… Competition, Challenges and Cooperation
If you ever saw any of my own less than professional drawings, you would probably wonder why I would ask my students to compete to complete great pictures when I am clearly not capable of that myself. The answer is: I wouldn’t! Instead, most of the games below use the common element of competition to add fun while students try to produce drawings that are faster, better for language learning, more imaginative etc than the other groups- with drawing skills never being necessary, or even desirable! Other games set students mental challenges, e.g. ones similar to logic puzzles, that they complete with the help of drawing or that finish with a drawing as the end product.
The main issue with getting students to compete or setting them challenges they could fail at is that there are usually losers as well as winners. Solutions include:
Getting students to compete within their groups rather than as a class (and maybe mixing up the groups from time to time)
Getting students or groups who always win to do something else such as set challenges for the rest of the class
Getting the students to challenge the teacher
Planning what hints and other help you will give (to particular groups who are struggling, or to the whole class)
Having rewards for different kinds of skills (e.g. the most imaginative picture as well as the one that is closest to the image they based it on).
Examples of these and other solutions are given in some of the game ideas below.
You can also often remove the element of competition entirely and just get people working together to produce the best product that they can. Some specific ideas for getting groups or the whole class to work cooperatively are given towards the end of this article. These can be a great antidote to the ones nearer the beginning that try to get students a bit more wound up (in a good way!) Although there isn’t a clear distinction between the three categories, the ideas below are more or less arranged to start with competition, move onto other challenges, and end with the ones based more on cooperation.
Some of these games were inspired by rereading Andrew Wright’s Art and Crafts with Children , although most have become unrecognisable during my adaptation of them to be suitable for adults and teens.
Students race to draw something quicker than the other teams, e.g. from the teacher saying or writing up “There is some chicken on the table”. You can organise this by giving them a very strict time limit and giving points for the most complete picture(s) within that time, or have students put up their hands when they think they have finished so that you can check if they have actually drawn what you said. With the latter variation, you could restrict teams to putting up their hands once (so they are out of that round if they haven’t actually drawn the right thing), therefore giving the slower and more careful teams a chance. You could also give points to all but the last team, and points for good pictures as well as quick ones. This game works best with sentences that could be misinterpreted, such as foods that can be uncountable or uncountable (e.g. “There are some chocolates in the box”) and easily confused multiword verbs (“washing up” and “washing”, “wake up” and “get up”, etc).
Brainstorm drawing race
Ask students to work together to draw as many things as possible in the category you say within the time limit you set. Possible categories include “uncountable things in bathrooms”, “actions people in the classroom and their relatives are doing now”, “actions you can do carefully” and “words with the same vowel sound as ‘ground’” After the time limit is up, they can pass their A3 page of drawings to another group for them. That group then checks whether all the things that were drawn match the category.
You can ask them to write the name of each object as they draw it, or just brainstorm all the names afterwards so that they aren’t stopped from using things they know fit the category but don’t know the name of yet. You can also play the game on the whiteboard by dividing the board into columns and lining each team up in front of one section. The person at the front of the line draws one thing (with their team members shouting out things to help them if they need it), passes the board pen to the person behind them, and goes to the back of the line.
This is a slight variation on Drawing Race above. Students are challenged by other teams or by the teacher to draw something seemingly impossible, e.g. “A car drawn only with triangles” or “An angry potato”. Time limits can be set, or points can be given to the first team to manage something acceptable.
Drawing sentence challenge
In this variation on Drawing Challenge above, students can only change one word or part of the sentence on the board to make it difficult or impossible for other groups or members of their group to draw, e.g. changing the sentence “The spider is on the man” that they have been given to “The mountain is on the man”. The next round can then be played by changing the same sentence again (e.g. “The mountain is through the man”) or with a new sentence to change.
Drawing sentence extension challenge
A more complicated and grammar intensive version of Drawing Sentence Challenge is to make students add to the sentence (rather than substitute words that are in it as above), e.g. going from “The cat is playing the flute” to “The cat is playing the flute that the elephant is sitting on”
Pick a card drawing sentence challenge
For classes where you want to practice particular vocab or in which your students don’t have much imagination, you can vary Drawing Sentence Challenge by giving them a pack of cards they pick randomly from. They then put that word into the sentence to draw themselves or challenge another team to draw, e.g. taking the card “banana” and so changing the sentence “The man is sitting on a horse” to “The banana is sitting on a horse” or “The man is sitting on an banana”. You can also play this without having an original sentence, i.e. let the students make any sentence (and therefore drawing) from the words or expressions on the card(s) that they picked.
Ask students to work in groups to design and draw something, e.g. a theme park, a city, a house, a car, the transport of the future, a household robot, a street sign, a window display, or a monster. Points are then given for the best one, e.g. by having a class vote where teams cannot vote for their own designs.
You can add to the amount of speaking by asking students to present their designs to the whole class, take questions about it and/ or criticize other teams’ efforts and say why theirs is better. You can also give points to several efforts by having several rounds, having a second place and third place prize, or having several different categories like “most imaginative/ original” and “most attractive”. You can also add more of a direct connection to language learning by asking them to make the best drawing to remember a piece of vocabulary, an illustration of the best/ most memorable example sentence to remember a grammatical form or functional language phrase, best illustration of why a typical mistake is wrong, etc. You can also tie it into skills work by asking them to design the scenery for the dramatic scene they just listened to, draw something that is described in the listening, a cover for the book that the extract you read came from, an idea of what happens in the last scene, etc. This can be turned into more of a cooperative activity by asking groups to design parts of a whole, e.g. different theme park rides, and then coming together to decide how to put them together. Please note that many of these ideas are projects that could take up a 45 minute lesson and so, as with many of the cooperative ideas in this article, depend a lot on students working together in English (rather than switching to L1) to be worthwhile.
Drawing guessing challenge
Any guessing games, e.g. 20 Questions, can be played with a drawing element added to them. For example, students can draw what they think you had for breakfast (some rashers of bacon, cereal etc) instead of or as well as shouting out guesses. For example, they start by asking normal Yes/ No questions like “Did you eat something hot?” and “Was it meat?”, and then draw their final guess if they don’t know its name in English. This allows lower level students who are usually held back from taking part by lack of vocabulary (rather than lack of ideas) to fully take part in the game and allows students who usually limit themselves to what they can already say in English to stretch themselves a little. Being able to make a recognisable sketch can also be an important communication strategy in real life when you run out of vocabulary while shopping on holiday! You can elicit the names of any useful vocabulary when you finish the guessing stage. This technique can be used for virtually anything you could play 20 Questions with, e.g. “Guess which job I am thinking of” or “Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
Drawing guessing challenge two
You can also get students to guess and draw something and then give points for the sketch that is closest to reality or what you are thinking about, e.g. asking students to draw your bicycle (that they have never seen) and giving points to the one that looks most like the real thing. This can be done while allowing them to ask you questions (just yes/ no, with certain questions not allowed, or any questions at all) or just from their imaginations. Other ideas for things they can draw include what you are thinking about now, things you did last weekend, the perfect birthday present for you or a member of your family, your favourite toy when you were a child, the clothes you like to wear on your days off, a plan of your bedroom, the surface of your desk, or your car. You could then describe what is wrong about their pictures so that they can change them until they match reality.
Pronunciation drawing challenge
Ask students to draw the internal mouth shape (e.g. tongue position) or the shape of the lips of the sound you say. This is obviously much easier with the latter and can only be done with sounds where the lips don’t move while it is being pronounced, e.g. /m/, /n/ and long vowel sounds. Drawing anything inside the mouth can be challenging even for language teachers, but can be used for clear distinctions like the first sounds in ‘tat’ and ‘that’ if you allow all attempts that are obviously not confusing the two.
Ultimate pronunciation drawing challenge
You can also ask students to draw more detailed pronunciation practice for the point you are working on, such as writing a tongue twister and then drawing the scene to elicit the sentence(s) from other groups, e.g. a picture of a woman selling sea shells on the sea shore. You could also ask them to prepare minimal pairs in drawing form, e.g. a picture of a ship and sheep. You might want to give different groups different sounds to work on, so that the class can cover the whole phonemic chart in a month or two.
Give students some complicated instructions on what to draw and how to draw it and give points for the best efforts. The best effort could mean following the instructions most precisely, reading and following the instructions more quickly than the other teams, or making the most attractive drawing whilst following the instructions. This game is good practice of following instructions, which is especially useful for exam classes and Technical English classes. For those kinds of groups, you might sometimes want to include the classic trick of writing “Read through all the instructions first” at the top and then “Ignore instructions 2 to 13 above” further down to catch out those who pick up their pens too quickly. Other things students might find tricky include “Make a picture (of…) using only these shapes,…”, “Draw… with the minimum number of lines/ shapes you can”, “Draw… using only one line, making sure that line doesn’t touch itself”, “Change this picture to a picture of … while making as few changes as you can”, “Change this picture to a picture of… only by adding/ deleting lines” and “Draw a mirror image of…”. The instructions can be given on a worksheet, on the whiteboard, or orally. You can also combine skills with a dictation, or variations such as a running dictation. They can then make their own instructions for other teams to follow, e.g. ways to easily draw animals by basing them on geometric shapes.
A good number of the ideas in Instructions Challenge above are quite similar to the logic puzzles you can find in books and on the internet, such as moving matchsticks only a certain number of times to make particular shapes. Many other logic puzzles can be adapted to include a drawing element, e.g. piecing together and drawing the movements of a murderer to find where and when they did the deed, or drawing the positions of everyone in the house at the time of the murder to find out who did it. Making a sketch of what they hear and understand can also help solve logic puzzles that are good for narrative tenses practice such as “A man was dead on the floor of a phone box. There was broken glass on two sides and water on the floor. What had happened?”
Don’t draw challenge
The student who is being asked to draw what their partner is describing tries to keep stalling by asking more questions, e.g. for “Draw a hand” they can ask “Should the fingers be long?”, “Is the ring finger or index finger longer?”, “Do you want me to draw it palm up or palm down?” etc. This is quite fun even without a competitive element, but you could get the students to time who stalls the longest or who can ask the most questions before they finish the picture.
Join the dots
This is a classic children’s game where they draw lines between numbered dots to discover what the finished drawing will turn out to be. You can make it more challenging and suitable for adults by mixing up the number order and giving instructions on how they should be joined up, e.g. “After dot one hundred and twenty three, draw a line to dot seven thousand one hundred”. Writing the numbers as full words or dictating them can also help with classes that need numbers practice- which is almost all classes if you add things like large numbers, fractions, dates and decimals! You can also add maths puzzles (“The next dot is a hundred and forty four divided by two” or “Go from there to the square root of 36”), practice of Technical English (“The picture ends at the number of feet in a mile” or “The second dot is length of the whiteboard in this room in centimetres”) and general knowledge (“Start the picture at the number which is the same as the number of Wonders of the Ancient World”)
Physical drawing challenges
A good warmer is to ask students to draw something with their left hand (or right hand if they are left handed), with gloves or mittens on, with a really long pencil, or even blindfolded. This completely takes away any pressure they might feel to draw well (especially if you demonstrate the activity first) and leads on well to discussion of left and right sides of the brain, memory, imagination, etc.
One person draws illustrations to accompany a story, poem, song lyrics, dialogue etc in real time as their partner or someone from another team reads it out. For example, someone tells the Roald Dahl variation on the Red Riding Hood story and their partner draws her shooting the wolf, wearing a wolf skin coat etc. as their partner tells those parts of the story. This can be done with or without rehearsal, with the latter being like an extended version of a picture dictation and obviously much more challenging.
Predict the image drawing challenge
Ask groups of students to predict things about pairs of images before they start drawing them, and then pick up their pencils and start sketching to check. Examples include “Which will look more realistic/ younger- drawing the eyes in the middle of the face or drawing them further down?” and “Which will make this face look more attractive- adding a beard or adding sideburns?” This is obviously good for prompting discussion and for practice of Will for predictions.
Ask each group of students to fold a piece of blank A4 or A3 paper into a certain number of equal sections (between three and five is usually best), so that a standing person drawn on it will have their legs divided from their trunk etc by horizontal folds. The first team should draw the head in the first section with just a tiny bit of the neck drawn over into the next section, then fold so that the next group can only see that tiny bit of the neck. They then pass their pictures round to the next group for them to continue the picture, which they must do with just that little section of neck etc as a clue to help them make the two sections match. Continue passing and drawing until the pictures are completed, then pass one more time for a team to open it up and see whether the finished images are possible, attractive or fashionable.
This is a classic party game and lots of fun, but in its original form contains almost no language apart from the discussion of what to draw next in each group. You can add extra language output by asking students to describe the section they drew (in writing or by speaking) to the team they pass it to before they continue the picture. Another idea is for the people who end up with the finished drawings to describe their picture to the class (without showing it to the others) so that everyone can vote on the craziest, one in which the parts match each other best, or most suitable date for someone famous. The pictures are then all revealed for the class to discuss whether they made the right decisions or not, and what about their classmates’ descriptions confused them.
An edited version of this article was originally published in Modern English Teacher magazine. Republished online with the permission of the author and publishers.