Images with Impact: Using and Referencing Images (Part 2)

white hand on images patchwork
image source:

Images can be a great visual tool especially in ESL, but the process in making them technologically effective can be overwhelming. This post is the second post of a 3-part series of Images with Impact by John Allan.

Copyright & Images

The best way to approach copyright with your images is to assume that the images are copyrighted by someone.

4 means of including images legally for your LOs are

  • purchase a license to use images,
  • locate images in the public domain meaning that they are on open repositories,
  • have expired copyright, or
  • as Kelly Morrissey posted on January 13, create the images yourself.

Purchasing a license to legally use an image in educational LOs is straightforward. First, locate a service on the Internet such as Clipart, Shutterstock, or Getty Images, and then find an image on their site. Finally, choose a license for your purposes.  License types and conditions vary between image providers. There are numerous websites advertising free images (see the Buffersocial blog link below); however, many of these take a little more work to separate the free and for-a-fee images.  You might take a few minutes (or even hours) to locate resources that work for your purposes at Buffersocial if you have time.

Locating open resources of free images is a worthwhile endeavour. Once these resources are found, they can be bookmarked and used as require for future use.  In the section Free & legal images below, four common free image sites are listed. Open resources include images tagged with Creative Commons Licenses, which allow free use on educational LOs.  The licensing is clearly defined on the Creative Commons website at  There is a very quick way to locate images through the Google Advanced Search feature. On the Advanced Search, in the usage rights field, choose one of five licensing options.  The most open is free to use, share or even modify, even commercially. All of the images that appear are fair game for your LOs.


Locate expired copyright images by using the general rule that if it was published before 1923, it is in the public domain.  Anything after this year is convoluted by other rules and regulations that are too complex to deal with in this post.  Surf to to locate specifics on an image that you are considering using in an LO.

Creating an image yourself can be a challenge for most of us, unless it is a digital photograph taken of a relevant event or object. Digital pictures can be optimized for LO purposes using tools like Picfull or Webresizer.


Free & legal images

There are web spaces that host legal images that you may consider including in your courses. These are detailed below.  Please be careful to read the licensing details at each site before using their images in your LOs. These sites include filtering options that ensure that the images or icons are royalty free, and are copyright appropriate for instructors to include them in their LOs.

Morguefile offers a wealth of photographs that teachers can insert into their worksheets, web spaces, or other media.  The conditions listed at the website are quite open. Pics4Learning is a copyright-free image library for teachers and students. The Pics4Learning collection contains thousands of images that have been donated by the general community which includes students and teachers. At Icon Finder, a materials developer can locate quality icons for use in their projects.  There are enough free icons to get through the simple worksheets or presentations that teachers encounter on a frequent basis.

OpenClipArt is a legal source for clip art, which is a necessary element in many teaching websites or worksheets. This site provides teacher developers with over 35,000 free and usable clip art in logical categories.


Resources referenced:

Creative Commons

Creative Commons Licenses


Electric Frontier Foundation’s Teaching Copyright. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.





Web Resizer


Image credit: morgueFile free photo

You are allowed to copy, distribute, transmit, and adapt the work. Attribution is not required.


Hi—I'm John Allan. I am an educator who works in the technology enhanced language learning field. I create online learning opportunities and mentor instructors on the Avenue project. I have experience teaching ESL and EFL in Canada and the Middle East. I hold an MSC in Computer Assisted Language learning, a M.Ed. in Distance Education, TESL B. Ed., a B.Ed. (OCT), and a variety of TESL relevant certifications from TESL Canada, TESL Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Education. For more articles, learning objects, projects and blog links see


8 thoughts on “Images with Impact: Using and Referencing Images (Part 2)”

  1. Hi John,

    Thanks for the detailed information. I tend to err on the side of caution and never use an image that doesn’t come from one of the free websites. Sometimes they’re not as “pretty” as others, but they serve their purpose.

    1. I agree with you. It is so tempting to just ignore copyright when you have found a very suitable image for a webpage or a worksheet. Since the sharing and distribution of learning objects is often out of my control, I do my best to ensure that the images are licensed properly.

  2. John,
    Thank you SO much for this three-part series and all these links to sources of free images that don’t come with the problem of copyright infringement. I make 90% of my own materials for my students and feel it’s such a shame that after we use the worksheets, they just sit on my flash drive for a year or more. I love to share but in the past have not been able to share anything with images since I am usually making things the night before they are needed and don’t have the patience to ensure I’m not breaking the law. But now! Now I am learning how to quickly make my own and where to find others, thanks to you and this article.
    You were right about using graphics software that allows for layers. I can bring in a photo, trace over it, delete the bottom layer and–voila–line drawing. You can see my first attempts at tracing by going to my banking resources ( and opening the ATM Literacy Activity Pack. You can tell which image I traced BEFORE I learned that I could adjust the degree of “smoothing” of my free-hand lines and which ones were traced after I learned how to increase smoothing.
    Looking forward to part 3, John!

  3. Kelly and everyone reading this, you can really improve your tracing by taking time with your brush selection. While in Pixlr Editor, select and empty layer for tracing. Choose the the paint brush tool. Then in the Tool Modifier bar (near the top of the screen) click on the Brush size option. The Brush shape and size panel appears. You can go beyond the default brush heads by:

    1) Clicking on the MORE button. Additional brush sets appear for various effects and cool patterns for stylized backgrounds.

    2) Uploading brush sets from other sources. Mels’ Pixlr brushes

    3) Defining your own brush heads (sets).

    (see this tutorial

  4. I think I want to take a class in this. I am not using Pixlr. Tried that night and found it difficult. I’m working in Paint2 and also iDraw for now. I’ll try Pixlr again. Seems every piece of software has its limits. In one, I couldn’t seem to change brush sizes while tracing. In another, cropping is ridiculously complicated. But they all do some things really well.

  5. Kelly, I feel your frustration. I have been looking for a calligraphic set of brushes that will work with Pixlr. Creating a set would take a few hours but, there is a way that you can create a few calligraphic type brush shapes for your own use.

    In Pixlr, open the image, create a new “tracing” layer.
    1) Select the Brush Tool
    2) In the Tool Modifier bar, click on the Bush icon
    3) Click on the Create brush button
    4) Select the circle head shape
    5) Set Aspect to 5
    6) Set Angle to 45.0
    7) Click Ok
    The Brush is now on your brush palette at the bottom
    8) Repeat steps 3 to 7 with angle settings (70, 90, 115, 135)

    I hope this helps.

    See this link to see some examples of Illustrator calligraphic brushes:

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