Where’s Wally? Introducing Critical Thinking Basics

John Pryce, Kyoto University

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Critical thinking, question building, group work
  • Learner English Level: Pre-intermediate and above 
  • Learner maturity: Junior High School - University
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Activity time: 75 minutes
  • Materials: A colorful hat

Integrating Critical Thinking Skills (CTS) into the Japanese EFL classroom can be challenging. However, utilizing an implicit approach that is fun for the students can provide the teacher with an appropriate entry point. The activity below uses the popular character from Where’s Wally?–Where’s Waldo? (US), or warii o sagase! (Japan)–and has the students develop a group methodology to find him while introducing them to the basics of analysis. The students will then use question formation to deepen their analytical skills and then complete the task in a fun and creative way.


Step 1: Select any Where’s Wally? image (e.g., whereswally.co.uk) and make two copies. One clean copy will be distributed to the students. On the second copy, divide the image into squares by drawing a grid on the picture. 


Step 1: Introduce the Where’s Wally? picture, but do not give it out to the students. Ask them if they know about Wally and if not give a small explanation about the concept. If some students know Wally, have them explain the concept to their peers (2-3 minutes).

Step 2: Ask the students to design a group-method to find Wally and to write down the steps (10-15 minutes). 

Step 3: Ask the students to choose one member from their group to present the method to the class and share their ideas. Encourage each group to borrow good ideas that they hear (10 minutes).

Step 4: Give the students a copy of the picture and tell them to try out their method. Explain it is a race for each group to find Wally and demonstrate the best method for analysis (5 minutes).

Step 5: Give each group the second picture that has been divided into squares and ask them to number the squares. One student can choose a random square for you. As a class, brainstorm as many questions as possible about the characters and scenario in the square. Encourage the students to be creative and ask speculative or “out of the box” questions. Finally, assign a random square to each group and have the students produce their own questions with a minimum target of 10 (25-30 minutes). 

Step 6: Ask the groups to swap their sets of questions with another group and set a homework task for the students to provide written answers for their peers’ questions.

Step 7: Finally, ask the students, as a class, to re-create a Where’s Wally? scenario nominating one student to be Wally. Use a colorful hat or scarf. Take a photo of the scene and share it with the students as a fun reminder. Alternatively, at the beginning of the next class use the photo to re-affirm the question types for analysis by having the class shout out questions to their classmates (10-15 minutes).


Using the above approach, CTS can be introduced into the Japanese EFL classroom in a fun and implicit manner. The students become immersed in a learning process that will also, hopefully, form lasting positive group and class dynamics. In addition, through the activity the learners also discover how to critically analyze a visual text in a basic way, and it can encourage them to develop independent thinking strategies. To consolidate these newly acquired skills, the teacher may wish to do a follow-up lesson using a variety of other visual texts or media, for example, using advertisements or art-work.