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.


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.

Halloween Go Fish

This game uses the same cards as in the previous game, Halloween Concentration, although you might want to include more cards. To expand the card deck, include faces for each picture – happy pumpkins versus angry pumpkins, happy owls versus angry owls, etc. This way you have “suits” (happy, angry, sad, and crazy would be my choices). Make sure you have enough sets of cards for each group to play.

Before playing, teach the students the phrases “Do you have a ________?” “No, I don’t. Go fish.” and “Yes, I do. Here you are.” Students play in groups of three to six.

There are several different variations of “Go Fish” – if you don’t remember the rules, here’s a summary of the most common ways to play. For added educational value, have the students tell you what sets of cards they earned, and trade them in for candy, stickers, or other prizes. For example, Kevin wins the game. To win his prize, he must tell you “I have two happy owls, two sad pumpkins, two angry spiders, and two crazy pumpkins.”


Pin the Face on the Pumpkin

Before class, cut out several eyes, noses, and mouths from black paper and glue magnets to the back of them. Prepare two witch hats or sets of blindfolds. Draw two pumpkins on the board.

Divide the class into two teams. One member of each team comes to the front and gets blindfolded (or has a witch hat pulled over their eyes). Each person grabs an eye, nose, or mouth, spins around, and tries to attach it to their pumpkin’s face. The rest of their team can scream advice at them if you like. An assistant hands them the next piece of the face, they spin and attach it, and so on, until they’ve pinned the whole face on the pumpkin. The team with the better pumpkin face is the winner. Repeat the game until each person has a chance to pin the face on the pumpkin.

For beginner classes, you might want to coach the kids in how to yell advice at their teammates before the game starts. For example: Higher! Move left! Turn the nose!


Human Buzzer Quiz

A ridiculously fun review game, if you can trust your kids not to get overexcited and hit their human buzzer a little too hard. This is also fun for a larger class. Very good for days when you have a lot of material to review, especially before a big test.

Before class, prepare a list of review questions. You’ll need a lot – two to three questions for every student in the class, if you want everyone to get a turn at the buzzer.

To set up the game, divide the class into two to six teams. Place one chair per team at the front of the class, facing the class. Two people from each team can play at a time. One person, the human buzzer, sits in the chair. The other person, the contestant, stands behind the human buzzer. The buzzer’s role is to make a noise indicating that their contestant can answer the question. The contestant then answers.

When the teacher asks a question, the contestants have to push their buzzer by patting the human buzzer on the head. Then the buzzer makes a noise (bzz, honk, tweet, whatever – something unique for each team is best) to let the teacher know that the contestant is ready to answer. The contestant whose buzzer “rings” first must answer the question, and the teacher awards points for correct answers.

This would be fun enough on its own, but as the kids get excited, the human buzzers make mistakes and buzz out of turn, forget to buzz, or make the wrong team’s buzzing noise. I make the contestants answer if I hear their team’s buzz, even if it was a “misfire”. Pretty soon the whole class is giggling, and some buzzers will deliberately mess things up for their contestant. Make sure you change roles every few questions, so that each student gets to play both as a contestant and as a buzzer.


Crazy Photo Story

A great way for intermediate to advanced students to practice their speaking or writing.

Before class, gather a variety of strange or unusual photos. (If you can get them blown up to a larger size, that’d be helpful so all students can see without passing them around.) The pictures could be your own vacation shots, or strange things you’ve found on the internet.

(Edited to add: some great photo series like these might be fun!)

Hand out the pictures so that each student (or pair/group) gets one. The students have to think of a story that explains why this situation is taking place. Have the students brainstorm for a few minutes, then tell their story to the class.

After the stories have been told orally, give the students a homework assignment to write a short story or essay somehow related to their picture. Display the pictures and stories around the classroom for all to enjoy.

Variation: Have one student come to the front to start telling a story about his or her picture. After a few sentences, have them sit down and invite a new student to come up, continuing the story but adding in something from their picture. Let the story get more and more ridiculous as more students contribute to it.



I used this game when I was teaching adults in Korea, but I’ve had just as much success with it with younger students.

Before class, the teacher gathers about twenty different items in a bag or backpack. They should be moderately useful items, as these will be the survival tools the students will use to survive on a desert island. If you don’t want to carry them, hand the students a list instead, but I find you get better answers with real items.

Useful items to pack:

  • A plastic raincoat
  • A sun hat
  • Some water bottles
  • A beach ball
  • A mirror
  • A knife of some sort, or something sharp.
  • A length of rope
  • Needles, safety pins, or paper clips
  • A few snacks
  • A boomerang
  • A magazine, newspaper, or book
  • A hammer
  • A candle
  • A flashlight
  • Matches or a flint
  • A few ridiculous items – rubber chicken, toy car, etc.

Introduce the game by drawing an island on the white board. Explain to the students that they were going on a school trip to Hawaii, but that their plane crashed and they are the only survivors. They have managed to arrive on a desert island with two to four of their classmates (groups of three to five students). They need to plan a survival strategy: water, shelter, food, and a way to signal rescuers. Their resources include whatever’s on the island, whatever’s in the backpack (unpack it in front of them) and whatever the students have in their pockets or schoolbags.

The island with its resources mapped out. I usually draw fish in the ocean and birds in the trees, as well. No fresh water, though - I'm mean.

The island with its resources mapped out. I usually draw fish in the ocean and birds in the trees, as well. No fresh water, though – I’m mean.

Wander around the room as the students discuss their plans. Periodically update the students on the situation.

  • It’s raining heavily – two trees fell down and landed on their shelter, but they’re able to collect rainwater.
  • There are sharks in the water. If they’re trying to catch fish, they’d better be able to do it from shore.
  • It’s nighttime, and they can see a boat in the distance. Can they signal it at night?
  • It’s daytime. A plane is passing overhead. Is it looking for them? Can they signal that far away?
  • It’s really hot out. Do they have somewhere to take shelter from the sun?
  • The youngest (tallest, whatever) member of the group is behaving really strangely. They’re screaming, crying, and breaking things, and they just poured away half your water supplies. What will you do with them?
  • It’s been three days / five days since you arrived on the island. If you haven’t found water / found food / made shelter, you’re dead.

After a few minutes of messing with their planning, call an end to the game and ask students to explain their survival strategies and how they reacted to the crises you presented. Have the class decide which team was the most likely to survive or be rescued.