Slow Motion Pictionary

I’ve been looking for games I can play with my older classes, especially my one-on-one class with a quiet teenager. This works very well at keeping the conversation flowing in full sentences during a fun vocabulary-based guessing game.

To start, one person (could be the teacher or a student – we’ll call him the artist) thinks of a word. The rest of the class has to ask questions to try to guess the word. The questions must be yes/no questions, and every time the answer is “yes” the artist can add one line to his picture. The other students continue asking questions until they can guess the word.

If your class is as obnoxious as mine, you might have to be explicit about the rule that questions must be on topic – asking “are you our teacher” or “is Kevin in our class” is not a fair way to get a free line drawn on the picture.

This was as far as the artist got before the other students guessed "tennis racket"

This was as far as the artist got before the other students guessed “tennis racket”

Example Game:

  • Jenny comes to the front of the class, flips through the textbook for ideas, and chooses a tennis racket as her picture.
  • Bob asks, “Is it an object?” It is, so Jenny draws a line.
  • Mandy asks, “Is it an animal?” It isn’t, so Jenny doesn’t add to the picture.
  • Eric asks if it can move on its own. Jenny confirms that he means that it can move if people aren’t touching it, then says no. No new lines added.
  • Tim asks if it’s small. Jenny asks how small is small. Tim rephrases the question to ask if it’s small enough to carry in one hand. Jenny says it’s small and draws another line.
  • Sarah asks if it can be seen in someone’s house. Jenny struggles to answer, then decides that yes, it is seen in people’s houses, but only when it’s not in use. She draws a third line.
  • Jason thinks he knows the answer and asks if it’s something used in sports. Jenny confirms and draws another line.
  • Jason guesses tennis racket and wins the game.

Christmas Trivia Quiz

How much do your older students actually know about Christmas? Sure, they’ve been through half a dozen Christmas parties and they might even remember all the words to Jingle Bells, but do they have the faintest clue what the holiday is about? Let’s find out, shall we?

To play this game, divide the class into teams of three to five students. You can play pub-trivia style, in which teams write down their answers and check at the end, but that takes longer. For shorter game play, students can write the answers quickly, then take turns calling out their answers after a few seconds to think. The shortest way to play is to have students answer instantly, with only the first team to answer getting points. Many of the questions have more than one correct answer – depending on the level of the class, you can give points for any correct answer, or ask for a certain number of answers (name five, 1 point each, for example.)

My questions, in no particular order:

  • How do people celebrate Christmas? – exchange gifts, decorate the house, decorate a tree, go to church, write cards, open advent calendars, go caroling, …
  • What do people do on Christmas day? – open presents, go to church, eat a big meal, play games
  • What’s a traditional Christmas dinner in America/England?  – Turkey/goose/ham, stuffing, gravy, roasted/mashed potatoes, whatever else is traditional for you.
  • What might people serve for dessert at Christmas dinner?  – Christmas pudding / Christmas cake / pie / cookies?
  • What is the day before Christmas called? – Christmas Eve
  • What is the day after Christmas called (in England/Canada – not so much in the USA)? – Boxing Day
  • If someone invites you to a potluck Christmas party, what are you expected to bring with you? – A dish of food to share
  • The night before Christmas, children usually leave some food and drink for Santa. What food and drink do they leave him?  – Milk and cookies
  • What are some common Christmas decorations? – Christmas trees, stars, snowflakes, wreaths, angels, nativity sets, snowmen, Santa, reindeer, stockings…
  • What does Santa say? (What’s his catch-phrase?) – Ho ho ho!
  • What does Santa drive? – A sleigh, driven by reindeer.
  • How many reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh? – nine, but eight is also possibly correct.
  • What are the names of Santa’s reindeer? – Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner/Donder, Blitzen
  • How does Santa get into your house? – through the chimney
  • What does Santa fill with presents? – stockings (or shoes, in some countries)
  • Where does Santa live? – at the North Pole
  • Who is Santa married to? – Mrs. Claus
  • What are Santa’s helpers called? – Elves
  • Why do we celebrate Christmas? – birth of Jesus, winter solstice, eat good food, spend time with family, spirit of giving
  • Where was Jesus born? – Bethlehem, in a manger – I would accept barn as well
  • Who visited Jesus as a baby? – three wise men, angels
  • What gifts did they bring? – Frankincense, Myrrh, Gold
  • How did they find Jesus? – they followed a star (in the East)
  • Who were Jesus’s parents? – Mary and Joseph


This is a great short activity for an intermediate to advanced class. I use this as an ice breaker, warm up, or time killer at the end of class.

Before class, have a list of “what would you do if…” questions prepared. For example, “A dog is chasing you – what do/will/would you do?” Phrase the question according to the grammar your students are familiar with – low intermediate students can answer in simple present tense (I run away), upper intermediate in future tense (I will run away), and advanced students in conditional (I would run away). Send two students outside of the classroom, and ask the rest of the class what they’d do in a particular situation. Help them come up with a variety of creative answers that hint at but don’t spell out the situation. Bring the two missing students back in, and have them wander the room asking their classmates “What do/will/would you do?” Using the other students’ answers as clues, the two students race to guess what the situation is.

Some situation ideas include:

  • A dog is chasing you.
  • Your teacher yells at you in front of the whole class.
  • Your mother asks you to cook dinner tonight.
  • You find a wallet on the ground.
  • Your friend gets hit by a car in front of you.
  • You see a classmate steal something.
  • You can’t find your schoolbag.
  • Your friend starts smoking cigarettes.
  • You spill your drink on your clothes as you’re walking to school.
  • You win a ticket to Paris at the same time as your exams.
  • You receive two identical gifts for your birthday.
  • Your parents suggest moving to Russia next year.
  • Your friend’s fly is down and you can see their underwear.

Last Card

This game is good for reviewing old material, or for a quick warm-up at the beginning of class.

Distribute a whole deck of cards among the students so that each student has at least two cards. On the board, draw a target (I prefer it dartboard-shaped) with the card values on it. Students take turns throwing a sticky ball at the target. When they hit a card value (king, for example) any student holding one of those cards has to stand up and answer a review question. They then return that card to the teacher. If the student throwing the ball hits a card value that’s already been returned, the student throwing the ball answers the question instead. The game ends when there’s only one card value left – the four students holding that card are the winners.


Make A Question

This is a great game for beginners just learning the grammar of how to ask questions, or for intermediate students to review question-making. Before class, prepare several sets of cards with words on them. I make about one set per four to six students, with twelve cards per set.

  • who
  • what
  • is
  • can
  • Sandy (or someone’s name)
  • holding
  • eating
  • hold
  • eat
  • a
  • hamburger
  • ball

Each team gets a blank sheet of paper and one set of cards. On the board, draw a picture of a person (Sandy, in my case) holding a ball in one hand and a hamburger (with a bite out of it) in the other hand. Give the students an example question – “Is Sandy eating a ball?” and have them make it by rearranging their word cards, and then write it on their paper. Now challenge them to make as many questions as possible from their cards.

In beginner classes, I have each team raise their hands whenever they have a completed question, and I check it for grammar before they write it down. I keep track of how many questions each team has by awarding stars or stickers for each question made.

In intermediate classes, teams write down questions as quickly as possible without consulting me. Then each team reads out their questions to the class, and we discuss whether the grammar is correct so they can earn a point. Other teams can correct any grammar mistakes to “steal” the points for the question. This takes much more time than the beginners’ way, but is more educational, I think.

I’ve also used this game in advanced classes, with more complicated pictures. At that level, the students don’t need any vocabulary cards to rearrange and can make up questions quite well on their own. You’ll get much more creative questions (Why doesn’t Sandy seem to like his hamburger? Does he like ice cream better?) but a lot more grammar mistakes.

Using the twelve word cards above, my students have made at least 20 grammatically correct, logical questions, but there are a lot more if you accept obscure questions such as “Who is eating Sandy?” or “What is a ball?” My best class got 68 unique questions, which I’ll leave as a comment.


Hot Potato Reading

This is a good game for reviewing old lessons before a test. Make sure you have two different-coloured dice or balls for the students to pass around.

Students read their old lesson aloud while passing the balls around the room. About every ten words or so, the teacher shouts “STOP!” In beginner to low intermediate classes, the two students holding a ball race to answer the teacher’s comprehension question about whatever they just read. In high intermediate or advanced classes, the person holding the pink ball has to ask a comprehension question for the person holding the yellow ball to answer. After they’ve asked and answered questions, continue reading and passing the balls.


Halloween True/False Quiz

My advanced high school students are jealous that my younger classes get to have Halloween parties while they still have to study. This is a nice way to include older students in the Halloween fun!

How much do your students know about Halloween? Find out by asking your class a short true and false quiz about Halloween customs. Have students discuss each question in groups and agree on the answer. After the quiz, check the answers as a class and give prizes to the groups that scored highest! For added educational value, let the quiz lead into a discussion of what activities they’d be interested in doing for Halloween, and what kinds of pranks they could think of to play on their friends.

Here are some statements you might consider using:

  • Halloween started in America. FALSE – Halloween traces its history back to Ireland.
  • Halloween used to be a New Year’s celebration. TRUE – The Irish celebrated New Year’s on November 1st.
  • Halloween is about 500 years old. FALSE – Halloween has been celebrated more than a thousand years – some say closer to two thousand.
  • People used to dress up for Halloween to avoid real ghosts. TRUE – People believed real ghosts walked the earth on Halloween, the night before the New Year, and they wore a costume so the ghosts would think they were also dead and not bother them.
  • The traditional colors of Halloween are orange, yellow, and black. FALSE – no yellow, just orange and black.
  • Nowadays, Halloween is only for children. Teenagers and adults never dress up or celebrate Halloween unless they work with children. FALSE – many teenagers and adults like to wear costumes for Halloween, although trick-or-treating is only for children.
  • On Halloween, children knock on doors and say “trick or treat”. Their neighbors give them candy, money, fruit, or cakes. FALSE – usually it’s just candy, although some people also raise money for charity. Fruit and cakes aren’t popular because people are worried about poison.
  • Children go trick-or-treating right after school, so everyone can admire their costumes in daylight. FALSE – Trick or treating is usually held after dark.
  • People carve pumpkins and put them outside their houses for Halloween. TRUE – Nowadays, people use pumpkins as a signal to trick-or-treaters. If there is no pumpkin or no light inside the pumpkin, then the family inside is not celebrating Halloween and trick-or-treaters should not knock at the door.
  • If you don’t give candy to trick-or-treaters, they will play a trick on you. TRUE (sort of) – Most children don’t play tricks, but teenagers often wander around neighborhoods on Halloween playing tricks on people who refuse to give them candy. Popular tricks include ringing the doorbell and running away, putting toilet paper around the house or car, throwing eggs, and scaring people.
  • Many people decorate their houses for Halloween. TRUE – some people go all out, with moving decorations that play music, or that jump out and scare people. Popular decorations include ghosts, spiderwebs, bats, witches, tombstones, scarecrows, and pumpkins.