Drawing on Drawing Games Part Two – Picture Dictation

Another recycled article of mine from Modern English Teacher magazine. 75 drawing games here.

As with the game Pictionary which is dealt with in Drawing on Drawing Games Part One, Picture Dictation is a very well known and popular game that I am going to look at some variations on and alternative uses for. I therefore hope that this article will be useful both for those who haven’t used this game before and for those who’d like to use it in different ways. I will also explain how to make sure that Picture Dictations work well every time you use them – and as you will see, there are many different times when you could!

In the “traditional” version of a Picture Dictation, the teacher or a student takes a drawing or draws something themselves without anyone else being able to see. They then describe that drawing, and the person or people listening try to draw exactly what they hear being explained. They then compare their drawings with the original. This can be followed by points being given to the people whose pictures are closest to the original, or a discussion on what things are different and why.

It is possible to play this game with the person who is describing being allowed to see what is being drawn and so give advice on what needs changing as they go along. Alternatively, to make it more challenging and fun, the person drawing keeps their pictures hidden from the person who is describing. A middle way is drawing for a while without any help and then showing the first attempt to the person who is describing to get advice on how to change it. You can also have different rules on whether they can ask questions or describe back to check or not.

Tips to make picture dictations work well

As well as the rules mentioned above, you will need to make sure that students are told not to wave their arms about, as they could quite easily show the whole picture to their partner without using a single word just by the use of gestures! If you think the person listening might be tempted to take a peek at the original drawing, you might also want to seat them back to back or ask them to construct a barrier out of their textbooks. One other important rule is – if you want the person drawing to identify the object once they have drawn it, e.g. in Picture Dictation Pictionary below, make sure that the person describing is clear that they shouldn’t mention the name of the object while they are speaking.

Two difficult skills are involved in this game- drawing and describing. Showing students your own less than perfect sketches can make the former seem more manageable, and in this game they can also always blame the description if they are embarrassed about their artistic product! You can also make the drawing more manageable by giving them drawings that are made up of simple geometric shapes, that are in clear positions (e.g. exactly in the middle of the page or in the exact midpoint between two things) and/or that are touching each other. These things will also make describing them simpler.

The good and bad thing about the describing part of the game is that there is a huge amount of different language students could use to explain what is there. You can help students and improve the language they use by eliciting or presenting useful words and phrases before starting the task. Alternatively, let them have one attempt, teach them useful language, and then let them try again (with the same picture or a different one). You can also help them during the activity by giving them a written description of the first one or two parts of the picture so that they can just read them out to their partner, then give them just a little help for the next one or two descriptions (e.g. first lines or sentence stems). Students should then describe the other examples themselves, with the help of a Useful Language box at the bottom of the page if they need it. The final stage is to take that help away too, for example by making them fold over the part of the page with the Useful Language box on it so that it can’t be seen.

The teacher taking the time to write out a few of the descriptions is another a good way of checking that the task is manageable and of making you think about what language they will need to complete it. Trying out the game with friends or fellow teachers can also be a good way of doing the same thing. Language which they might need (in approximate order of usefulness) includes:

– Position (on, next to, under, to the right/ left of, close to, opposite, above, in front of, behind, inside, outside, in the middle, halfway along, a third of the way along, closer to… than…)

– Comparatives (bigger, smaller, longer, shorter, wider, broader, narrower, more rounded, straighter, twice as big, less pointy etc) and adverbs to go with them (much closer together, quite a lot further apart, a tiny bit more different, much much smaller, far too long, not fat enough)

– Shapes and lines (circle, square, rectangle, triangle, point, semi circle, oval/ egg shaped, straight line, parallel lines, curved line, dotted line, star shaped, diamond shaped, the same shape as a…, zigzag)

– Directions (lying on its side, vertical, horizontal, at right angles, at an angle, sloping)

– Sizes (about three centimetres long, around the width of your little finger, about the same size, slightly larger than…, tiny, huge)

– Nouns of dimensions (height, length, width, thickness)

– Language of advice (It should be…, You have to…, You need to…)

– Parts of whatever it is being drawn (parts of a house, body parts)

Some of the variations below also make the describing and drawing roles easier, especially the ones that involve just drawing parts of things, drawing things and matching, and drawing while the person describing can see what you are doing.

Variations on picture dictation

Comparatives picture dictation

In this slight variation on Picture Dictation, the person describing the picture looks at what their partner is drawing and gives advice using comparative adjectives to make it as close as possible to the original, e.g. “The nose should be longer”. When all the teams have finished, judge which drawing is closest to the original, maybe letting teams criticize the other teams’ efforts using the same language before deciding who the winner is.

Picture dictation Pictionary

In this combination of Picture Dictation and Pictionary, students draw what their partners describe and stop as soon as they can identify what the drawing is supposed to be. To make it more difficult, you could limit them to one guess per picture. This can be done with almost any language point, e.g. idioms; well known things like famous people, famous paintings, or famous buildings; or people or things in the class. It is also very useful for vocabulary revision, especially if they have to draw pictures to represent abstract things like “democracy” or “selfishness”.

Draw and identify

The idea of drawing something and identifying it that is described above can be extended to things on the worksheet you have given the students who are listening, e.g. spotting which of two very similar pictures is being described. For more challenge, this game and the variations below can also be done with the person listening not being allowed to draw, e.g. by their sketching it out with their finger on a desk or just imagining it. Another way of making it more challenging and fun is for the final picture to still be ambiguous, e.g. plan views of famous buildings from Google Earth or “Mexicans on a bicycle” type drawings.

Binary draw and identify

Rather than trying to guess what the thing they are drawing is (as in the games above), the person drawing has to identify which of two categories the thing falls into, e.g. countable/ countable, safe/ unsafe, modern/ old fashioned, real/ imaginary, their own/ someone else’s or from their country/ from abroad. This can be done as a race.

The same ole binary picture dictation

In this variation on the ideas above, the person listening and drawing has to decide if two pictures are the same or different each time, e.g. the one their partner is dictating and the picture they have on their worksheet (which they obviously can’t show to their partner), or the pictures dictated by different people. This works best if they can’t ask questions, but they can say “Give me more details” until they think they know enough to decide

Best dictation

Another idea based on selection but with students putting a bit more of themselves into it is for one or more people to describe different houses, dresses, gardens, mobile phones etc and the person drawing to choose which one they like best from their own drawings before checking with the original drawing whether they chose the right one or not.

Pencil and pinpoint

In this variation of the ideas above, rather than matching to the thing on the worksheets students have to match what they have drawn to one of the parts that are missing from the worksheet they have been given, e.g. the other half of a drawing, one of the blank spaces in a drawing, the outfit that that item of clothing should go with, or the place in the picture where that thing should be.

Draw my life

The ideas above can also be personalised, with the person drawing guessing where in their partner’s house that object is, what period of their partner’s life it comes from, if it is a present or past possession or interest, why it is important to them, etc. This can also be done with a worksheet with gapped sentences like “I have ______________ under my bed” and “I used to hate ___________ but now I don’t mind it”, with students drawing and describing where they would usually just fill the gaps.

Draw my story

Students decide on a story (either orally with a partner or writing it for homework) and draw a single picture to represent the whole story. They then dictate this picture to their partner, who has to try and guess what happens in the story from what they hear and draw. Something similar can be done with the illustration of the textbook reading you are just about to do or the cover of a graded reader that someone has read or the whole class is going to read.

Cultural differences picture dictations

Another popular, useful and interesting factor you can add to Picture Dictations is examining cultural differences. Get students to draw and describe a picture of heaven, a typical house, a typical breakfast etc for their partner to draw. They then discuss what things are different between that picture and how other people, e.g. from other countries, might have drawn that thing.

Picture dictation doubled up competition

Tell students that they have to work together to produce the most fashionable outfit, most beautiful female face, most outrageous building etc. The first person in each group draws their idea of that thing, then dictates it to their partner(s) to draw (without being able to see what is being drawn). The winning team is the one whose final picture best achieves the original task, with the similarity to their partner’s original picture not being a factor this time as long as the final result is the most fashionable, most beautiful etc in the class. You can also discuss if the original or dictated version is more fashionable, beautiful etc and why.

Rearrangement dictation

In this easier variation that takes away most demands on their drawing skills, rather than drawing what their partner describes, the person listening has to put the things that are on both their worksheets (e.g. shapes or furniture from a living room) into the positions described by their partner. Similar things can be done with Lego blocks, Fuzzy Felt shapes, or with shapes etc in a computer graphics programme. This can be combined with Draw and Identify above by the student who is listening identifying what picture the shapes make when they are combined in that way (e.g. a snowman or simple house), what situation that outfit is suitable for, etc.

Change dictation

Rather than making an original drawing, students listen to the descriptions of the changes their partner has made to the original drawing that they both have. This can be done by adding cockroaches to the picture of a kitchen (for prepositions of position), adding amusing graffiti horns and facial hair to a poster, etc. Student can use either a pencil on a photocopy or a computer program like Photoshop.

Question my dictation

Rather than waiting for their partner to describe the original drawing, the person listening has to ask questions to work out what to draw, e.g. “Are there any squares?” and “Where are they?” You can make this more challenging and fun by asking the person answering to give only very short answers.

Elicitation dictation

The teacher or a student tries to elicit an example sentence of the grammar point at hand, e.g. “I’m tired because I’ve been playing tennis”, by describing a picture they have been given or have drawn,.

Written picture dictations

Students write the description of the drawing they have been given or drawn, pass just the description to another team to draw, take the drawing and description back to check how close the drawing is to the original, add to or change the description to help them make the drawing more accurate, and repeat until the picture is correct or the time or number of attempts set by the teacher is up.

Memory picture dictations

Before they start describing the drawings, students stop looking at the original. When their partner has finished drawing (which they are allowed to see happening), they can look at the original and correct themselves with sentences like “I said the vase was on the right of the clock, but actually it’s on the left” (obviously good for Reported Speech practice).

Collaborative picture dictations

Divide the class into three to six teams, and ask them to decide on and draw elements of something, e.g. one part of an outfit, one part of the body of a monster, one section of a city plan, a member of a boy band, neighbouring buildings, or one section of a coat of arms. Ask them to take turns dictating their elements to the teacher or a student at the front of the class to draw on the whiteboard, or for all the other teams to listen and draw. You can then discuss whether the different sections go well together and if any of them should be changed. This should lead to loads of communication if they haven’t seen the original pictures yet, as sometimes they will be arguing about things that weren’t actually there! This and Picture Dictations Race below are based on ideas in the book Working with Images.

Blindfold dictation

Following the instructions of their partners (e.g. “Move up about one centimetre”), students draw a line on a picture on the whiteboard or photocopy without being able to see because they have their eyes closed or have been blindfolded. Give points for staying within the right limits, joining up two sentence halves that should go together, being a neat drawing, or identifying what they have drawn before they take their blindfold off. This can also work well for the language of giving directions.

Picture dictation race

Divide the class into two or three teams and divide the whiteboard into that many sections. Stand a person from each team in front of each section and ask the remaining members of each team to shout out instructions for their team member to draw (although they could actually copy instructions from other teams, which adds to the fun). The first team to finish a correct drawing wins. It is difficult to decide when a picture is finished or correct, as it can never be perfect, so to make it fair the teacher should write down one deciding factor for each picture (e.g. “The chimney must be on the right side of the roof and at an angle rather than pointing straight up”). Keep that secret but use that to decide who the winner is (even if the rest of the drawing isn’t finished) and then see if they can guess what the deciding factor is. Alternatively, give them a time limit and give points for how close to the original and completed each drawing is within that time.

Originally published in Modern English Teacher magazine. Published here online with the permission of the writer and publisher.

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6 Responses to Drawing on Drawing Games Part Two – Picture Dictation

  1. Hi Alex,

    Fantastic article here with tons of great ideas!

  2. Alex Case says:

    Thanks Glenda, been a while since I’ve had a positive comment…

  3. flow says:

    may i know your email address? i wanna ask you about this material

  4. Alex Case says:

    Hit the “contact me” link in the blurb in the top right corner of the page.

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