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Teacher's Corner: Speaking - Information Gap Activities
This month’s Teacher’s Corner will examine the many forms information gaps can take, and we will explore several practical information gap variations that you can implement in classrooms of all levels.

Creating interesting, meaningful speaking opportunities for EFL students can sometimes be a challenge for teachers.  Including a variety of information gap activities in your curriculum can help you address this situation.  In the June Teacher’s Corner, we will examine the many forms information gaps can take, and we will explore several practical information gap variations that you can implement in classrooms of all levels.

What is an Information Gap?

Using a broad definition for the concept, information gap activities require students to communicate with each other to solve a problem or complete a task.  In these activities, individual students do not have all of the information needed to achieve the activity’s goal, which creates a “gap” that can only be overcome by speaking with other students to exchange information.  The missing information required to complete the activity can be facts, opinions, or details related to textual, audio, or visual content.

Why Should I Use Information Gaps in my EFL Classroom? 

Information gap activities offer several advantages; they can:
  • Increase student talking time:  students actively collaborate with classmates to achieve the activity’s goal while the teacher facilitates the activity (preparation, set up and scaffolding, and during-activity support, as needed).
  • Increase student motivation:  students communicate for a purpose as they exchange and collect information needed to complete the task.  Information gaps can involve group, pair, or whole-class interaction dynamics, which add variety to a lesson.  Also, students get to feel like important “experts” because everyone has task-essential information.     
  • Incorporate authentic communication situations and materials:  teachers can tailor information gap activities to meet students’ real spoken English needs, such as asking for and following directions, asking for opinions, and problem solving with others.  While teachers should provide level-appropriate scaffolding and language frameworks, communication during information gaps is often unscripted, reflecting the communication format students will encounter in everyday situations.  Also, information gap activities can be designed to incorporate authentic materials such as maps, brochures, and other real-world content.  
  • Can be creatively designed to focus on meaning, form, and/or curriculum content:  once teachers become familiar with the formats information gap activities can take, they can build activities that meet many types of learning objectives.  Teachers can create activities that require or encourage students to orally use recently taught vocabulary or grammatical forms.  Teachers can also build information gaps around themes from non-language curriculum content areas, such as science or history.
  • Encourage critical thinking skills and teamwork:  during information gaps, students must often exercise problem-solving skills, determine what data is missing, categorize and analyze data that is collected, seek clarification from others, and collaborate with classmates to successfully achieve the activity’s objectives.

This month we will examine several types information gaps, including:

  • Picture dictations
  • Activities that use graphic organizers to record and analyze information
  • Activities that use visual prompts and oral clues
  • Mingle activities

We will also suggest tips related to planning and conducting these activities.

You can find additional details about information gaps and activity examples in these English Teaching Forum articles and resources:

Be sure to reflect on the potential advantages and challenges associated with information gaps as you explore this month’s Teacher’s Corner activities and the related resources.  How might you adapt or adopt the practical ideas you see to meet your students’ needs? 

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Table of Contents

Information Gaps: Drawing DictationExpand
This week’s activity is an information gap designed for pairs.  The activity involves giving directions, asking for clarification, practicing vocabulary, and drawing.   Students will draw their “dream home” and then describe the image to a partner who can’t see the picture.  The partners must listen to the description and ask follow-up questions as they try to reproduce a drawing of the other person’s dream home.  This activity can be considered an information gap because the student describing the image has the information the other student needs to successfully complete the task.


Lower intermediate and above; see the Variations section for ideas that are appropriate for beginners and above

Language focus

Speaking functions:  giving instructions, asking for clarification, describing a picture or scene
Vocabulary:  exterior parts of a house and the surrounding area, shapes, sizes, colors
Grammar:  imperative statements, clarification questions, prepositions of location, comparative adjectives (e.g., “No, the front door is bigger than the one in your picture.”)


During this activity, students will:

  • Review and practice prepositions of location and vocabulary related to the exterior parts of a house and the surrounding outdoor areas as they describe a dream house to a partner
  • Ask for clarification about instructions they receive from their partner


  • Teacher:
    • Whiteboard, chalkboard, or large pieces of paper posted on the wall
    • Markers or chalk
  • Students:
    • Pencils and erasers, markers, crayons, or colored pencils
    • Blank paper 


  1. Draw a big rectangle on the board to represent a sheet of paper.  Then use your “paper” to draw an exterior view of your dream home while you do a think aloud for the class:
    • Tell students this picture represents your dream home, the house you would live in if you could live anywhere and you could spend as much money as you wanted. 
    • Your dream home can have as many features as you want.  As you draw, name parts of the house or elicit the vocabulary items from the students (example: “I want lots of sunlight in my dream house…[draw four big windows]…hmm, can anyone tell me the vocabulary word for these [point at the windows]?”)
    • Consider adding some outside features to your house, such as a driveway, a swimming pool, a sun in the sky, or trees, bushes, and flowers.
    • Don’t worry:  you don’t have to be an amazing artist!  A simple line drawing is fine.
  2. Once your picture is done, elicit additional vocabulary items related to parts of a house and the outdoor areas near a house.  List these items on the board.
  3. Tell students they are each going to draw their own dream home and then describe it to a partner who won’t be able to see the picture.
  4. Depending on your students’ level, at this point, you may want to use your sample drawing to review language functions needed to complete the task, such as:
    • Locations on a piece of paper:  in the top center of the paper, on the bottom left side, in the corner, in the middle
    • Prepositions of location:  above, next to, to the left of
    • Giving directions with imperatives:  Draw a square.  Add a triangle on top for the roof.
    • Comparisons:  The front door needs to be smaller.     
    • Asking for clarification: Is this the right size/shape?  Like this?
  5. Tell students to draw their dream house on a blank sheet of paper.  If desired, depending on the amount of time you are allocating for the task, students can add color to their pictures.  Tell students that they can make their houses as simple or as fancy as they want, but they will need to be able to explain the house’s parts and where they are located to a partner.
  6. Circulate as students draw.  Answer questions about any house-related vocabulary while students work, or encourage them to use dictionaries to look up any unknown terms.
  7. Put students in pairs.  Tell them not to show their original pictures to their partners.  Have students sit so the describing student can shield his/her paper from the drawing student’s view.  Describing students should be able to see the drawing students’ work; describing students will provide clarifications and answer questions about the new drawing while their partner works.
  8. Tell the drawing students to draw what their partners describe in pencil.  They may need to make corrections as they receive/ask for clarification from their partner, so they should have an eraser.  After the describing partner thinks the new picture is fairly close to the original, he or she can give the drawing student information about adding color to the picture, if desired.
  9. Circulate as student pairs work together.  Remind students not to show each other their original pictures, if needed, and offer support as required.
  10. After each pair finishes, they should switch roles with the drawing student now describing his/her picture to the partner.
  11. Once both students have had a chance to draw, ask the pairs to compare the new drawings to the original pictures and describe the similarities and differences they see. 
  12. To close the activity, you can conduct a whole-class debrief to review any challenging vocabulary or language function items.  Ask a few pairs to share and describe their drawings.


Procedure Variations
For a faster version of the activity that doesn’t focus on asking for/giving clarification, have students sit back-to-back as they describe and draw.  The pictures will likely have many more differences with this approach, which can make students laugh as they compare the results!  The lack of similarity can provide a rich opportunity to practice comparative adjectives as students evaluate and describe how the pictures differ.

Content Variations
These procedures used a “dream house” theme, but teachers can adapt the activity to use other themes that suit their language and content objectives.  Here are few ideas for how to vary the focus of a picture dictation information gap.  Students will draw, describe, discuss, and recreate:

Drawing Content

Language Focus


Combinations of basic shapes (a red triangle next to a black circle with two different- sized colored squares inside, etc.)

Vocabulary: shape, colors, sizes, location words; prepositions of location (above, next to, on top of, inside)

Great for beginner-level students!  As an extension activity, students can switch partners after drawing, taking their pictures with them; then students can point to items and orally quiz their new partners about the vocabulary items they see, or the new partners can write 3-4 “There is… /There are…” sentences describing the drawing.

An imaginary alien, robot, or monster

Vocabulary: body parts, colors, sizes, appearance adjectives; prepositions of location

Encourages students to use their imagination as they draw and practice vocabulary items; students can develop a description of the alien/monster/robot and the things it can do/likes to do as part of a speaking or writing extension activity

An ideal vacation scene

Describing a scene (people, places, buildings, scenery)

Students get to personalize their scene; they can explain why this would be their favorite vacation spot or plan what they would pack for a vacation to this location as part of a speaking or writing extension activity

Their favorite location in their hometown

Describing a scene (people, places, buildings, scenery)

Students talk about a place that is personally meaningful while giving instructions and providing clarification; students can explain why this place is important to them in a speaking or writing extension activity

An animal in its habitat

Describing a scene (animals, plants, places); science vocabulary

A fun review activity for a science/biology lesson; animals can be assigned by the teacher or chosen by students – students must recall specific content details they learned about their animal when drawing the scene and giving instructions to their partner.  Students can use their dictation drawing to illustrate a short report they write about their animal after the activity.

Information Gap Tip of the Week – Extension Activities 

You don’t want information gap activities to be isolated items stuck in your lessons, right?  How can you connect these activities to other parts of your lesson?  Be sure to consider the importance of good sequencing and flow when planning your lessons by linking information gaps to previously taught content.  Information gaps can be a fun and motivating way to recycle and review this material. 

Also, look for ways to create logical extension activities that relate to the information gap activities.  Extension activities allow students opportunities to reengage with the language and content from a slightly different angle, perhaps in a way that requires more advanced or complex skills.  These follow-on extension activities may involve other language skills or interaction patterns (individual, group, or whole-class work) and can be assigned for in-class completion or homework.  See the Content Variation chart above for a few suggestions on how you can extend drawing dictation information gap activities. 

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Information Gaps: Graphic Organizers and Oral CluesExpand

This week’s information gap is designed for groups of three students.  Each student in the group has a unique set of information related to people’s schedules; students cannot show each other their clues.  The group members must discuss the information orally and record the details on a graphic organizer in order to reach a shared solution about how three people spent their weekends.  You can adapt this activity for groups or two or four students by modifying the number of clue sets you supply. 

Graphic organizers associated with this type of information gap activity can be formatted as charts or grids.  This activity uses a chart.  In the Variations section, two other activity examples demonstrate how to use grids to capture information that is orally shared among group mates or partners.


Lower intermediate and above

Language focus

Speaking/listening functions:  sharing and recording details
Vocabulary:  weekend/free-time activities, schedules
Grammar:  prepositions in time phrases (in the morning, at 5:00pm, on Saturday)


During this activity, students will:

  • Orally share clues about three people’s schedules and use a chart to record each person’s complete weekend schedule
  • Review and practice the use of prepositions in time phrases


  • Teacher:
    • Whiteboard, chalkboard, or large pieces of paper posted on the wall
    • Markers or chalk
    • Answer Key – Schedules (.pdf)
    • Scissors
    • Digital or overhead projector (optional)
  • Students:
    • Pencils and erasers
    • Blank paper 
    • Set of clues, cut up into three parts:  Person A, B, and C (.pdf)


  • Print out/copy and cut up sets of clues, enough copies so that each group of three has a set
  • Prepare to display the script text seen in Step 3 on the board.  Use a projector, if available, or write the text on the board in advance and cover it with a large piece of paper.


  1. Draw a chart on the board with four boxes, like this:
  2. Saturday

    Morning (before 12:00 pm) -

    Afternoon (between 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm) -

    Evening (after 6:00 pm) -

  3. Tell students you are going to describe part of your weekend. Ask them to listen for information about what you did at different times during the day (morning, afternoon, and evening).
  4. Read the following script twice. “I did a lot of things on Saturday. First, I woke up at 8:00.  I ate breakfast and went for a walk in the morning.  Next, I ate lunch at 1:30 with my friends at Charlie’s Restaurant.  Then, in the evening, I went shopping for new clothes.  I went to a concert at 9:00.  Then I came home and went to bed.  What a busy day!”  (Note: You can also create a short personalized description of your weekend activities; if you create your own script, be sure to include a mix of on, in, and at time phrases.)
  5. Ask student volunteers to supply the missing information and fill out the chart on the board.  Read the script again to help students complete the chart if needed:

  6. Saturday

    Morning (before 12:00 pm) - woke up, ate breakfast, went for a walk

    Afternoon (between 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm) - ate lunch at Charlie’s restaurant

    Evening (after 6:00 pm) - went shopping, went to a concert, came home, went to bed

  7. To review prepositions and time phrases, display the script text on the board.  Underline prepositions in the time phrases and ask students about how each is used (example: “Which preposition do we use with days of the week/dates?  With specific times like 1:00pm?  With times of day like evening?”): “I did a lot of things on Saturday. First, I woke up at 8:00.  I ate breakfast and went for a walk in the morning.  Next, I ate lunch at 1:30 with my friends at Charlie’s Restaurant.  Then, in the evening, I went shopping for new clothes.  I went to a concert at 9:00.  Then I came home and went to bed.  What a busy day!”
  8. Put students in groups of three; ask them to count off “A, B, C” in each group.  Tell students they will work together to recreate the weekend schedules of three people:  Patty, Sam, and Karen (Note: You can substitute local names, if desired).  Person A is in charge of finding out about Patty’s schedule, Person B will ask about and record details about Sam’s schedule, and Person C will find out Karen’s schedule.
  9. Guide the students through the process of drawing a chart similar to the one you used in your example at the beginning of the activity.  Each person’s chart should have two columns, one for each day of the weekend.  For example, Person A’s chart would look like this (Note: re-label the weekend days in accordance with your local observances, if needed):

  10.          Patty’s Weekend Schedule



    Morning (before 12:00 pm) -

    Morning (before 12:00 pm) -

    Afternoon (between 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm) -

    Afternoon (between 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm) -

    Evening (after 6:00 pm) -

    Evening (after 6:00 pm) -


  11. Ask student volunteers to pass out a set of clues to each group.  Ask students to each take one clue sheet, A, B, or C, from the set.  Tell students to put their clue sheets face down on their desks.
  12. Explain that each person will have a set of clues about Patty, Sam, and Karen’s schedules.  Students cannot show their information to their group mates; they must orally share the information and use their charts to record their assigned person’s schedule.
  13. Ask students to turn over their clue sheets.  Explain that before the group begins working together, each person must first complete the missing information on their clue sheet by adding in the appropriate prepositions for the time phrases.  Give students a few minutes to fill in the missing prepositions.     
  14. Explain that Person A should ask his/her group mates about Patty’s schedule and record the information on his/her chart.  Give or elicit examples of questions that Person A might ask: “Who knows what Patty did on Saturday morning?  What did Patty do in the afternoon?”  All group members should consult their clue sheets for information to help Person A complete Patty’s schedule.  While students share information, their group mates should listen carefully to the prepositions in the time phrases used and suggest corrections if needed.  For example, if Person B says “Patty played soccer on 2:00,” the other group mates should correct the preposition.
  15. Once Person A has finished asking questions and recording details about Patty’s schedule, Person B and Person C should repeat the process to collect information about Sam and Karen’s schedules.
  16. While students work, monitor their progress, make notes about any challenges students have with prepositions in time phrases, and offer support as needed.  Ensure students aren’t showing each other their clues sheets.
  17. Since groups will finish the activity at different rates, you can set up an “answer checking” station with a few copies of the answer key at the front of the room.  When a group finishes, they can come to the station together and check their answers.  You can man the station as students check their answers, or you can let them independently check their work.  If they missed any information, they can return to their seats to discuss the source of the problem(s).  Students who complete the task satisfactorily can move on to another pre-designated task (starting a homework assignment, reading silently, etc.) while the remaining groups work on the information gap.
  18. To close the activity, conduct a brief whole-class review to reinforce concepts from the activity and to address any common errors you observed while students worked in groups.     

Variations – Information Gaps with Grids

In this information gap activity, students used charts to record information needed to complete the task.  Other information gaps with oral clues use grids to capture details.  See the activities below for examples of “oral clue - grid” information gaps:

  • Try This: Listening and Logic (2015) by Heather Benucci:  In this information gap activity, students solve logic puzzles using a grid that helps them keep track of information in the puzzle’s clues, use the process of elimination, and make inferences that will lead them to the puzzle’s solution.
  • Tools for Activating Materials and Tasks in the English Language Classroom (2009 – see p. 6, “Grids Galore” Activity) by Rick Rosenberg:  In this activity, students use grids to track answers related to grammar and vocabulary questions.

Information Gap Tip of the Week –
Delayed Feedback and Error Treatment

Since information gaps are usually student-centered and fluency-focused activities, teachers take on the role of observer and facilitator.  In this facilitator role, teachers should generally avoid interrupting students during speaking activities to allow them to negotiate meaning with their peers.  To ensure accuracy is addressed at some point, however, teachers can make notes about the language errors they observe while monitoring student progress.  Use some example student errors to conduct a delayed feedback session, either directly after the fluency-focused activity or during a subsequent class period.  For example, you can list anonymous examples of actual student errors on the board or on a worksheet and ask students to spot and correct the problems.  You can also use your notes on student mistakes to identify error trends and define topics you want to cover during remedial instruction or in activities that recycle the problematic content.      

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Information Gaps: Visual Prompts and Oral CluesExpand

This week’s information gap activity, “20 Questions with Picture Cards,” asks pairs to use visual prompts as the basis for orally exchanging information.  Some other examples of this type of information gap activity include:

  • Navigation activities:  students ask for and give directions to different locations on a map
  • “Spot the difference” tasks:  students ask each other questions to try and identify a certain number of differences between two similar images  
  • “Partial image” activities:  students have similar images that are missing certain details, which they must discuss to create a complete set of information (images of partial shopping receipts with some items, prices, and store names missing; incomplete movie advertisement posters, etc.)

As with most information gaps, students can’t show each other their visual prompts during these activities, which requires them to speak to each other to achieve the activity’s goal.  Teachers can design the visual prompts to review recently covered vocabulary, thematic content, or curriculum-based material.  After reviewing this example activity, be sure to consider how you might use visual prompts to create information gap activities related to your curriculum content.


Upper beginner and above

Language focus

Speaking and Grammar:  asking yes/no questions
Vocabulary:  varies depending on picture card content


During this activity, students will:

  • Orally ask about and share clues about the target image using yes/no questions
  • Review and practice vocabulary and/or content knowledge related to the picture card set



  • Copy, print out, or create sets of picture card prompts.  Each student pair should have a set of at least 10 images.
  • The picture card content will determine the activity’s level of difficulty in terms of the required vocabulary and content knowledge: 
      • Picture cards can relate to groups of recently learned vocabulary items (nouns).  Teachers can create cards with basic line drawings, download images from the internet, or use pictures from print resources.  This activity uses pre-made “Picture This!” cards.  
      • Teachers can also use internet images or pictures in print resources to create card sets around themes from the non-language curriculum, for example: 
        • History:  images of famous people or events
        • Science:  images of endangered animals, images related to environmental problems (an oil spill, the greenhouse effect, flooding), images related to a process (stages of a butterfly’s lifecycle development)
        • Literature:  images of characters or scenes from a story, book, play, or poem
        • Art or Art History:  images of famous paintings or photographs    


  • Explain that students are going to work in pairs to play the game “20 Questions” using picture cards.  In each pair of students, Player 1 will silently select a “secret image” from a card containing six images.  Player 2 will ask up to 20 yes/no questions to figure out what the secret item is.  If Player 2 guesses correctly, he or she gets a point.  If Player 2 can’t guess the item within 20 questions, Player 1 gets a point.  (Note: for lower levels or to speed up game play, you can modify the game to be “10 questions”).
  • Review yes/no question format, if needed, by giving/eliciting example questions, such as:
  • Does the secret item….?Example:  Does the secret item have four legs?
  • Is the secret item bigger/smaller [or other comparative adjective] than….?Example:  Is the secret item bigger than a city bus?
  • Can the secret item….?Example:  Can the secret item fly?
  • Is the secret item….?Example:  Is the secret item a duck?
  • Demonstrate game play with a student volunteer.  Take on the role of Player 1:
  • Player 1 chooses a card and doesn’t show it to Player 2.  Player 1 silently chooses one of the images on the card (from the side with pictures) and then reads the card’s title, which describes a thematic topic, out loud.
  • Player 2 asks yes/no questions to guess the item Player 1 chose.  Player 1 answers “yes” or “no” and keeps track of the number of questions Player 1 asks.
  • Each time Player 1 answers, Player 2 can guess what the item is or ask another question.  Guesses count as one of Player 2’s allotted number of yes/no questions.  If the guess is correct, Player 2 gets a point, and the players switch roles with Player 2 drawing a new card and Player 1 asking questions.

Player 1:  The topic is “Time for School”  [has silently picked “chalkboard”]
Player 2:  Can you write on the secret item?
Player 1:  Yes.  [Player 1 counts the question]
Player 2:  Is the secret item white?
Player 1:  No. [Player 1 counts the question]
Player 2:  Is the secret item bigger than a desk?
Player 1:  Yes.  [Player 1 counts the question]
Player 2:  Do teachers use the secret item?
Player 1:  Yes.  [Player 1 counts the question]
Player 2:  Is the secret item a chalkboard?
Player 1:  Yes. [Player 2 gets a point – only 4 questions asked] 

  • Once everyone understands the rules, put students in pairs.  Give each pair 5–10 Picture This! cards.  Ask students to put the cards in a pile with the pictures facing down.  Have pairs count off “1, 2, 1, 2…” or let pairs decide which player will be Player 1. 
  • Tell pairs that cards may be used more than once if time allows, but a new picture should be chosen each time a card is reused.
  • Set a time limit for game play (~7-15 minutes); share the time limit with the class.  Tell the students that the player in each pair with the most points when time is up wins.
  • Direct students to begin playing.  Remind students that all questions must be in yes/no format.  Monitor their progress, watch the time, and provide assistance, as needed. 
  • If desired, when game play is finished, briefly recognize the winners in each pair with a round of applause.  Ask students to share any vocabulary items or card content that they found challenging.  Be sure to record these items to recycle in subsequent activities or lessons.


For a group-based variation of this information gap activity, see Questions, Questions from Activate: Games for Learning American English

Information Gap Tip of the Week –
Managing Uneven numbers of students 

What can you do if you have designed an information gap activity for pairs, but you have an odd number of students?  As the teacher, it can be tempting to offer to pair off with the remaining student, but this approach would prevent you from monitoring and supporting the rest of the class during the activity.  Depending on how information is exchanged in the activity, the easiest way to manage the situation is to create one group of three and slightly modify how information is viewed and communicated.  You will have two students in this group work cooperatively to share one set of information. 

For example, for a group of three students in “20 Questions with Picture Cards,” have Students A and B share the role of Player 1 while Student C asks questions as Player 2.  Students A and B can silently select the secret item together (pointing at items on the card and using non-verbal cues like nodding in agreement or giving a thumbs up to decide on the secret item) and take turns speaking:  Student A announces the topic, Student B answers the first question, Student A answers the second question, and so on.  If Student C can’t guess the secret item within in the 20-question limit, both Students A and B get one point.  When it is time to switch roles, Players B and C take on the role of Player 1 while Student A guesses as Player 2.  At the next switch, Players C and A act as Player 1 and Student B acts as Player 2.

Provide extra support to the group of three to make sure they understand how to share information and swap roles.  If you regularly have an odd number of students, be sure that the same people are not always put in the special group of three students.
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Information Gaps: Mingle ActivitiesExpand

While information gaps are typically designed for pairs and small groups, this week’s mingle activity uses a whole-class interaction format.  Mingles enable all students to have brief unscripted discussions with several classmates while they gather missing information needed to complete activity.  During some mingle activities, students may take notes or use graphic organizers to record details as they interact with classmates.

The interaction flow during mingles can be spontaneous (students chat for a bit; when they are finished exchanging information, they walk around freely and find someone new to talk to) or managed (students switch partners on a timed basis or in a certain manner as directed by the teacher).  This week’s mingle information gap, “What am I? / Who am I? / Where am I?” uses a spontaneous interaction flow. 

Mingles are excellent student-centered, communicative options for applying or reviewing recently taught language or content information.  For additional information on how to conduct a variety of mingle information gap activities, read Mingles in the Foreign Language Classroom by Elena Borzova (English Teaching Forum, 2014).


Intermediate and above

Language focus

Speaking:  asking and answering questions
Content:  recalling details
Vocabulary:  varies depending on thematic content; this activity uses an animal theme


During this activity, students will:

  • Orally ask about and share information related to the target item posted on their backs
  • Review and practice vocabulary and/or content knowledge related to the target information


  • Teacher:
    • Whiteboard, chalkboard, or large pieces of paper posted on the wall
    • Markers or chalk
    • A timing device (clock, watch, or timer)
  • Students:
    • Pencils or pens and paper           
    • Cards with target information (“animals” in this example)
    • Safety pins or strong tape to attach the cards to students’ backs


  • Create a list of related target items that answer one of these questions: “What am I?”  “Who am I?” or “Where am I?”  The list can include recently taught vocabulary or content items such as animals, items in the classroom, occupations, characters from stories the class has read during the term, world cities, places in a school, etc.  You’ll need one target item per student in the class.  (Note: If you have a large class of 80 students, and your list contains only 20 target items, you can establish 4 groups that will simultaneously conduct separate mingles using the same content in different parts of the classroom.) 
  • The procedures below use an animal theme, so the target list might include the following items, answering the question “What am I?”
Tiger Lion Monkey
Zebra Dolphin Octopus
Whale Eagle Fish
Alligator Rhinoceros Shark
Snake Mosquito Spider
  • Create a stack of cards, each containing one item from the target list.  Students will attach these cards to their backs during the mingle activity. 
  • Make sure you have enough safety pins or tape on hand so students can attach the cards to their backs.


  1. Tell students they are going to participate in a mingle activity that will require them to ask each other questions and recall information from recently covered units.  Explain that each student will receive a mystery animal.  Tell students a classmate will attach a card with the name of the mystery animal to their back so they won’t be able to see the information.   Explain that everyone must talk to their classmates to figure out which animal is attached to their back.
    • Elicit questions that students might need to ask to find out about their animal.  Write the questions on the board.  Questions might include:
    • What does my animal eat?
    • What is my animal’s habitat?
    • Is my animal a predator or prey?
    • Does my animal swim/fly/crawl/etc.?
    • What color is my animal?
    • Does my animal have legs? How many?
    • Is my animal a mammal/fish/bird/insect/reptile/etc.?
    • Does my animal live in this country?               In which continent/country does this animal live?         
  2. Explain the mingle procedures:
    • Everyone will receive a card; they should not show the card to anyone.  They will pin or tape this card to a neighbor’s back, making sure the neighbor cannot see the card.
    • Everyone will stand up and bring along a pencil/pen and paper to make notes.
    • The mingle period will last 7 minutes (or other amount of time you think is appropriate for your students, depending on their language level).
    • During the mingle period, each student must talk to at least 5 different people, asking each person one question about their animal and answering a question about the other person’s animal.  Once information has been exchanged, students should find a new person to talk to.  If someone doesn’t know the answer to a question, students can ask that question to another person.  Students should make notes about the responses they receive from their classmates.  
    • At no time during the mingle period should a student ask, “Is my animal a/an [name of a specific animal]? “  Students responding to questions should be careful not to include the animal’s name in their responses.
    • When the mingle period is over, students will count off to form groups of 4-5.
    • In these groups, students must report the 5 (or more) pieces of information they collected and what they think their animal is.  If they are incorrect, they must ask their group mates a few additional questions until they can guess correctly.  Students should keep their notes; they will need them for the homework activity (See the Extension section below).
  3. Ask student volunteers to pass out the cards and safety pins or tape.  After students have attached their card to a neighbor’s back, remind students to speak only English during the mingle and to stay focused on the task because they only have a limited amount of time to collect the information they need.
  4. Start the timer and monitor student progress.  As needed, remind students of the mingle procedures, make sure they stay on task, and provide support.  The classroom will likely get very noisy.  This is great because it means students are getting in a lot of talking time!  Ask students to use inside voices or whisper if the volume gets to be overwhelming.   
  5. Once the mingle period is over, facilitate the formation of small groups so students can report the data they collected and check their guesses. 
  6. Explain the homework assignment.  Remind students that they will use the notes and information they collected during the mingle to complete the assignment.

Extension activity 

Direct students to write a short report (2-3 paragraphs) on their animal for homework.  As part of the homework, they should verify the information provided by their classmates during the mingle before including it in the report.  They can find information about their animals using their textbooks, information in the library, or internet sources.

Information Gap Tip of the Week – Keeping Students on Task   

Students have opportunities to talk freely during information gap activities.  As such, some teachers worry that students will not stay on task.  Teacher concerns may include students talking about off-topic things, using their L1 instead of English, and “cheating” by showing each other or orally giving away the missing information in the activity.   Here are a few ways to address these concerns:

  • Actively monitor student progress during information gaps and remind students of the activity guidelines, such as using English, as needed.
  • Establish a clear purpose for the activity to encourage students to stay on task.  This approach may include highlighting that the activity will help them review for an upcoming test or that students will need to use activity information in a follow-up assignment, such as the homework report mentioned above.
  • Set timelines that challenge students, creating a sense of urgency for them to complete the activity in the given amount of time.  You can always adjust activity timelines if students are actively working and need more time or if students finish quickly and seem to be getting off task.
  • To prevent students sharing written or visual information gap prompts, have students sit back-to-back while completing the activity so it is difficult for them to slyly show each other the missing information.
  • Make the activities fun, interesting, and relevant!  As discussed in this month’s Teacher’s Corner “Background” section, information gap activities can be motivating since they vary the interaction patterns in a lesson, give students time to talk, and include a puzzle or problem that must be solved.  As you’ve seen, information gaps can be designed to cover many types of content and can take many forms.  Test out a few information gap activity styles to determine which ones your students respond to enthusiastically.
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