Picture dictation to review vocab and grammar

A simple TEFL activity to go over grammar and vocabulary in your kids ESL classes is picture dictation. It is a great activity that can be played with kids of any age and groups of any size. Below you’ll find a YouTube video explaining how to play picture dictation in the ESL classroom and a text explanation in case you don’t have access to YouTube right now.


Why I use picture dictation to review language points.

As the drawer, the child is receiving spoken information and has to convert it to images. This is a fantastic exercise to consolidate concepts which works especially well for for visual and auditory learners. Also the idea of getting up, moving, coming to the board is good for kinesthetic learners and children who need to wiggle and move.

By allowing them to participate as the dictator, you are giving them the opportunity to speak and form sentences using the target language. Hopefully they will realise why they need the language point that they have studied. If they don’t know the target language point already, or have forgotten, they will ask their classmates, or refer to their books. You are encouraging them to study – and they won’t even realise!

As you split them into groups, children are encouraged to work in teams and collaborate learning great real life skills which will stay with them into adulthood.

As a bonus, offering kids the opportunity to draw on the board, choosing the ones who behave nicely, works as a reward and reinforces your classroom management strategy.

How to use picture dictation to recap grammar and vocabulary

This is a listening and speaking exercise which can be used to review language topics which have been previously studied. Start by having kids turn to a blank page in their notebook, and have two or three come out to the board to draw. Think about the language you have studied over the past few classes (weeks or months) and describe a scene.

For example I’ve been teaching town and house vocabulary, describing people, prepositions of place, present continuous and the verb ‘have got’.

I would say to the children:

  1. Draw a house.
  2. The house has got a balcony.
  3. There is a tree in the garden.
  4. The tree has got orange and red leaves.
  5. Between the tree and the house there is a boy with curly black hair.
  6. The boy is riding a bike
  7. His father has got a beard and a moustache. He has got fair hair.
  8. His father is flying a kite.

Next select children to dictate scenes to the whole class or to groups of up to 5 children Allow them to compare their drawings with their classmates. Allow as many children as possible to participate as ‘dictators’ breaking the class down into smaller groups if necessary.


The game can be extended to include writing some of the sentences. You might need to simplify this for them by writing sentences on the board for them to copy, depending on their skill level.



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