Guess What! – Behind the Scenes #1 Visual literacy

Guess What! – Behind the Scenes #1 Visual literacy

Creating a new language course is always a team effort. Authors, editors, artists, designers and many others work closely together, each adding their own particular skills and insights.

Over the next two weeks, to celebrate the launch of Guess What!, our new course for young learners, we’re going to be hearing from some of the people who work behind the scenes. They’re going to share their own personal perspectives on how a Cambridge course is developed; they’ll discuss how Guess What!’s lively characters were created, how the artwork was developed, and how the course was designed.

Today, Senior Editor Melissa Bryant explains how the team chose the striking photographs used in the course, looks at the role that visual literacy plays in Guess What!, and shares an exciting visual activity for you to use with your learners.

Visual Literacy is a 21st Century skill, and it enables learners to read, understand, and create images. But what actually is Visual Literacy?

  • It is the way we construct meaning from everything we see.
  • It is the process of sending and receiving messages using images.
  • It is the ability to construct meaning from visual images.
  • It is one of many combined literacies that are needed to read in a multi-media world.

And what does Visual Literacy enable us to do?

  • To interpret the content of visual images.
  • To examine the social impact of visual images.
  • To discuss their purpose, audience and ownership.
  • To enhance our ability to visualise internally.
  • To communicate visually.
  • To read and interpret visual images.
  • To be aware of making judgements about the accuracy, validity and worth of images.

So, how do we use visual literacy in Guess What?

  • To build our learners’ curiosity.
  • To engage our learners in the chosen topic.
  • To review and preview language learnt.
  • To promote discussion and communication.
  • To give our learners an insight into life around the world.

Selecting the Photos

Selecting the unit opener and CLIL page photos was a lengthy process, with the involvement of our authors, editors, publishers and picture researchers. Getting the perfect photo was difficult, because we wanted every photo to introduce the content we were teaching as well as being eye-catching, thought-provoking and a starting point for engaging discussions. We searched through thousands of pictures to find the exact photos we were looking for.

When choosing each and every photo, we had to ensure that:

  • They created a reaction from our learners.
  • They related to the content of that unit or spread.
  • They were inspiring for the target age group.
  • They were culturally sensitive.
  • They took on an unusual perspective.

While thinking about all of this, we also had to ensure that we were providing an instrument for teachers to use, to enhance their learners’ visual literacy. This meant that we had to pay attention to the colours, lines, placement of objects, and degree of abstractness, all in view of portraying the image in the light that we wanted it to be seen.


Here’s an activity you can use with your learners, using some of the Unit Opener double-page photos we’ve used in Guess What! (You can download the images at the end of this post. Click on each one to enlarge it, then right-click and choose ‘Save image’ to save it to your computer.)

Ask learners to work in pairs or small groups and choose one of the photos. Ask them to discuss a few of the following questions, before presenting their ideas to the class:

  • What can you see in the photo?
  • What do you like about the photo?
  • How does the photo make you feel?
  • Think about your five senses. For each sense, write a sentence about how that sense can be used to understand the photo.
  • What can you learn from this photo?
  • What do you find strange or unusual in this photo?

This type of task would work well as a warm up or warm down. It could be condensed or extended depending on the number of questions you ask students to discuss, and the way in which you ask them to present this. You could even make it into a guessing game, by asking students to listen to the presentation, then look through their book to guess which photo was being described.

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