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Teaching Ideas

June 06, 2002

Information Gaps

Andy Hoodith

Saitama University

This type of activity is not new: it became popular during the late 70s and early 80s when the emphasis shifted from treating language as a set of rules to be "learned" to teaching it as a communicative tool to foster genuine meaningful interaction.

The basic idea is based on pairwork, in which each student has information that his/her partner doesn't have; the goal being to combine their knowledge in order to complete a task. For example, one student may have a map on which half the buildings (post office, bank, newsagents, etc.) are marked, while the other has a similar map showing only the other buildings. After some pre-teaching of the appropriate question forms and prepositions of position, the students then take it in turns to ask and answer, eventually filling in all the gaps in their respective maps.

The activity described below is perhaps one of the simplest examples of an information gap activity and requires very little preparation time, although with more attention it can be made more elaborate and more relevant to a particular group of students.

TIME: 45 Minutes

TOPIC: Information Gaps

LEVEL: Elementary

AIM: To present and practice grammar and vocabulary associated with the description of pictures and diagrams.


• Show the class a picture, preferably one which has a clear structure, i.e. one with something in the center, in the foreground and background, etc. Alternatively, draw a simple picture (with a border) on the blackboard. It could contain stick figures or just shapes, the names of which could be elicited from the class.

• Ask students: "What is in the picture?"
• Elicit answers and then ask, "Where is the diamond?" - "It's in the middle, on the left, at the bottom, in the bottom right corner, etc.

• With higher level students, you may wish to introduce vocabulary associated with pespective, ie. foreground/background/behind etc.

• Then ask students questions along the lines of "Is the square above the circle?" or "Is the cross next to the diamond?"
• Elicit answers: "No. It's below it." "No. It's between the rectangle and the star."


Give each student a blank piece of paper and describe a (prepared) drawing to them using the pre-taught vocabulary. When you've finished the description, encourage students to ask clarification questions. If they're reluctant, ask them comprehension questions to generate the appropriate language.


• Distribute more paper to all the students and divide the class into pairs.
• Ask one person from each pair to draw some of the pre-taught shapes on the paper, arranging them as he/she wishes. It is important throughout this activity that the paired students don't see each other's paper! The other student in each pair should focus on question forms which may be needed to check on the positions of the symbols.
• Completing the drawing shouldn't take long. When it is done, the student who's drawn it then describes it to his/her partner (a paired activity similar to the one you did with them in Activity 1).
• The pairs then reverse roles and repeat the activity.


As implied in the introduction, there are many possible variations on this activity type. The ones closest to this particular example are the introduction of color, size, and more elaborate figures into the drawings. For example, if one student draws a tree, the other may ask "What color is it?" "How many branches does it have?" etc.

It should be noted though, that the grammatical and lexical requirements expand rapidly as you introduce more variables, and that the simple format described above keeps the parameters of the language covered quite tidy.

Andy Hoodith
Andy Hoodith is an author and works at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. He is also a life-long supporter of Manchester City Football Club.

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