Picture Description as an Information Gap Activity

Information Gap ESL Activity In the previous blog post, I wrote about how an information gap activity like ‘Spot the Difference’ allows teachers to integrate all language skills and even teach a grammar point using the Communicative Approach. This article will show you how to use ‘Picture Description’ to teach English effectively.


Why Use Picture Description? – Information Gap Activity

1. To get students speaking, listening and interacting using visual prompts

Picture description often comprises one part of a speaking test, and a fun way to introduce students to this type of task is to set it up as an information gap activity. Students usually have a lot of fun trying to tell a partner how to draw what they see on a picture. It is a student-centered activity that can have as an objective production of a previously learned grammatical form and function. It can be exploited in many ways, for different levels, mixed abilities, small or large classes and any age level. As long as students have mastered the verb ‘be’ in simple present form and have the basic vocabulary needed to describe objects depicted in the picture, they can do this information gap activity.

2. To build both accuracy and fluency

This type of information gap activity can be done as communicative speaking and listening practice. For example, it can be controlled to focus on accuracy of students’ ability to use articles, prepositions of place or use of singular and plural  “There is, there are…”.

It can be done as a game in the productive stage of a grammar lesson or as a fluency-building speaking game. The aim will be to enable students to collaborate together using English, not their mother tongue, to speak and listen to each other to complete a gap in knowledge.

How to Set Up Picture Description as an Information Gap?

Pairs or small groups are set up opposite to each other so they cannot see what is being described. One person describes what is in the picture and the partners draw whatever the person describes.

The pictures can be simple at first; for example. geometric lines, circles, squares and triangles. The activity can be made more challenging with pictures that represent ideas or designed to target any specific needs. The students can be encouraged to ask questions to clarify and practice, for example, yes/no questions or Wh- questions. Feedback can be built into the activity so that if there are any miscommunications or more descriptive language might have been used, students can make notes and improve weak areas.

For large classes, the first time students do this, the entire class might use the same drawing. The room could be set up with partners opposite to each other at tables facing towards the picture which could be posted on a wall or projected by OHP or computer projector. The partner facing the projection describes what is shown to the partner who has their back to the drawing. The only aids needed are a drawing, a board or projector, paper and pencils.

After students have completed one round, they can switch seats and be given a different drawing so each student gets the opportunity to practice speaking and using descriptive language. They can compare drawings, post them for a walk and have a vote to determine which are the most accurate. Trying to be clear in describing the drawing should be the goal, but keep in mind that having fun with this can also be an objective. Although it can be a way to assess speaking skills, it can also be used to assess listening comprehension. In some cases, the ‘describer’ may be very accurate, however a problem may present with the ability of the listener or even the listener’s drawing ability. Careful monitoring and feedback from participants could help to identify problem areas and the teacher can unobtrusively note individual student’s weak areas for future attention.

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