Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

Class Activity Fun: Pictionary! Phrase-onary and even Sentence-onary!


MP900341508Take 30 Yr1’s and 25 minutes to go in the period and a game is needed!  We’ve done the bingo and jeopardy to death and I am without a Kahoot ready for this. So I go back to an old favourite – Pictionary – but “whole class” Pictionary. And not just pictures…eventually phrases and sentences. It’s structured to be a review time if needed and fun/competitive enough to involve them in the spirit of the game. And best of all it draws upon teamwork to succeed.

The Game Rules:

Team Set-Up: I like to play in teams of 5-6 students. They will all be taking a turn drawing – and answering and it gives enough ‘mass’ to work well. I allow one set of notes – upside down in the centre of their table (answers there if they are needed….). They are required to think of a team name in the target language (with 14-year olds this can take 10 minutes!)

Everyone Answers – We’ve all had that one Hermione Granger (Harry Potter reference) – the kid who knows it all (I loved her by the way!). But in my pictionary world it is the team that is key. As soon as you answer for your team you are ‘out’ until everyone else on the team has answered. Of course a student can give an answer to someone on their team – that’s fine. But no putting up your hand until all are called (I often note names for teams to avoid the “But Sensei I haven’t answered yet – really” claim).

The Drawing: No pressure to be a Picasso! Drawing takes place on my whiteboard at the front of the room. All ‘drawers’ are doing so in front of all the teams. Who cares if you can’t draw well – everyone can see all of the pictures – and someone else’s may provide the clue for your team! You don’t need a lot of room – I had 6 teams working on a double board…If you don’t have a lot of board space then large sheets of paper would work I think. “Send up your drawers” – and the students come forward. I give them the word – in English – so the pressure is on the team, not them, to know the word. They aren’t allowed to write words but I do allow ‘am’ ‘pm’ and characters for ‘month’ and ‘day’. Students get the word – get into position and I call ‘start’ and watch for hands going up.

The Progression:

This is the key part for me. We start with individual words – usually a quick few rounds to get them used to the game – and have everyone give an answer. Typically I give 1 point for each but the points don’t matter. Then I start to progress. From a basic word “TV” to “watching TV yesterday” to “I watched TV yesterday with my friends at my house.”  As we move up I will give clues like “This is a phrase” or “its a sentence”. It’s a great review time as, in Japanese, it hits some technical grammar points (particle use) particularly well. As kids guess I will encourage with “close” or “think about…” and other clues. Often the need to have a new ‘answerer’ each time means that they are working together to solve the picture puzzle. We keep going team to team until the correct answer comes out. Of course I add outrageous point values to try to keep it fun!

Pictionary/Phrase-onary/Sentence-onary is a fun alternative for part of a review class, or any other time when you just feel that you ‘need’ a game…





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  1. Pictionary is an old favorite for us too. (We love to do it with playdoh/modeling clay also!). I like the idea of “you’re out” once you answer until everyone on your team has. The building from words to sentences — I would’ve never thought of that!

  2. Thanks John – I really like it for particle practice – esp as we move on to Placeで vs Placeに etc. We don’t call them ‘particles’ in my class – I don’t think that its a very meaningful word. Instead we call them “signals” as in “it signals what the word is doing in the sentence”…I really like it for that kind of thing. In more upper level classes I also like doing phrases as we practice the plain form… 🙂

  3. Hola! This is fabulous! Forgive my confusion, but would you mind explaining again the process of everyone answers? Gracias!

  4. Konnichiwa to you! “Everyone” at your table has to give an answer before someone, who has already contributed an answer, can answer again. If Sally give an answer. Then she is ‘out’ until Bill, Bob and June in her group give answers. This doesn’t stop Sally from (a) helping someone else or indeed (b) giving another person the answer to say! It ensures that everyone has to be ‘on task’ and participate!

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