March 2017
María Rossana Ramírez-Avila, Universidad Casa Grande, Guayaquil, Ecuador

English in a Latin-American Country

Learning English as a foreign language (EFL) brings many advantages to students. In Ecuador, our students being Non-native speaking (NNS) do not have opportunities to practice the language outside their classrooms. Thus, it is advisable that teachers include in their lesson plans the four skills of the language: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing.

In Ecuador, the government included English in the primary school curriculum starting in 2016. The Ecuador Ministry of Education (2016) states the main goal of learning English “…is to set the foundation for forming competent, autonomous, and critical readers, speakers, and writers…[and] to communicate ideas, learn to learn, and deepen and enrich their knowledge base.” However, there are several difficulties. First, there is a need for teachers specialized in English language teaching; the government is trying to solve this problem with the Time to Teach in Ecuador Project, which provides benefits for foreign teachers who stay in Ecuador to teach for a certain period of time. Second, the strategies implemented to help teachers improve their English proficiency may only show results in the long term. Third, there are about 30 students in each class. This makes it hard to develop spoken and written communicative activities, especially for student teachers. Lastly, there are not many resources, especially in public in schools, to motivate students to learn the language.

Despite all these difficulties, our teachers’ mission and vision is to help students in their learning process. Thus, they welcome different activities and exercises that they can plan and develop in their rooms to motivate their pupils.

Visuals to Promote Speaking and Writing Activities

Wright (as cited in Contreras, Niño, & Pérez, 2015) confirms that visuals help to 1) raise interest and motivation, 2) provide a sense of the context to EFL classes, and 3) set a specific reference starting point or stimulus. In order to help teachers to improve students’ writing with no extra cost or investment and using at-hand resources, teachers can use the visuals that come with their EFL textbooks.

Teachers in all educational institutions have a textbook. These books contain a variety of photographs, drawings, and illustrations that most of the time are not exploited by teachers. In a study by Briones-Huayamave and Ramírez-Avila (2011), the researchers found that teachers led traditional classes in which they utilized translation or mechanical repetition, worked with the best students, and dominated monologues—practices that might not help every student to improve their language or even practice something during their English classes. It is important to mention that those observations were done at English classes of two different high schools located in two provinces.

Regarding writing, Harmer (2007) suggests building a habit from lower levels with easy and enjoyable activities. He indicates that this writing habit will help students later explore written genres with enthusiasm and increased involvement. I strongly believe that using visuals on a daily basis will help teachers and students to create such a habit.

Let’s Get Started

The primary idea is to begin with students labeling the objects found in each photo or visual. After this is complete, teachers can write lists on the board and make a quick pronunciation drill, and following this they can start exploring sentences using those words. The sentences can be very simple at the beginning, and, with time, teachers can add complexity according to how students develop in their tasks.

Depending on the content focus, teachers can:

  • highlight themes (colors, professions, weather, and places),
  • work with parts of speech,
  • create different kinds of sentences (simple, compound, complex),
  • focus on tenses, or
  • adapt the content to students’ contexts (e.g., What would you do in this situation? Where would you be in the picture? What would you be doing?).

These tasks can be grouped in pre-, during, and postactivities. The preactivities should be done by describing or eliciting what students see in the picture. In the second stage, teachers can

  • have students label the pictures;
  • write words on the board, then asks students to listen and repeat;
  • ask students to spell the words;
  • have students classify the words (e.g., parts of speech) so that they learn the order of words and their function in the sentences;
  • model simple sentences so that students know the order of the words and can later create their own sentences.

For postactivities, teachers can

  • ask students to switch papers and read their classmates’ work to one another;
  • tell students to assess another’s work (provide them with a rubric or model the activity in advance);
  • create a group game in which students write sentences according to the number of words, part of speech, or tense requested;
  • assess students’ work with a rubric that had previously been shared with the class;
  • introduce punctuation; or
  • make corrections.

Enjoy the activities in your classes and report the results!


Briones-Huayamave, M. K., & Ramírez-Avila, M. R. (2011). Implementing instructional coaching using a partnership philosophy model to train teachers in reading skills. Guayaquil, Guayas, Ecuador: Obtenido de Universidad Casa Grande.

Contreras, K. G., Niño, M., & Pérez, L. A. (2015). Using pictures series technique to enhance narrative writing among ninth grade students at Institución Educativa Simón Araujo. English Language Teaching, Vol. 8, 45–71.

Ecuador Ministry of Education, (11 January 2016). It is time to teach in Ecuador project. Retrieved from

Harmer, J. (2007). How to teach English. Essex, England: Pearson Education.

María Rossana Ramírez-Avila is currently coordinating a Master Program in Pedagogy of National and Foreign Languages. She was a consultant for primary and high schools for about 8 years. She also supervised eight teachers at an English language school.