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Mystery Pictures: Following Oral Directions Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #: AELP-LST0003
Author: Miriam Furst, Kelland Elementary; Tuscon, AZ Date: May 1994

Grade Level(s): 4, 5


  • Language Arts/Listening Comprehension

OVERVIEW: Many children have difficulty accurately giving or following verbal instructions. To encourage students to focus on the importance of clear, oral communication.


To encourage students to focus on the importance of clear, oral communication.


  • Students will distinguish between words/phrases that help clarify communication and those that impede it.
  • Students will practice giving clear oral directions and will see the results produced by students who follow their instructions.

  • Chalkboard / chalk
  • blank paper – 6-7 per child – use 8 x 11 paper cut in quarters
  • dark markers – 1 per child
  • Answer Card –

    Draw the number 5 on a sheet of paper, following the instructions list in #5.

    Mystery Picture Cards –

    5-10 cards with a simple geometric design or a capital letter drawn on each card- make sure cards are thick enough so the drawings can’t be seen from the other side.


  • Give 1 dark colored marker and 2 blank papers to each child.  Read the instructions below, aloud, pausing after each one.  Ask students to draw the secret picture on their paper, following the instructions as carefully as possible. THEY MAY NOT ASK ANY QUESTIONS.  NO TEACHER HAND GESTURES ALLOWED.  KIDS MUST SIMPLY DRAW THEIR INTERPRETATION OF THE INSTRUCTIONS.      


  • Draw a short line.
  • Draw another line touching the first line you drew.
  • Put your pencil at the other end of the second line and draw half a circle.
  • After children are finished, post pictures on one half of the chalkboard.  Discuss the differences among the drawings on display.  Ask, What questions did you want to ask, as we were doing this activity?  (e.g. How long should the line be?  Should the line be horizontal, vertical or diagonal?  Should the lines be straight?) DO NOT SHOW THE REAL PICTURE OR GIVE ANY HINTS.
  • Ask, What words or phrases could I have used to help you draw the picture more accurately?  Write suggestions on board. (e.g. straight, 1 long, horizontal, right end, middle, etc.) DO NOT, SHOW THE REAL PICTURE OR GIVE ANY HINTS ABOUT IT.
  • Thank students for their help in clarifying your language.  Ask them to try again.  Promise them that, you will use class time, you will use clearer language.
  • Have students follow your instructions again.  This time read the following: Instructions
  • Starting in the middle of your paper, draw a horizontal line about 1 inch long.
  • Place the point of your pencil on the place where the horizontal line begins, on the left. From that point, draw a vertical line. The vertical line should be about 1 inch long.
  • Starting where the second line ends, draw a backwards C, going down. The tips of the backwards C should be about 1 inch apart.
  • Have students display their second pictures on the other half of the board.  Show them your picture of the number 5. (Most pictures should be similar.)  Discuss why the second set of pictures are more alike than the first.  (It’s easier to get your message across if you use clear, specific, language.)
  • Make lists of muddy and clear words/phrases on the board. (e.g. Muddy-long line, short, line, shape, thing; Clear-left, right, middle, 1/2 inch, vertical, horizontal)
  • Pass out 4-5 more sheets of paper, per child.  Have children take turns picking a Mystery Picture from the stack.  Being careful not to show the picture to the class, the child should give verbal directions for drawing the picture.  The student reading instructions MAY NOT say letter names or geometric shapes.  Class follows directions, without asking questions.
  • Place pictures on board and compare with real picture. Discuss the direction giver’s use of clear language.  (Keep the discussion positive.)  Refer to and add to the Muddy and Clear charts on the board.
  • Variation: Have the direction giver give directions 2 separate times – first time:no questions allowed;  second time:questions from class allowed.  Compare results.

    Discuss and list situations in which clear communication is vital. Discuss the possible results of unclear communication. Students could write skits in which the same event is shown twice – once with muddy language and once with clear language.

    May 1994 These lesson plans are the result of the work of the teachers who have attended the Columbia Education Center’s Summer Workshop. CEC is a consortium of teacher from 14 western states dedicated to improving the quality of education in the rural, western, United States, and particularly the quality of math and science Education. CEC uses Big Sky Telegraph as the hub of their telecommunications network that allows the participating teachers to stay in contact with their trainers and peers that they have met at the Workshops.