Picture Taboo – Practise Describing Objects

picture taboo

Picture taboo is a fluency focused activity in which students practise describing objects. This activity builds vocabulary, fluency and listening skills and acts as an introduction to a theme.

Picture Taboo has one important difference to regular word Taboo (See this post for how to play regular Taboo as well as some printable Taboo cards). The student describing the object has a picture of it in front of them, so they don’t have to know what the English word for the object is. The other students may also not know what the name of the object is but must try to identify it from the description given. Their guesses being confirmed when they view the photo at the end of each turn.

There are some ready-made picture sets to download at the bottom of this page, or if you have internet access there is a web app for your smartphone or tablet on the teaching with technology page.

How to play

For this game, you will need a tablet computer or a smartphone with a large screen. You will also need a set of 10 to 20 pictures of objects based around the theme of the lesson. Preload these into a folder on the tablet so they can be swiped through.

Make sure the students are seated in a circle and explain that the tablet will be passed around the group. The student who receives the tablet must swipe to the next picture and describe the object, for example, its physical appearance or its function. He or she must not say the name of the object, even if they know it. The other students in the class try to guess the object in the picture. If it’s guessed correctly, the student shows the picture to the class to confirm the guess and passes the tablet on to the next student. If they’re having trouble getting the answer you can ask the student with the tablet pertinent questions to help get relevant information out to the class.

In a monolingual class, I would allow the students to guess the name of the object in their native language if they recognise it but don’t know the English name. The teacher then feeds in the English name for the object.

This game is a great warmer for a theme based conversation class.

Potential problems

Make sure that students shield the tablet while they are describing their picture. Encourage them to sit back from the circle to make sure their neighbours can’t take a peek. Also, make sure that students don’t automatically swipe through pictures that they don’t like the look of otherwise all kinds of chaos can ensue when you run out of pictures early.

Picture taboo sets

Ready-made theme-based picture sets, please note that the web app versions will only work on smartphones and tablets.

5 thoughts on “Picture Taboo – Practise Describing Objects

  1. This is a great post! I always struggle to describe things in a way that makes them interesting and not just a list of facts. This is a great way to practice and get better at it!

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