In School in Germany: Picture Games


To start off this article, I would like to offer a word of advice to teachers whose passion also includes photography: Take as many pictures as you can and keep as many as you can. You may never know when and how you will need them- especially if you find the best ones for an activity (or several) for your class. 🙂  This principle I’ve followed for years which has led to not only successful activities but also successful articles.

This applies to vacation time, as two thirds of the population of German children are starting school now, with the remaining third still out until September. The same trend applies in the US, where half the schools start in mid-August; the rest after Labor Day. Children gather vast amounts of experiences through travel, summer camps, visits to long-distant relatives and friends, work and other events that add experience and enrich their knowledge of what’s around them. And at the beginning of the school year, they would like to share that experience with other classmates and especially their teacher.

After all, as we would like to look at their interests and get to know them, we can help them along so they can be what they want to be, right?  Be all that you can be, like in the US Army commercial. 😉


If you, as a teacher, have some problems coming up with activities to encourage the students to use their language skills and share their experiences with others, there are some activities that can help. Using a collection of photos, you can introduce the following exercises to them to motivate them to speak and be creative. These activities are not only meant to break the ice in terms of establishing communication between the teacher and the students, it is meant to unlock the knowledge that has been sitting in the freezer inside the students’ heads and it just needs to be thawed out. For the first exercise, photos from the teacher are required for use, whereas the second and third activities one can also use the photos from the students, if requested. In the fourth and final exercise, the students should present their photos and images, even if through Powerpoint or a slideshow.

Here’s a look at the photo activities you can use in the classroom (suitable for all ages and language levels):


Picture This:

Based on an exercise in Baron’s TOEIC Preparatory Book, the object of this game is to look at a picture provided by the presenter to the group, and identify what is seen in there. How students view it and express themselves depends on what the picture has. The picture can be a landscape, a certain scene with people doing activities, a phenomenon, or something totally different. What is seen is what is to be identified. Some people may feel restricted because they have to focus on the picture itself and therefore may have some difficulties finding the right vocabulary for the pictures. Yet by the same token, especially if the activity is done in groups, one can take advantage of learning new words from this game or even refreshing the vocabulary that had been sitting unused for some time.  There are two ways of doing this activity: one is in a large group where each student can find what is in the picture and make a statement on it. The other is in pairs or small groups, where each one receives a picture, analyses it and can present it to the rest of the class. With the second variant, five minutes of preparing and five to ten minutes of presentation total will suffice, pending on the number of students in class.

As a trial run, use the picture above and find out what you see in there. You’ll be amazed at what you will find happening at a place like the Westerhever Lighthouse at the moment of the pic. 😉


Finish the Story: 

This activity comes from the film, Out of Africa with Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Originally in the film (produced and directed by the late Sidney Pollack), the character Karen Dinesen (played by Streep) is a story-teller and in a conversation with Denys Hatton (played by Redford) and others, she explains the concept, where one starts the story with a sentence, where the other finishes the story the way it is seen fit. Like in this example:

While one could adopt this concept in the classroom, if it was a one-to-one training session, in larger groups, it would not be as exciting as it is when each student adds a sentence to the first one given by the teacher, and going through a couple rounds until the entire class feels the story is complete. This concept helps students become creative while at the same time refresh their knowledge of sentence structure and a bit of grammar. While one can try this without pictures, more challenging but exciting would be with pictures, especially from summer break, like the ones presented below. Try these with the following sentences below and complete your own story……. 🙂


It was afternoon on the North Sea coast and a storm is approaching. It is windy and perfect weather for kite-flying………   



It is high tide, and the beach is underwater. Two people sitting in Strandkörbe are taken by surprise……..


Make a Story:

 Going further into talking about vacations and things to do in the summer is creating your own story, using a pic provided by the teacher. In groups of two or three, students have five minutes (for those on the beginner or pre-intermediate levels, 7-10 minutes should suffice) to create a story to present to the class. The advantage of this exercise, is that students are able to exchange ideas and knowledge to create a fantastic, rather interesting story to share with the rest of the class. In small groups of six or less, the exercise can also be done individually.  Even when you have pics like these below, which are rather simple, one can create great stories out of it. The whitest and plainest of canvases make for world-class pictures with this game.  Word to the wise  from my former uncle, who was a world-class painter. 😉



With time constraints being the thorn in the side of teachers, one has to go by the principle of “Less Means More,” and optimize your class, in order to make learning as effective as possible. Mini-presentations are the best way for students to talk about their vacation in the shortest time possible. With a couple pics as support, each student has 2-3 minutes to talk about their trip.  The downside to this activity is that the student does not have much to talk about. It is possible though to choose one aspect of the vacation that you love the most and would like to talk about. The best aspect always receives the best attention. How it is presented depends on the student’s creative talents. One can focus on a sport the student tried, a wonderful place the student visited, a local food the student tried and loved, or a local event that took place during vacation. It can also include a summer job, summer camp, talent show or even a local festival, such as a parade, county fair or city market. Whatever event was the highlight, the student should have a chance to present it- as long as it does not overlap with another presenter.  🙂


There are several more activities which require the use of photos, while an increasing number of them require the use of 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and other interactive platforms, yet these four exercises do not require the use of technology (minus the Powerpoint aspect), but more with your language skills and your creative talents.  While these four activities can be used at any time, with even different themes, such as Christmas or school-related events for example, for the purpose of reactivating their language knowledge and getting (re-)acquainted with the students and teacher, are they perfect for the occasion. By implementing one or more successfully, the class will become so involved, it will appear that the first day in school never happened, and that the class will pick up where it left off before break, without missing a beat.

Even more so, when using photos for classroom use, a teacher can do a lot with them, while the students can benefit from them through their own stories. Therefore, take a lot of pictures and be prepared to use them for your future classes. Your students will thank you for it. 🙂


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Germany into Darkness

Total Eclipse shadows the entire state, as 80% of the moon covers sun. 100% covers extreme Western Europe and the North Atlantic.

BERLIN/ERFURT/COLOGNE- As many as 70% of the German population or 50 million took advantage of the gorgeous weather and, armed with their cameras, smart phones and specialized sunglasses, photographed the sun as the moon covered up to 80% of it, putting the country into partial darkness. Despite worries that the eclipse could wreak havoc on the electirical power systems because Germany is mostly dependent on solar energy, it was reported that there were no problems and everything was running well as if nothing happened. The eclipse occurred at 10:42am Berlin time, almost an hour after the process started, and ended shortly after 12 noon. The area where people could get the best view of the eclipse was in the states of Rhineland-Palatinate, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony. However, people in other German states had an opportunity to see the moon cover 70-75% of the sun.

This included the city of Erfurt in central Thuringia, where the moon covered up to 75% of the sun, making it resemble on the one hand, the moon at first quarter mode, but on the other hand a full moon. In other words, there was the brightest first quarter on record, if one looks at it from an astronomer’s point of view.  The clear weather made it difficult to purchase specialized sunglasses, which you can wear to look up to the sun at the time of the eclipse, for many drug stores, pharmacists, glasses dealerships and optometrists ran out of stock up to two days prior to the event. This was the exact opposite of the last partial solar eclipse that occurred in 2005. There, rainy weather hindered any chances of viewing this rare event, thus dropping sales for these eye protectors dramatically.

While I was unable to purchase this pair of sunglasses, I did find one to use with an optometrist, whose shop was located at Erfurt’s city center, Anger- located between city hall and the train station. Although the pair was for lending and sharing purposes, I took the opportunity to wear them, while at the same time, cover the lens of the Pentax camera I had in my possession in an attempt to get a close-up look at the eclipse. Normally you are not supposed to get a direct shot at the eclipse for two reasons:

  1. The photo would turn out the same as it were without the eclipse- beautiful sunny skies just a little dimmer and
  2. Most importantly, looking directly at the sun at the time of the eclipse is very dangerous, for the rays could cause irreparable damage to the cornea, thus causing damage or even blindness.

As a tip one can get a selfie of the eclipse with the back towards the sun or simply leave it and have a look at the eclipse through TV and internet. However, even though I did get some shots of the places in Erfurt at the time of the eclipse (not to worry, I did this with my eyes looking down), I experimented by placing the specialized sunglasses over the lens of the camera, then zoomed in manually as far as it could go.

The result:

Photo taken in Erfurt at Anger just minutes before its peak
Photo taken in Erfurt at Anger just minutes before its peak

Unless you have had many years of experience in photography as I have had (I’ve been photographing since I was 11 years old), and you are daring enough to do this, this author does not recommend doing this- at least not without supervision. In order to get a shot like this, you need a special lens equivalent to what I used in order to get a shot like this. All other options are useless, for they would end up like the pic below- at the peak of the eclipse:

Erfurt Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) at the peak of the eclipse without the glasses. Not to worry, the author stared down while taking this shot.
Erfurt Cathedral (Erfurter Dom) at the peak of the eclipse without the glasses. Not to worry, the author stared down while taking this shot.

Whether a pic like this can be done like this with a special lens is doubtful for you may not get the picture you need. Admittedly though, it is worth experimenting, but if and only if the next opportunity arises, which for a solar eclipse like this one, it is rare. For many of us, this is perhaps the last time we will ever see one like this as the next one to come to Germany will be in 66 years. A partial eclipse in Germany will come again in 2022.  However the next total eclipse to reach the US will be in two years’ time. So for those who are hunting for the next solar eclipse (and I’m sure there are groups out there who are crazy about solar eclipses), mark this on your calendar at least, even though one may come beforehand.

But even not, for many like yours truly, this experience was once in a lifetime, which has now been crossed off our bucket list.

Author’s Note:

The Flensburg Files has an album on the solar eclipse in Germany through facebook, which you can click here to view. The Files’ is accepting photos taken by other photographers- amateur and profis alike- to be added to the album. If you have a photo or two to contribute, please send it to Jason Smith either through facebook or via e-mail at Please cite your name and the place where the photo(s) took place. The purpose of the album is for other viewers to see. Thank you for your help in this matter.

Highlights of the solar eclipse are also available through the following sources:

MDR Info (Video of the Solar Eclipse) in D:

Deutsche Welle (Highlights of the Solar Eclipse) in EN:

MDR Info (Gallery of the Solar Eclipse in Germany) in D:

Tagesschau (Information and pictures of the Solar Eclipse) in D: 

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The Light Shines On Forever: A Tribute to Thomas Kinkade


It’s the light, Thom, that’s what lasts. The leaves are transient. They grow, turn green, turn red and die, but behind them the light lasts forever.- Peter O’Toole (from the film The Christmas Cottage)

Each of us is here for a reason. Whether it is to fulfill a certain dream or God’s plan. Whatever it is, each of us has a special gift for the world, which makes people happy.  Yet many of us do not realize it until someone comes into our lives and uncovers it for us. When that happens, we paint the most vivid colors of life and make people happy at the same time. Through our special gift, we influence others to embrace life and allow their gifts to blossom, like the bud on the tree that is starting to bloom, making the world greener and a nicer place for others to enjoy. And when we leave, we are not forgotten, for even if the leaves whither and fall, the legacy will last forever, the light will stay lit, and someone else will pick up where the other one left off.

Thomas Kinkade was known as the Painter of Light. But how he managed to rise to stardom has a story that goes beyond the lighted streets of Placerville, California. Born in a family where his father left him and his brother at a very young age, his mother kept the family together and went through tough times. But somehow Thomas wanted to be an artist. It was just a question of who can open him up to the world and show him. This is where Glenn Wessels came in. Born in South Africa in 1895, Wessels and his family moved to California, where he became a painter, painting modern western art, creating murals for community centers, and in the end, presenting his own form of art to the students at University of California-Berkeley, the University of Washington, and several small colleges in the San Francisco Bay area. He met Kinkade while at Berkeley, and passed his knowledge down to him in order for the artist to paint about life from where he sees it.

“My mission as an artist is to capture those special moments in life adorned with beauty and light. I work to create images that project a serene simplicity that can be appreciated and enjoyed by everyone. That is what I mean by sharing the light,” Kinkade stated once for his website. Kinkade’s paintings resembled a Kodak moment that every photographer would dream of capturing if he had the right camera, the right lighting and the right style of photography. It was almost like he was painting a live scene but with more enlightenment and liveliness than it would be, had it been on print. It was like time was standing still and the opportunity came for someone to paint it with the purpose of presenting a sort of realism combined with expressionism. From a point of view of a photographer and journalist, the works of Kinkade far outweigh the majority of photos taken by photographers, which present itself in various forms of expression and light. We are not talking about the photos for the World Press, as the majority of them present a realism in the darkest form with war photos and events that shape society in not the best of advantages of the people. These were photos taken live by photographers who got the lone opportunity before having to flee the bullets, bombs or other bastards who wanted to either shoo them or shoot them. What we are talking about is when a person photographs a certain event in the evening that is full of lights, like a Christmas market, a soccer game, or any campfire event involving family, Kinkade found a way to capture that particular moment that he saw fit and used the brush to bring the scene more into life. It was like a photo that was make with a paint brush, only better.  It is very difficult to explain this phenomenon, but when the Los Angeles Times wrote an obituary about the painter’s death, the journalist presented some of the very best of his works, which can be clicked on here.

Unfortunately, apart from complaints about his conduct with employees and other people (some of which he denied), Kinkade was a target of criticism by many who believed that his paintings were too religious, using a certain formula which is the same for all of his paintings. Even Joan Didion, another contemporary artist and critic wrote that a typical Kinkade painting “featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel.”  Others believed that Kinkade was diluting the quality of his paintings through mass-marketing. One can see books and calendars with Kinkade’s paintings on them at any book store world wide. Yet despite the critics, Kinkade did touch the hearts and minds of millions of people, even his own critics who admired him. “He expresses what he believes and puts that in his art. That is not the trend in the high-art world at the moment, the idea that you can express things spiritually and be taken seriously,” stated Jeffrey Vallance in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. It is understandable that Kinkade was conservative and a devoted Christian, but if there were any types of religious formulas and codes in his paintings, it would be difficult to see them, at least when looking at the paintings up close. Each one had a theme for itself and they were expressed from the painter’s point of view to a point where others had the opportunity to awe and interpret them in any way shape of form.

If one asks a photographer or a painter what started them into their profession, regardless of whether it was full time or part time, four out of five times, one will hear the name Thomas Kinkade come out of his/her mouth. Kinkade was not only a big influence in the world of contemporary art, but he also inspired us to look and appreciate the surroundings we have and capture the moment either under the lens or with a paint brush. While many of us are still grieving and inquiring more about his loss- he died on 9 April at his home in San Francisco at the age of 54- the light did not go out forever. It is still burning, even stronger in saluting him for his work and waiting for the next Painter of Light to pick up where he left off.

In closing, I would like to ask each of you to look at the outside world and your surroundings and ask yourselves “What do you see?” Look closer and if you see something that you love, capture it.  Chances are more likely that if you see something that you love, others will take notice. If you do not, then do not worry, someone will help you show you the way. Kinkade’s success in my opinion was based on looking at what he sees in life and capturing that moment for others to see. Part of that had to do with having the right people to push him to be successful like Wessels. But the other part has to do with what he sees in life and how he can captivate it for others to see and interpret. For any photographer and painter entering the field, you should take this advice and see what is in front of you and what you have. Only then will you know how to be the person you want to be.