Picture Dictionary Games and Activities

By Alex Case
Successful ideas for using picture dictionaries for fun activities with your students.

A picture dictionary is a great resource, but it is sometimes difficult to know how to actually use it in class and so whether it is worth investing in a class set rather than just having it as a self-study tool. Below are some ideas I have used successfully, plus other ideas I have used in other classes and adapted here for use with picture dictionaries.


Picture dictionary search- The teacher says something that is in the dictionary and students race to find it somewhere in the book. This can be something that is only true for one object (“It has 12 letters and begins with M” or “Try to find a combine harvester, which is a machine used to collect wheat on a farm”) or something where several things are possible (e.g. “It is big and blue” or “It has four syllables”)

The teacher says a category of words that are in the dictionary (e.g. by first letter, vowel sound, number of syllables, topic, part of speech) and students race to find as many as possible within the time limit

Students race to draw the word the teacher says. They start with books closed but are allowed to open them when they hear the word (but obviously will lose time that way)

Students race to answer all the questions the teacher sets them (on the board, dictated or on a worksheet), and then set similar questions for each other


The whole class or groups of students brainstorm ways the dictionary or a page of it could be used, e.g. pointing at the pictures in a shop, making a birthday card from the pictures, or changing all the words to another language to make a Mongolian/ Burmese/Galician picture dictionary

Students brainstorm possible verbs for each object, e.g. “You can make music with a hammer” or “You can kill with hammer”

Students brainstorm things that could be used instead of each object or how that object could be used in the place of something else

Students compete to make true sentences about one object (with books open or closed)

Students try to think of a sentence using as many of the words on the page as they can. As they get into it, ban words they always use to tie things together such as “and”

Guessing games

Picture dictionary hangman- With books closed, the teacher or one student writes gaps for each letter of the word they are thinking of and asks the other students to guess what letters are in it. Rather than drawing a hangman for wrong guesses, they draw a tiny detail of the picture in the book to give them further help in guessing

The teacher or a student chooses one page and describes it until someone guesses the theme of the page. They should start their description with ones that are difficult to guess from, e.g. “The page shows things outside” could be “In the countryside” or “In Main Street”

The teacher or a student opens the book at random and describes either the page they see or a completely imaginary page, and students have to guess which it is

The teacher or a student describes a page from the dictionary but says one thing that isn’t true. Students compete to be the first person to spot that false thing

Students choose one thing in the dictionary/ on the page as a present for someone in the class and say which person they have chosen it for and why until their partner guesses which one they are talking about

Air drawing- Draw a “picture” of one of the objects in the air with your finger or a penlight torch until students guess what it is (with books open or closed), then students do the same in pairs or groups

20 questions- A student chooses one of the words in the dictionary/ in that section/ on that page and the other students ask Yes/ No questions until they guess which thing it is

The teacher or a student makes personalised statements about one of the objects (e.g. “I used to have one when I was a child”, “I don’t particularly like these” or “I use one once every two days or so”) until the others guess what it is

Tracing- Students use tracing paper to copy a small part of a drawing, then the others try to guess what it is, and maybe which part it is (e.g. “It’s a teapot’s handle”- good for third person s practice). This can also be done without tracing paper by copying small parts of a drawing

The teacher or a student says what one person or animal (or with a bit more imagination one means of transport, object etc) on the page is thinking and the others guess which one they are talking about

Tricky Pictionary- Students try to make a picture of one of the things in the dictionary/ in that section/ on that page using cut out simple shapes, Lego blocks, drawings without taking their pen off the page, or drawings with less than a certain number of lines. The other students try to guess what it represents

Memory games

Students close their books and see how many of the words they can remember

Students close their books and see how many words of the category the teacher or a student says they can remember (e.g. “Verbs”, “Machines” or “Clothes you wear on the lower half of your body”)

Students close their books and answer the questions from their teacher, their partner or the worksheet about what colour the objects are, where they are on the page, what they are next to or between, how many of each object there is on the page, what is being done to each object, spelling, example sentences etc

One person says a word within the topic of the page (e.g. “Daffodil” for “Plants”) and the others try to remember if it is on that page or not

One person makes statements about the page and the other students say if it is true or false

Touch and say memory chains- One student touches a picture and says something about it, e.g. what it is, an adjective describing it or where it is. The next student touches that same object and does the same thing (saying the same sentence), then chooses another picture and does the same. Continue with a longer and longer chain of pictures and statements in the same order until one student forgets or gets something wrong. This is maybe best done with a copy of the page with the names Tippexed out.

Finger slam- One student slams their finger down to cover one part of the picture and the other students have to remember what was there, maybe in answer to a question (e.g. “What colour is the tractor?”)

Experiment with different ways of using the dictionary to remember the vocabulary, then feedback on which one helped them learn the vocabulary best

Making your own picture dictionaries and page

Tell the students the topic of the page you are going to look at. Students draw the whole scene and label it, then compare to the page in the dictionary

Students try to create a better picture for that thing, or compete to find the best one on Google Images or ClipArt

Students look at a page where the objects aren’t drawn as part of a scene and compete to make the best version of the objects all being used in one place

Students select the ten most useful words from the page, section or dictionary and make a picture dictionary page for it

Students compete to make the most simplified page, e.g. using stickmen or only three basic shapes

Comparisons and connections games

Students try to tick off the words one by one by saying how each thing is unique amongst the words on the page, e.g. “A plane is the only one that flies”

Yuppies- Students take turns saying how the thing they choose is better than the thing their partner chose before, e.g. “An apple is crispier than a grapefruit”

Random pelmanism- Students take turns choosing pairs of objects from the page and saying how they are similar, using a different similarity each time, e.g. “A stamp and an envelope are both made of paper” or “A postal worker and scales both notice weight”

Using the dictionary

Students use the dictionary to label as many things in the room or picture as they can. You can only allow things in the dictionary, or tell them that they can use it if it helps

Give writing topic that they can use a page or two to help them with (either the same for everybody or they pick their favourite)


Students write a story/ dialogue using as many words in the dictionary/ on the page as they can

Students tell a story, taking turns and using at least one word from the page/ section/ dictionary in each line

Students write a story with as many words from the dictionary as they can, but leaving the words from the dictionary as pictures so that they person reading out the story has to remember those words

Examples of discussion questions

Can you think of a better way of organising the words?

What pages would you add?

Rank the words by usefulness/ difficulty

How would you change the things on the page to make them more useful/ attractive/ exciting?

Which pictures could be ambiguous?

Which ones could you act out? What actions could you use? Is there any danger of being misunderstood, e.g. using gestures that are different or even rude in other countries?

If you were stranded on a desert island, which things from this page/ this section/ the dictionary would you take?

Which things on the page would you choose for a present for each person in the class (you can only use each one once)?

Where could you buy these things? How much would they cost?

What is the best way of learning this vocabulary?

Do you think it is more useful to learn vocabulary with pictures or with actions? Why?

Do you think the usefulness of pictures for language learning depends on the person? What makes you say that?

Can you think of any situations in real life in which you might have to draw these things?

Discuss cultural differences, e.g. do you have those animals/ cars in your country?

If you had to spend the rest of your life in a place represented in the dictionary, which one would it be and why?

Examples of roleplays

Pretend you don’t understand the picture and get your partner to explain it to you

Pretend that you have lost your voice and go into a shop/ post office/ bank/ police station etc and try to communicate (either your own ideas or based on the roleplay card your teacher gives you). When you finish, your partner will tell the class what they think you were trying to say and you can correct them

Imagine you are in a shop where you can buy all the things on this page. Buy some things from your partner, haggling over the price if you like

Choose one of the things on this page and try to agree to swap it for the one your partner chose, then go round the class swapping objects as often as you can (if you meet someone with the same object, move onto the next person)

Try to sell the picture dictionary or a page from it to your partner

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet August 2009
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet


  • janice says:

    wow these are great. my class will love them

  • Sim says:

    thanks for all the suggestions. these will greatly help me teach English better to my students.. :)

  • Tanhya says:

    Thanks for sharing all these great ideas with teachers around the world! I will use them in my classes!! I’m sure children will enjoy the class by using these games and activities!! :) have a nice day!!

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