Vocabulary Activities: Drawing with Words

Imaginist – a person who has a lively or creative imagination.


Take a look at the photo below. What do you see?

Do you see a human body?

Surprising as it may seem, it is indeed a human body. It was ‘drawn’ with words describing different body parts by 12 teachers (including the author of this post who tried her luck and won a Headway Scholarship this year – a huge thank you to Liz Soars and the OUP team) attending Hania Kryszewska’s workshop at Oxford Summer Academy.


According to numerous studies, our brain processes words we know into images using the so-called ‘visual dictionary’. The body you see may not have the Divine Proportion, yet the brain can render an entire image with perfect perspective and color. ‘Neck’, ‘face’, ‘nose’, ‘leg’, ‘arm’, ‘knuckle’, ‘shin’, ‘fingers’ are not just words, they make the whole picture. The only thing needed is to zoom in and see it clearly in the brain.

This makes a great activity to learn and revise vocabulary tapping into the image we have in the brain and taking a snapshot of it with words. No actual drawing is required – the task is just to imagine the object.


Hand out the words describing different parts of a certain object (or a particular setting) – a few cards per student – and get students to ‘draw’ the whole object or place in their imagination putting the word cards on the desk in accordance with the image they have.

To challenge your students, you may introduce a few odd words.

This approach may be used as a part of reading or listening assignments.


The Chocolate Room from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

‘Mr. Wonka opened the door. Five children and nine grownups pushed their way in — and oh, what an amazing sight it was that now met their eyes!

They were looking down upon a lovely valley. There were green meadows on either side of the valley, and along the bottom of it there flowed a great brown river.

What is more, there was a tremendous waterfall halfway along the river — a steep cliff over which the water curled and rolled in a solid sheet, and then went crashing down into a boiling churning whirlpool of froth and spray.’

While your students are reading the description, have them ‘draw’ the picture using either word cards or cards of different colours and shapes. Get them to describe the place removing respective cards from the ‘picture’.

This approach is similar to the use of cuisenaire rods (we use either word cards or cards of different colours and shapes instead). Watch this video to learn about some simple ways to present new language with them and get more ideas for the classroom.

What they imagine is what they remember.

Extra materials:

If you teach pre-intermediate or intermediate level learners, you might use this picture dictionary with links http://www.enchantedlearning.com/dictionarysubjects/body.shtml.

For more advanced learners, you might find this online visual dictionary useful http://www.visualdictionaryonline.com/.

Image: © Svetlana Kandybovich

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