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GCSE Picture task: How I teach it and how we practise it

The Picture-based task is the second part of the current GCSE speaking exam for both exam boards Edexcel and AQA. In the case of the Edexcel exam board, which we use at my Academy, in terms of quantitative value, the task is worth 24 marks. For the foundation tier, it is recommended that it should last 2 1/2 – 3 mins, for the higher tier, 3 – 3 1/2 mins. The task contains a picture and set of questions drawn from one topic and is allocated by the exam board.

Regardless of which exam board you are using, the strategies that I have been utilising successfully in my own classroom and which I will be sharing in this post can be easily applied/adapted to any context.

As opposed to the Role Play task, which is very short and doesn’t need extended answers, the Picture-based task is a task that requires students to extend their answers and respond spontaneously. They need to be able to describe the picture in front of them, use the prompts provided to prepare for ‘what is coming’ and consequently respond to set of follow up questions posed by the teacher – examiner. In these questions students will need to be able to use opinions and justifications on the topic related to the picture, use past and future tense and for the students sitting the higher tier exam to respond to an unknown question.

I strongly believe, that the speaking (as well as the writing) section of the GCSE exam gives students the opportunity to be in control. It is the part where with our expert teaching, guidance, support, careful coaching and extensive practice, they can truly ‘smash’ it! 

It is our obligation to prepare our learners the best we can so they can achieve their potential and experience success.

The strategies that I use, ensure that all of my students are participating and progressing and where necessary they are getting the support they need because many of them find the speaking element quite tricky. 

The main objective for the steps listed below is to reduce the cognitive load and to allow students to practise each individual bullet point (grammatical structure) extensively before moving onto the next one thus not overloading students’ WM.


  1. Lesson starts with a retrieval task – ‘Cops and Robbers’ (template available on my resource page under RP) where students compile vocabulary, structures, ideas related to the picture task – firstly individually and then check with partners for more ideas. They feed back to the class.

  2. Students have their own copies of the student version of the PT and I also display it on the board. We start with the description only, first! In English, we brainstorm sentences that we could use in TL, generating simple sentences to start with. We use the PALM acronym to help with ideas/structure.

  3. Working as a whole class, I ask for volunteers to give one sentence each (in TL) to describe the picture i.e., student 1 says: ‘On the picture there is…, student 2 adds ‘The people/boys etc. are playing/chatting…, student 3 contributes with: ‘They are at home in the living room… until we have about 5-6 pieces of information describing the picture. Students have to listen to each other so they don’t repeat the same sentences and to ensure that what they adding are makes sense. We practise this as a class (later on with cold calling) a few times also adding connectives.

  4. After the practice as a whole class, I pair students up (I do this myself to ensure students are paired by the tier and suitability). In pairs students practise together taking turns, each saying/adding a sentence. This ensures all students are speaking/participating and have their partner there to support them if they need it. I circulate the classroom, listen to their responses and provide feedback. We call it ‘ping-pong speaking’. In this way, we practise 3-4 different cards rehearsing the first bullet point only, until students are confident with it.

  5. I ask 3-4 pairs then ‘ping-pong’ speak for the class. I don’t expect perfection, I just want all of my students to feel confident to give me a response. We aim for the best we can do.

After the rehearsal of the first point we move to the second one and proceed in the same way. We aim to practise 2-3 points per lesson depending on the class.

I certainly don’t expect ‘perfection’ but work on getting everybody to feel confident and able to respond and to get the best possible outcome for each individual student, providing scaffolding initially – I do/we do/you do in pairs/you do individually. 

For the lower prior attaining students, it is my belief, that providing high frequency verbs, structures, vocabulary that could be easily used across topics, is the key to build their self-efficacy and to achieve success.

Please, share in comments any other ideas/strategies you use with your own students which have proven successful and high impact.

2 comentarios

28 nov 2023

What a great strategy and valuable resource 😊

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