24 Jan 2023

Playing a game with photos for B1 Speaking

Today, I’m going to share some ideas for playing a game when describing a photo like the ones used in Part 2 of the B1 Preliminary Speaking Test.

This follows on from my previous post, where I shared tips for helping students to do well in B1 Speaking Part 2.

Introducing the game

To introduce the game, I’d suggest that you do a whole-class activity.

Let’s do this with one of the photographs in the B1 Preliminary for Schools Handbook, available to download here.

B1 Preliminary for Schools Handbook p61

Ask students to tell you 5 words that they could use to describe this photo. They will probably come up with quite simple words, like:

  • girl
  • woman
  • kitchen
  • cooking
  • smiling

Write the words on the board, or students can write them down.

Explain that these are taboo, forbidden. They must describe the photo WITHOUT USING ANY OF THESE WORDS.

Discuss which words they could use INSTEAD of these words for the photo.

  • girl, woman: daughter, mother/mum; 2 members of the same family
  • kitchen: at home, the room where they probably prepare and eat most meals.
  • cooking: preparing food, making a cake/dish, following a recipe/the instructions
  • smiling: They seem happy/relaxed. It looks like they’re enjoying this.

Some paraphrases come easy, others are more difficult – but it’s great practice for that moment when a student can’t think of a particular word or expression!

Silent rehearsal

Next, I would ask students to rehearse silently, to practise describing the photo without speaking out loud.

Talk about the photo – but don’t use the taboo words!

In pairs or small groups, one student talks about the photo for one minute. The other students listen and make sure that they don’t hear any of the taboo words! If they do, they interrupt and ask the speaker to start again!

Students prepare a taboo challenge

Next, give pairs or groups of students different photos. Here is the other photograph from the B1 for Schools Sample Paper, for example.

Photo B from B1 Preliminary for Schools Sample Paper

Students decide on 4 taboo words which cannot be used to describe this photo. Suggestions:

  • boy
  • television
  • table
  • watching

Then, groups pass on the photo and the taboo wordlist to another group, who have to speak for a minute about the photo without using any of the words on the list.

Extra support

You can give groups time to prepare their descriptions, or even to write their sentences and rehearse them.

Extra challenge

Don’t allow groups time to prepare anything – they have to turn over the photo and list and start speaking immediately!


The group do not see the list of taboo words, and start speaking. The listening group stops them if they hear any taboo words and ask them to rephrase: Sorry, could you say that in a different way, please?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.