Lesson Plan: “The Riddle Game”

Ladies and gentlemen, today I gift unto you one of my most successful activities of all time. Behold … THE RIDDLE GAME!

Joking aside, this is an activity that was in my textbook way back when I taught at my first hagwon. It worked so well, that I thought I’d modify it a bit. Since then, I’ve been using it for years, and I have yet to have it go poorly. So let’s get into it.


In this activity, students are put into teams and given secret pictures about which they write several clues. When all teams are finished, each presents their clues while other teams attempt to guess the secret picture of the presenting team. It can be used with low-level students to get them to practice sentence structure and adjectives, but works even better for exercising metaphorical and lateral thinking.


This activity is mostly for middle school through adult students. It could probably be done for 6th grade elementary school, and even lower, with substantial simplification.

Regarding class size, I’ve used this for full classrooms of around 35-40 students. Of course, fewer works better, but it can accommodate a fairly large student number.

Finally, this works best for intermediate students and above. That being said, low-level students can also act as valuable participants, provided they have enough Korean language support. To that end, I personally allow groups containing struggling learners to discuss in Korean, as long as their final results use the target English.


Long. For a full public school classroom described above, this will easily take two full class sessions, and even then you might need to keep an eye on the time. You’ll probably want teams to begin their presentations at the end of the first class if you want to finish in under three classes.


-Small pictures (photocopied or otherwise), 1 for each team. Preferably more just in case.

-Optional: papers for teams to write down their clues. Useful to keep students organized while presenting.

-A chalkboard or computer with screen share capability.


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

1. First, you’ll need to introduce and model the lesson. Write the following diagram on the board or show it on a screen. (A simple word document works just fine for the latter.) You can modify it however you like; this is just an example.

Teacher PointsClass Points
Hint 106
Hint 215
Hint 324
Hint 433
Hint 542
Hint 651
Hint 760

Explain to the students that you are thinking of something that is not alive (not a plant, virus, animal, etc.) You will give them 7 clues (or hints). The more hints it takes them to guess the correct answer, the fewer points they get, and the more you earn. And then begin with your hints.

You can use whatever you want, but when I taught this for high school, I liked to use the example of fire. I usually start with more abstruse clues, such as “It cannot be held, but can be felt,” “It always eats, but never gets full,” and then get a bit more clear: “It has black breath,” “If it drinks water, it will die.” Make sure you give students plenty of guesses for each hint. You might want to consider giving them a time limit, or a certain number of guesses for each clue. Also, use your hand (or use Zoom’s annotate feature) to help students keep track of which hint you’re on, and how many points are at stake. In the event you get close to the last hints, you can start giving them more obvious clues like, “It is very hot,” etc., … but you might be surprised how good students can be at this activity! Don’t simplify it unless you need to. The more figuratively students have to think, the more fun they’ll have.

You might want to lead them through another round. I like to use a 500-won coin as an example: “2 of them together equal 1,000,” “It has two faces, but no body,” etc. Or anything else you can think of a lot of clues for.

2. Once students get the idea, put them into teams. Give each team a picture, and tell them to keep it secret. Some pictures I’ve found work well are: an onion, a glove, an ice cube, a clock, a tree, a shoe (although the kind of shoe can sometimes cause arguments), a plane, a star, a pencil, a chair and/or desk, and a subway train. Tell them to think of 7 clues for their item. You can also ask them more or fewer, but I’ve found that 7 gives just the right amount of information. They probably won’t be able to come up with 7 great clues, so it’s totally fine if they have some that are fairly basic, but I recommend encouraging them to try to be creative if possible.

Also, I recommend giving them a simple handout to help them remember, prepare, and organize their clues. Something like this could work well:

Note that the final part (“Our picture is ____.”) is important for you, the teacher, so you can know the answer (in case you’ve forgotten the pictures) and also so you can know what the team requires for an answer.

Tip: One problem with this activity is cheating. Sometimes students will find out other teams’ secret pictures in advance, and this leads to the issue of: “Was a student a good guesser or did he cheat?” While you can minimize this by giving teams ample space to work, it’s impossible to avoid it completely. So it can be worth a few minutes of class time to talk about this before the students begin. I often tell them, “Yes, it is possible to cheat, but you’ll make it un-fun for everyone else.”

I discourage students from being too vague with clues. Encouraging them to use “and” or “but” in their clues can help with this. For example, if describing a shoe, students will often say, “Its color is various.” Instead they can write “Its colors are various, but is often brown or black.” Or, if trying to encourage use of personification, “Its colors are various, but it likes to wear brown or black when it goes somewhere important.”

On the other hand, students should also be discouraged from making their answers too specific. For example, if giving a picture of a shoe, a team might expect the answer of “sneaker,” and this can sometimes lead to disagreements. If using the handout template above, you can preview their answer and avoid this issue.

If using this lesson to strengthen critical thinking, here are some tips I like to leave on the TV screen or board:

-Does is have any friends, brothers, sisters, parents, children, etc.?

-Does it talk or sing?

-Does have any body parts: head, feet, guts, skin, etc.?

-Does it run, jump, dance, etc.?

-Does it eat or drink anything?

-What does it like or hate?

-“It has (a mouth) but cannot (eat).”

-“It has (a foot) but cannot (walk).”

Finally, tell students that their team can earn bonus points depending on how creative their clues are. This will place a bit of a burden on you as the teacher, since you’ll be expected to allot points based on subjectivity, but without this rule, teams end up getting rewarded for having vague clues (since these will be harder to guess.) I usually give a bonus point if their clue involves “and” or “but,” and another point if it uses some kind of metaphor or personification. If doing this with a more basic class, you could award points for using target vocabulary, or other things.

Once all teams are done, they present. A team comes to the front of the class and presents their first clue. I recommend using the score board from earlier, using check marks or annotations to keep track of which clue they’re on. I recommend having each student in a team read at least one clue. After a clue is read, allow a few seconds for the other teams to guess. Encourage them to raise their hands, and stress that there are no penalties for wrong answers. I often give encouragement by saying, “Good guess, but not quite.” You might even want to consider giving teams bonus points for guesses that are particularly good, but just slightly miss the mark.

After a few unsuccessful guesses, I like to make note of the team’s clue. For example, on the scoreboard, I might write, “Many colors, go somewhere important → brown or black.” Just enough so students (and I) can recall all the information. Alternatively, you could keep these notes to yourself and encourage students to keep their own notes as an exercise in personal responsibility!

Once the correct answer is guessed, you assign each team the points they’ve earned. I recommend keeping track on a chalkboard, or perhaps a simple word document if using Zoom. When all teams have presented, the one with the most points wins!


And that’s how it’s done. Hopefully I managed to avoid inundating readers with too much information; however, if you find it confusing but still want to try this activity don’t be intimidated. As long as you follow the basic idea, students will get thinking and speaking in English, and (generally) having fun. The rest is just details that you can figure out the more you do it. Good luck!

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