Drawing for Success

Sara Hendricks, Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University

Quick guide 

  • Keywords: Drawing game, speaking and listening practice, picture dictation
  • Learner English level: High beginner to advanced
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school through adult
  • Preparation time: 15 minutes
  • Activity time: 10 to 20 minutes 
  • Materials: Projector or digital whiteboard and various images, blank paper, pencils  

This activity is fun, interactive, and communicative. It asks students to alternate between practicing speaking by describing an unusual picture and practicing listening by drawing the picture described to them. The students make pairs with one student facing the image on the projector. The student who can see the projector describes the image to his or her partner, who will draw the image. Afterwards, the students switch places so that each student has an opportunity (or two) to practice both speaking and listening. The activity can be tailored to match any current language target from grammar to vocabulary to pronunciation. The real beauty of the activity is that students are self-motivated to participate, every student gets lots of individual talk time, and it is more student-centered than simply listening to the teacher. 


Step 1: Decide on the language focus of the class. The teacher can choose a grammar focus such as, “There is/There are,” a pronunciation practice using minimal pairs, or other vocabulary.  The teacher should prepare between 5 and 9 images based on the language focus. For example, the teacher might find images of sheep or ships, or rice or lice if the aim is pronunciation. The teacher might find images of careers if the vocabulary focus that week is on occupations. The images should be funny or strange as well as being fairly detailed so that more advanced students can challenge themselves by trying to describe the entire scene.

 Step 2:  Set up the classroom so that the desks and chairs are (or can be) arranged in pairs. One student should be able to see the projector screen and one student should be facing away from the screen. 


Step 1:  Explain the activity to the students. Emphasize that the end goal is not to have a beautiful picture, but to have fun practicing speaking and listening to English.  The teacher may want to list helpful vocabulary or grammar hints to encourage students to use the target language.  Show the students a sample image and model describing the picture and drawing it. 

Step 2:  Have the students find partners and decide who will describe the image first.  Make sure that only the selected student in each pair can see the projector. 

Step 3:  Show the next image and tell students to begin. Set a fairly short time limit, as it’s better to have a few students that don’t finish their drawing completely rather than have many students finish and sit silently.  

Step 4:  Walk around, encouraging students by admiring the drawings. After the timer rings, instruct students to look at and comment on each other’s pictures as they compare their drawings to the real image. 

Step 5:  Have students change places and then change the image. Repeat as many times as desired. 


This activity can also be adapted to any level and can accommodate most class sizes. The images can be a little tricky to find, depending on the target language, but the extra search time is worth the effort. Students enjoy this activity and after emphasizing that the goal is NOT to end up with a beautiful picture, even students who dislike art will have fun.