Picture This

Steve Hampshire, Fukuyama City University

Quick Guide

  • Key words: Descriptive challenge, memory, imagination, question and answer
  • Learner English level: Intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: Senior high school and above
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 10 to 15 minutes per pair
  • Materials: A selection of picture postcards, snaps or similar, a postcard size blank card, 2 envelopes postcard size or bigger, language support slips for A and B presenters and class questioners. (See Appendix)
  • NB: You will also need a suitable out-of-classroom prep space for A/B presenters

Pictures are a great resource for engaging students. They can capture interest, spur the imagination, act as prompts, bring the outside world into the classroom and help students draw out language from their own knowledge. Many English language exams also employ pictures as part of listening tests and for oral assessment. Drawing on these elements ‘Picture this’ puts two students head-to-head in front of their classmates in a battle of wits, combining a descriptive and challenging activity with a class Q&A component. Can memory and good descriptive skills sway the class one way, or will a clever and colorful imagination be enough to trick them and triumph?


Before class, decide on your student pair(s). Pair students of similar abilities.

Prepare 2 envelopes, 1 containing a picture the other a blank piece of card.

Copy A/B presenter and class language support slips.


Step 1: Explain the activity to the class.

Step 2: Choose your first pair. Do rock, paper, scissors to decide who has which envelope. Give out the envelopes but don’t open yet.

Step 3: Give out the class language support slips. Class members start thinking of possible questions.

Step 4: While the class is doing this, exit the room with students A and B, who now open their envelopes. The blank cardholder, if allowed a glimpse of the real picture, could prepare to present something similar or be encouraged to imagine something quite different.

Step 5: Give the presenters their language support slips. Run through the Time to Think expressions. Set a time limit to prepare for their presentations.

Step 6: Meanwhile, return to the main class and monitor /elicit some practice questions.

Step 7: Revisit students A and B for final checks. Return their cards into the envelopes and reenter the room with A and B standing at the front of the class.

Step 8: Do rock, paper, scissors to start. The first presenter, with the language support slip, now has 30 seconds to describe the main elements of their picture.

Step 9: The class asks the first presenter questions to elicit more details.

Step 10: Repeat Step 8 with the second student.

Step 11: Give students a moment to confer then take a class vote on who they think the true picture holder is.

Step 12: Reveal the true picture holder.


So, picture this: Your students using colorful descriptive language, asking questions, exercising their imaginations, testing memories, and responding to questions off the cuff, all infused with an element of competition and (maybe) a surprise ending. Picture perfect!


The appendix is available below.