Cutting Edge > Courses > Sedimentary Geology > Sedimentology, Geomorphology, and Paleontology 2014 > Teaching Activities > Pictionary-like game play to improve observation and description skills

Pictionary-like game play to improve observation and description skills

Jeni McDermott, University of St. Thomas (MN)
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This page first made public: Jun 5, 2014


This activity using group pictionary-type play to improve and hone student observational and descriptive skills.



200-level geomorphology course for geology and environmental science majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

a stand-along exercise near the beginning of the course


Content/concepts goals for this activity

improve observational and descriptive skills

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

3-D sketching

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity using group pictionary-type play to improve and hone student observation and descriptive skills. Students are divided into small groups and each group of students is assigned a particular landform (could easily be modified for other subjects)on Google Earth. Groups do not see other groups' landforms. As a group, students work to describe the explain the landform. One group is then challenged with describing their landform to a second group that must draw it on the board. The rest of the class speaks up to try to ensure they are clear about what the landform looks like (asking questions, clarifying points, etc.) When the class feels they have a good idea of the landform (without knowing its name) all students are given a 'test' of images of various landforms that look similar to see if they can pick out the correct form based on the descriptions of the first group. A discussion follows investigating how and why students picked the option they did, why that was right, why it was wrong (as needed), how the description could have been improved, etc. This continues with all groups.
Landform 'test' (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 8.7MB Jun5 14)
Landform 1 (KMZ File 2kB Jun5 14)
Landform 2 (KMZ File 1kB Jun5 14)
Landform 3 (KMZ File 2kB Jun5 14)
Landform 4 (KMZ File 888bytes Jun5 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Each group is only aware of their assigned landform (groups do not see other groups' landforms) and no names of landforms are used throughout the exercise until the results of the 'test' are revealed - the focus is not on landform names but on how to make enough detailed observations to differentiate particular features of the Earth's surface


Are the students able to correctly identify the described landforms during the 'test'? Do the students improve in their descriptions and identifications as the activity progresses?

References and Resources

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