Describe and Draw: An
Information Exchange Game
This activity explores some of the pitfalls involved in giving directions or instructions as well
as following them. While these pitfalls exist even when both parties share the same language
and cultural background, they are harder to overcome when the speaker and listener are from
different language or cultural backgrounds.
This activity can succeed with monolingual and monocultural groups, with groups consisting
of two cultures, with two-language groups, and with very diverse groups. It is most powerful
when the persons paired to work together come from different language or cultural back-
It can be used with as few as two people (in a team-building or coaching situation) and with
as many as 60. The size of the audience is only limited by the size of the room and the num-
ber of folders.
This activity, including the debriefing, takes between 45 and 60 minutes.
One folder containing a line drawing or a simple black and white picture for each pair or
triad; one folder containing a blank piece of paper for each person who will be drawing
The easiest way to prepare this exercise is to find four or five different pictures; they
should be quite simple, but somewhat unusual. I have used an anti-smoking sign (heart
shape enclosed in a circle that looks like a STOP sign with a diagonal line through the
heart and a smoking cigarette sticking out of it). I have also used a simple cartoon from a
newspaper during a fuel crisis: an outline of the United States and a person sitting on an
auto gas gauge reading “empty.”
Make four to five copies of each picture. Attach each inside a blank folder so that it can
be used multiple times without the picture being destroyed. Label the folders so that all
like pictures are classified as “A,” “B,” “C,” etc. Before distributing them, put them in
alphabetical order so that no participant pairs sitting next to each other have the same
picture. (Do not attach the blank sheets of paper in the other folder: Each time the exer-
cise is administered, all you will have to do is place blank papers in each folder.)
Pencils or pens
One copy of Handout 1, “Helpful Points for Asking and Answering Questions” for each
Ideally, participants should be able to sit at a table facing one another or at two arm-desks
facing one another. In larger groups, it is also possible to work in threes—one “describer”
and two “drawers.”
1. Have the participants pair up. Instruct them as follows, while handing out the folders:
Player A: Your folder has a picture inside. Hold the folder so that Player B cannot see
the picture. Describe the picture to Player B. Be as clear as you can. The object of the
game is to instruct Player B to draw a picture that is the same as the one in your folder.
You may not look at Player B’s picture while he or she is drawing!
Player B: Draw on the sheet of paper that has been placed in your folder. Hold your
folder so that Player A cannot see what you draw. When you are ready, Player A will
begin describing a picture to you. Try to draw the picture as accurately as possible. You
may ask for clarification of any instructions you do not understand. You may ask as
many questions as you like.
Remember: Neither player may see the other’s picture until Player B is reasonably cer-
tain that he or she has completed the picture.
2. Pair Discussion: Tell the participants in each pair to now compare their pictures and to
discuss how well they did in communicating the picture. Look for inaccuracies. If there
are any, try to discover what went wrong. Some things to consider:
Was Player A too vague?
Did he or she leave out any essential information?
Did he or she give any nonessential information? If so, was this confusing?
Did Player B fail to listen carefully to Player A’s instructions?
Did Player B make incorrect assumptions?

Get 50 Activities for Achieving Cultural Competence now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.