Labeling Pictures to Support ELLs

Labeling Pictures to Support ELLs

Labeling Pictures

Students at the beginning stages of writing need support with vocabulary development. One way to give this is to have students label pictures. This supports English Language Learners and beginning writers in learning new vocabulary and using beginning sounds. Here are some benefits of having students label pictures before they start writing.

Vocabulary Support

As students label a picture, they are getting practice writing the vocabulary word. ELLs might not know all of the objects and actions in a picture. Labeling helps them learn the new vocabulary that they can then use in their writing.

Content Integration

Labeling a photograph or other picture is a great way to introduce a new content topic. Students can visually see the new vocabulary. You can also use pictures as a way to assess students’ knowledge of a content topic. After completing a topic, have students independently label a picture and then write about it.

Grammar Practice

You can show students a picture and have them label focusing on one part of speech (such as nouns). Then have them use a different color or a new picture and label a new part of speech (such as verbs).

Students can also label a picture and then sort the words into different parts of speech or other categories.

Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM)

PWIM is a strategy that was first developed by Emily Calhoun in 1999. The original strategy has ten steps that start with labeling objects and actions in a picture. Students then classify the words and form sentences and then paragraphs.

For young students, the steps I find most helpful are:

  • Label the picture (color code parts of speech)
  • Use sentence frames for students to talk about the picture using the labeled words.
  • Have students write about the picture. Use sentence frames for students that need extra support, to guide students to write about the picture using the vocabulary words.

Read more about this strategy: Valentina Gonzalez on picture word inductive model. Larry Ferlazzo on picture word inductive model.

Online Resources

One challenge I have found is that there is not always color ink available to print out photographs.  You can avoid this by having students label photographs on the computer.

Scotzer is a free website where you upload a picture. It comes with easy to use tools, including a text box. Students can label the picture and then save it to use later or print out.

Google Slides is another simple tool where you can upload a picture and then have students add labels. They can then write about the picture on a new slide or you can print out the labeled picture for them to write about.

labeling fruit picture

Print Resources

Picture scenes are pictures with many objects and people in them. They make great pictures for labeling since there is so much to choose from. After labeling the pictures, have students use the words to speak or write in complete sentences using sentence frames as a support. Get a set of premade fall picture scenes.


Here are ready-made pictures for students to label and then write about. This set comes with 3 levels of pages. It includes a word bank, sentence frames, and a set where students draw and then label their own pictures.

For additional ideas, learn more about writing about photographs to support ELLs.

Labeling Pictures

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