the Thinglink image.

Pictures dictation games encourage the memorization of chunks of language (Brewster and Ellis, 2002: 174) which are indispensable for communication and interactions, but a very limited working memory for example, or problems in understanding verbal communication (Delaney, 2016: 24) can prevent some students from taking part in the activity. Therefore, at the beginning of the game teachers should present the structures and expressions that have to be used orally and give some examples to the class. To give all pupils the opportunity to listen again to these examples when they need it, whether they have learning differences or not, it could be a good solution creating audio files from speech and tag them on the Thinglink image. With Spreaker application, available at, it is possible to record teacher or students’ voices and create audio files of structures that should/can be used during the game; the most interesting feature of this application is that the audio files can be easily recorded using a smartphone or a tablet. Structures can be also presented in writing, using once again it possible to give the class an example. Pupils can read the structure of the sentence they should use, and it is also possible to associate a different colour to each part of the sentence.

Along with structures, pupils need to use expressions and vocabulary related to the topic of the picture dictation game. Students who have difficulties in remembering words and expressions which are necessary to take part in the game when interacting with their classmates can benefit from the use of flashcards, wordcards or picture dictionaries, but pupils who struggle with reading and speaking might need also to listen to a word/expression and associate it to the picture before being ready to pronounce it.  Adding on a Thinglink image a tag with a link to a visual dictionary, in which words are grouped according to topic, gives pupils the opportunity to explore vocabulary and visualize words. Furthermore, some visual dictionaries, such as Kids Wordsmyth, available at, offer the option to listen to the audio pronunciation of words. The use of different sensory channels helps both phonological short-term memory, and oral production skills and makes learning more memorable and accessible to the whole class (Kormos, Smith 2012: 62).



Picture dictation games are largely used in L2 teaching, especially with young and very young learners because they can potentially reach, involve and engage each pupil, promoting communication and interaction among students. When the whole class is involved in a picture dictation game, each child should have the opportunity to contribute to effective communication (Delaney, 2016: 30). Many children might encounter difficulties during the L2 learning process and, in order to make English lessons inclusive, teachers should start by identifying the barriers that might prevent pupils to take part in an activity (McKeown 2004: 3). In lesson planning, teachers need to take into consideration ways of reducing those barriers so that all pupils can fully take part in the activities and learn. In order to encourage children who struggle with picture dictation games and facilitate their participation, teachers should provide learners with materials that allow free interaction and use strategies to promote pupils’ autonomy. Integrating picture dictation games with digital self-access materials can support the L2 learning process and promote the effectiveness of the activity for all students:

  • It allows teacher to support the whole class during the game without addressing all attention on pupils who have weaknesses.
  • The language that students need to use to participate in a game can be presented using different sensory channels (pictures, videos, audio files); this is even more important for children with learning differences who might need to activate different brain areas to memorize and use new words, expressions and structures.
  • It promotes students’ autonomy and encourages active participation in a communicative and interacting activity in the L2 increasing their self-esteem.
  • It offers the opportunity to create flexible resources that can be adapted to a specific task and tailored on pupils needs. The adaptability of a resource is fundamental for teachers who are planning lessons for classes with a huge variety of learning needs because, as Kormos and Smith argue, in order to be fair to all learners, it is necessary to treat them all differently, rather than all the same (2011: 113).



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Cameron L. 2001. Teaching languages to young learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Caon F. and Ongini V. 2008. L’intercultura nel pallone. Italiano L2 e integrazione attraverso il gioco del calcio. Roma: SINNOS editrice.

Council of Europe. 2001. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Available at (accessed 28 July 2017).

Delaney M. 2016. Special Educational needs. Oxford: OXFORD University Press.

Ianes D. 2006. Bisogni Educativi Speciali e inclusione. Trento: Erickson.

European Commission. Directorate-General for Education and Culture. 2016. Education and Training Monitor 2016.  Available at (accessed 7 August 2017).

Kormos J. and Smith A.M. 2012. Teaching languages to students with Specific Learning Differences. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Martin C. 1995. Games and Fun Activities. Young Pathfinder Series: London CILT

Méndez López, Mariza G. 2011. The motivational properties of emotions in Foreign Language Learning. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, vol. 13/22, July-December, 2011, pp. 43-59.

McKeown, S. 2004. Meeting SEN in the curriculum: modern foreign languages. London: David Fulton.

MIUR. 2012. Indicazioni Nazionali per il curricolo della scuola dell’Infanzia e del Primo ciclo d’istruzione. Available at (accessed 20 August 2017).

Nijakowska J. 2010. Dyslexia in the Foreign Language Classroom. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Pavlenko A. 2005. Emotions and Multilinguism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Strasser T. 2012. Mind the App! London: Helbling Languages.


Please check the Practical uses of Technology in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for the Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Creative Methodology for Using ICT in the English Classroom course at Pilgrims website.

Please check the Methodology and Language for Primary course at Pilgrims website.

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  • Digital Self-access Materials for Inclusive Picture Dictation Games
    Elisa Bertoldi, Italy