Backs to the Board

Learning focus:   Students strive to define, explain, give examples for and describe key words or phrases from current topics.

Benefits:   High turnover of important vocabulary, engaging, forces students to consider how they understand vocabulary, allows teachers to assess whether students understand words (if everyone is silent, they don’t know the word!).

Timing:   10 – 20 minutes. Suitable for beginning, middle or end of class.

Equipment:   List of vocabulary to review, mini-whiteboards or scrap paper, pens.


  1. Have students sitting in groups of 3 or 4; arranged so that there is a single “hot-seat” for each group.  The hot-seat students should be facing the group where they can sit with their backs to the board (see diagram below).
  2. Write a word on the board, wait until all students have seen it, then erase it.
  3. Groups must now try to get the student in the hot-seat to guess the word using synonyms, explanations, examples… anyway they can using language. (I make a rule whereby students are not allowed to use gestures, they cannot translate and they are not allowed to use a part of the word, e.g. “football” would be “a game played by Man U and Chelsea” not “a game where you kick a ball with your foot“.)
  4. The student in the hot-seat guesses the word until their group confirms the correct answer.
  5. The hot-seat student must then write the answer on the WB or paper, and hold it up.
  6. The first team to guess the word correctly gets a point.
  7. A new student takes the hot-seat for every group.
  8. Repeat from step 2.
  9. At the end, it may be useful to go back over any words some groups had trouble with.

Example seating arrangements with hot-seat facing away from the whiteboard.


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