Taboo and Behind the Board (two activities from my low-prep bank)

In this post, I’d like to share two new-ish low-prep activities I did with my students at the end of the school year. The aim of the activities was to revise some material (in this case, vocabulary), as well as to practice ways of communicating a message clearly and effectively. The students were actively involved from the first minute since they had partial control over the content.

1) Taboo vocabulary game (the describe-guess type, 45 minutes). In a random order, this activity involves a game-like element, speaking practice, listening practice, vocabulary revision, pair work, and group work.

You can get a real version of the game in Czech, but since it is too culture-related, I find it quite challenging. This, and the fact that I needed a more tailor-made set of cards made me believe that there’s no point in trying to get the original version in English, which would probably cost a fortune anyway, and I decided to go the DIY way. I soon realized, though, it’s pretty time-consuming to create a sufficient number of cards for one group so I asked my students to help me out. Needless to say, I was a good move.


The words in red are examples of what I call ‘main’ words and they represent the material to be revised through this activity. They are the words students actually describe. The other four words below, to the contrary, are items that must be avoided during the description stage; let’s call them ‘taboo words’. You can have as many taboo words as you wish, but I’d suggest 3-5.

The process of creating the cards usually takes about 25 minutes. It works best when each pair is assigned a specific section from the word list at the back of their workbooks, for example (to avoid duplicates within the group and to make sure that we’ll have covered as many words as possible). Each pair creates 10 cards.

In my teaching context, I usually have about 16 students in a group so the 8 pairs are able to create up to 80 cards altogether. When we are done, I put Ss into groups of 4. I shuffle the cards and I hand out 20 random cards to each group. The cards are placed face down on the desk. The students take turns in their groups as follows: S1 describes the main word while S2 keeps an eye on her/him, i.e. S2 can see the card too but only has to watch out. If S1 accidentally uses one of the taboo words (or the stem/part of the main word), S2 grabs the card. If not, S3 and S4 try to guess the word and the faster one gets the card. If you happen to end up with a group of 3, there’s simply no ‘guard’ in it – S1 describes the word and the other students try to guess. The winner is the student with most cards. To prolong the activity, you can ask the groups to swap the words. The cards can obviously be recycled with other classes in the future depending on the extent of ‘tailor-made-ness’ of a particular set.


Some observations I’ve made so far: The process of selecting the main words from the given vocabulary list is a very valuable revision activity itself. Also, when inventing the taboo words, students are actually forced to imagine how *they* would best describe the main word. I always advise them to assume that their future opponents will probably come up with similar descriptions in their heads so putting good taboo words on the card will make the game more challenging.


2) Behind the board (the describe-guess type, 45 minutes). This activity involves a game-like element, speaking practice, listening practice, vocabulary revision, collaboration.

In my class, I have this type of board which opens up in the middle and creates two ‘wings’ at the sides.



It has some advantages; I can examine three students at one go: two of them stand behind the wings writing the answers while the third one faces the middle part of the board. This results in none of the three students seeing the other two students’ answers. Such a type of board is also useful when you have fast finishers – you can keep them busy by asking them to share their answers in advance, but these can remain concealed until it’s time reveal them to the rest of the class. The activity I call Behind the Board could obviously be done even if you don’t have the same equipment (you can simply use two pieces of paper instead). 
The minimum of students for the activity would be 4, the ideal number would be 8, but I usually do it with 16 students. With bigger numbers, it may get a little chaotic but it’s still manageable. Divide your class into two teams (A and B). Team A chooses 20 vocabulary items for team B (from a given set/list of vocabulary items) and puts them on one of the wings (on the inner part). Team B picks 20 words for Team A and writes them on the other wing. Don’t forget to tell your students that Team A and Team B are rivals. But tell them *beforehand* that Team A will have to describe the words Team B has chosen for them and vice versa. 
When all the vocabulary is on the board, ask Team A (or whichever team will want to start) to split into two groups (Group 1 and Group 2). Group 1 will see the vocabulary items Team B chose for them and they will describe them to Group 2. Group 1 and Group 2 are NOT rivals because they belong to the same team. They should cooperate effectively. Their task is to describe and guess as many words as possible within a certain time limit (I recommend 10 minutes). Then it’s Team B’s turn to make two groups. I don’t usually tell the teams how to split or who should be in charge of speaking – they can choose their roles. 
Some observations: At first, I was a little worried that since Team B is not involved when Team A is in action (and vice versa), they will get bored. To my surprise, even the noisiest groups sat quietly, paying attention to what was happening in the class. 
The chances are that some difficult vocabulary items will be dealt with through this game because the teams always tend to give each other a hard time. But since this is a collaborative activity, there will always be somebody who ‘knows the answer’. 

There’s one danger related to this, though. The stronger students may take over the activity completely because they obviously want their team to win at all costs. You can prevent this by telling the group at the board they must take turns.

Thanks for reading!

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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1 Response to Taboo and Behind the Board (two activities from my low-prep bank)

  1. Tesal Koksi Sangma says:

    Really interesting, Hana! 👍

    Liked by 1 person

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