Do You PWIM?

I first heard of PWIM in a workshop for ELA teachers.  It was mentioned in passing, within the context of writing, with much enthusiasm.  Being the kind of teacher who won’t leave any stone left unturned, I jotted the acronym down in my notebook and scoured  the Internet  when I got home.  What I found was a rather simple, yet exciting method for teaching vocabulary and writing skills that could easily be used in our ESL classrooms.

The Picture Word Inductive Model (PWIM) developed by Emily Calhoun (1998), can be used at every level. It promotes the expansion of vocabulary, encourages discussion, and creates the foundation for strong language and communication skills.  Students follow the 10-step sequence,  in teams or in pairs, and  then complete their writing independently.   All you need to begin is a picture!  

The following figure from Emily Calhoun’s book, Teaching Beginning Reading and Writing with the Picture Word Inductive Model*, presents the moves and the overall sequence of the model. Calhoun (1999) mentions that “the full sequence of a PWIM unit may take three days or two months: The length of units and number of lessons within a unit depend on the richness of the picture, the age and language development of the students, and the language objectives of the teacher.”  

Figure 1.—Overview of the Picture Word Inductive Model (Calhoun, 1999).

Steps of the PWIM

  1. Select a picture.
  2. Ask students to identify what they see in the picture.
  3. Label the picture parts identified. (Draw a line from the identified object or area, say the word, write the word; ask students to spell the word aloud and then to pronounce it.)
  4. Read and review the picture word chart aloud.
  5. Ask students to read the words (using the lines on the chart if necessary) and to classify the words into a variety of groups. Identify common concepts (e.g., beginning consonants, rhyming words) to emphasize with the whole class.
  6. Read and review the picture word chart (say the word, spell it, say it again).
  7. Add words, if desired, to the picture word chart and to the word banks.
  8. Lead students into creating a title for the picture word chart. Ask students to think about the information on the chart and what they want to say about it.
  9. Ask students to generate a sentence, sentences, or a paragraph about the picture word chart. Ask students to classify sentences; model putting the sentences into a good paragraph.
  10. Read and review the sentences and paragraphs.

Strengths of the PWIM.

The basic steps of the PWIM stress these components of phonics, grammar, mechanics, and usage:

  • Students hear the words pronounced correctly many times and the picture word chart is an immediate reference as they add these words to their sight vocabulary. The teacher can choose to emphasize almost any sound and symbol relationship (introduced or taken to mastery).
  • Students hear and see letters identified and written correctly many times.
  • Students hear the words spelled correctly many times and participate in spelling them correctly.
  • In writing the sentences, the teacher uses standard English (transforming student sentences if necessary) and uses correct punctuation and mechanics (e.g., commas, capital letters). As different mechanical and grammatical devices are used, the teacher describes why the device is used. After several lessons and experience with the teacher modeling the devices, the students learn how to use them, too.


To find out more about the PWIM:
1. The Best Ways To Modify The Picture Word Inductive Model For ELLs
2. Glimpsing the Model in Kindergarten and Second Grade *
3. Visit the Intensive ESL Community and type PWIM into the search bar.


Elizabeth Alloul
LEARN Consultant
ESL Special Project

*Calhoun, E. (1999). Teaching Beginning Reading and Writing with the Picture Word Inductive Model. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.