ESL Games: It’s All in the Description—A Speaking and Listening Game

The Game: It’s All in the Description is a great way to strengthen speaking and listening skills. In addition, it focuses on the present continuous verb tense and essential vocabulary to expand ESL fluency and overall language learning. It also builds questioning skills.

Research Says: Research supports the use of a language game like this to bring real world context into the classroom and enhance students’ use of English in a flexible, communicative way (Asian EFL Journal, December 2003).

Materials Needed

  1. Various images cut from magazines, newspapers, found on the Internet, etc.
  2. Paper (construction paper, typing paper, or tag board) for mounting
  3. Paper for drawing
  4. Colored pencils
  5. Glue or stapler to mount the individual images
  6. Folders for each image
  7. Timer

How to Play

  1. The students are paired and the teacher hands out the folders at random. Each student receives a folder. Student A looks at his or her image without showing Student B. Student B asks 20 questions about the image, in a 10-minute period, and attempts to draw the image based on the answers given by Student A. Student A does not look at the drawing until the time limit is up. Then the actual image is compared to Student B’s drawing. The students discuss the differences, comment on the parts that are more accurate, and point out the questions that were the most helpful or those that could have been asked to make the drawing more accurate.
  2. The students switch roles and repeat the game with a new image (Student B uses his or her image, and Student A asks questions and draws.)
  3. It is a good suggestion to model the activity before the game begins. Students are not restricted to yes and no questions. In fact, questions to gain a lot of information at once should be encouraged. For example, What is the person wearing? is a better question than Is the person wearing a hat? or Is the person wearing red clothing?

How to Make It

  1. Find images from any magazines, newspapers, or from the Internet. Although students work in pairs, every student needs an image to describe as well as one to draw. You might want to select extra images so you have enough to repeat the activity during another class period.
  2. Cut and mount images individually on paper.
  3. Place mounted images in separate folders so students can’t see them ahead of time.
  4. Label each folder with a number.
  5. Record the numbered folders with a title (that explains the picture) in a notebook for teacher use. You can check off the folders that were used for this activity and date it to keep track of those images that have already been used. This way you can repeat the activity with your students but not repeat the pictures already used.


  1. You can shorten or lengthen the time allowed to ask questions and to draw the picture.
  2. You can shorten or lengthen the number of questions that are allowed.
  3. You can vary the difficulty of the pictures.
  4. After the game, the pictures can be shown to the class so they can see how closely some of the drawings resemble the original images. A class discussion could center on what types of questions are best to ask. If the game were played again, the students could apply some of these suggestions and then talk about improvements seen after using these suggestions, etc.
  5. Specific vocabulary words could be written on the overhead/whiteboard for student use either prior to the game or during the game. Additional resources can be made available to the students to aid in developing questions.
  6. Selected pictures could follow a particular theme (i.e. sports, foods, etc.)


About Marc Anderson

Marc Anderson
Marc Anderson is the CEO of online English training company that teaches English online to students around the world. During his free time he likes to read, travel and enjoy life.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ESL Games: It’s All in the Description—A Speaking and Listening Game

  1. Ayat Mostafa says:

    Amazing idea as it will help them not to practice questions only but also to make brain storming .

  2. Ghosoon says:

    i like this game for my students, we can change the game by a little change that is by giving a description for the image instead of asking question, of course the students who have the image will give descriptive sentences to his or her partner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.