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12 fun describing objects activities

By Alex Case
Stimulating practice of language for describing materials, shapes, uses, etc of physical things such as products

Describing objects like personal possessions and your company’s products is an important real-life skill with lots of useful language, but can be a bit dry if you don’t add some spice to the activities. This article therefore gives ten ways to make intensive practice of describing things around us more fun.

Detailed descriptions challenge

Students choose something that they can both/ all describe such as the whiteboard or the Eiffel Tower and take turns adding more and more descriptions about its shape, size, materials, distance from them, etc, continuing until someone says something that isn’t true, repeats what was said before, or gives up. They then do the same with another object.

As well as their own choice of objects, this can be done with a list of objects that you want them to learn the names of (“door handle”, “blinds”, etc) and/ or things from their culture that they might need to explain to someone else (“fiesta”, “jjigae”, etc).

This can also be turned into a bluffing game where they can add imaginary information if they run out of details that they know, but can be challenged if someone else spots that it is made up.

Describing objects guessing game

Students describe objects with sentences like “It is made of metal but sometimes coated in plastic. It is used in gyms” until their partner guesses what is being described. They can then discuss if the description could be made better, before switching roles and doing the same.

Describing objects 20 questions

Students ask yes/ no questions like “Is it electronic?” and “Is it expensive?” until they guess that their partner is thinking of a dishwasher, a scooter, etc (chosen from a list which they can both see).

Describing objects lying games

Perhaps the best bluffing game for this topic is students finding things that they don’t understand in a list of objects, asking their partner for explanations, then guessing if their partner knew what that object really was or just made everything up. It’s best if the list includes objects which are useful for students to know the names for but probably don’t yet, and you need to make sure that the students only ask about things that they don’t know.

Another possible lying game is for students to describe something that their partner doesn’t know such as a childhood toy or a famous object in their home town, with just one thing that isn’t real added to their explanation. Perhaps after follow-up questions, the listeners try to guess what the inaccuracy was. This works best if the things that they add to their descriptions come from a worksheet, from the board, or from cards that they are given.

Describing objects strangers on a train

Students are given useful language for describing objects that could come up in conversation like “It’s really comfortable” and “It’s made of cotton and wool”, and try to slip those in when they are speaking in a natural way. When the conversation has finished, they then guess what line their partners had to use in the conversation.

Combining descriptions of objects game

Students choose or are given two or more descriptions of objects like “sharp” and “huge”, and have to use them to describe one real or possible future object. This is more fun if each student decides if they want the easy challenge of two words to combine, want to massive challenge of five things to put together, etc. They then get that many points, or no points if they can’t put those things together to explain one thing.

Describing objects roleplays

Interesting situations to describe objects in include

  • trying to agree on what objects to put somewhere (in a new office, in a luxury hotel, in a spaceship, etc)
  • trying to sell goods to each other (door to door, at a trade fair, to a customer who bought the old version, etc)
  • trying to swap (true or imaginary) goods from their homes which they are happy to exchange for something else
  • making up variations on existing goods (“It’s still made from metal and plastic, but the metal is gold and the plastic looks like diamonds”)
  • describing ideas for new products to potential investors
  • explaining to the patent office why something is original enough to deserve a patent

Describing objects mini-presentations

Students choose a category like “something in my bathroom” or “something I bought recently” and try to speak about it non-stop for at least one minute, then answer questions about that object. If you want to score, you can give one point for each period of thirty seconds that they speak, one point for each topic of a worksheet that their partner can tick off because they speak about it, and/ or one point for each question after their partner’s presentation.

Describing objects pairs

Students choose two objects from a worksheet or a pack of cards spread across the table and have to say how they are similar without repeating any of the descriptions that have been used in the game so far. This can be played with cards which you have chosen to match target language like “rectangular” and “durable”, or it works just as well with students coming up with their own ideas to match 20 or so objects which it’s useful for them to know the names of (a kind of “random pelmanism”).

Describing objects brainstorming races

Students are given an object and race to write as many descriptions as they can, and/ or are given a description and have to write as many objects that match it as they can. They then get one point for each thing that is correct and that other teams didn’t think of.

Describing objects trivia quizzes

Students try to guess what famous things are made of, how much steel is in a famous tower, etc, from A, B, C and D options. They then make similar questions to test other groups with, perhaps after research, using the useful words and phrases that they have been given (“was invented”, “looks like”, etc).

Written by Alex Case for Tefl.NET January 2024
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
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