This activity where pupils are grouped and one member is asked to describe key terms relating to a unit of work without using words immediately linked or those which would immediately come to mind - for example describing condensation as a process without using the terms water, droplet, cloud….

They can also be asked to generate their own taboo words as alternative or extension activities.

Particular strengths of using taboo

It can be carried out at any point during a unit of work. It is useful for drawing upon pupils' prior learning and understanding and also highlights areas of misconception and misunderstanding.

Preventing pupils from using more obvious terms forces them to think carefully about the real meaning of the terms they are describing and so consolidates their understanding.
It develops pupils' confidence at using and understanding geographical vocabulary.
Motivates pupils by engaging them in a fun activity, which is also sufficiently challenging.


Select and prepare the taboo words depending on what has / or is going to be taught ensuring that they are suitable for the ability level of the group.

Consider the groupings carefully. The teacher or pupils depending on ability can select these. Keep groups fairly small to ensure that they all the group members are involved.



Relate the activity to the game the pupils may have played before.
Work through an example with the whole class relating the principle of the game to something within their experiences (i.e. what words would you use to describe pizza without using cheese, tomato etc)



The following is a suggested way of running the activity-
Divide the group into appropriate groupings.
Distribute taboo cards to each group.

Explain to the pupils that they are going to have to describe or explain each term in turn but that it is forbidden to use any of the words on the card or variations of them. For each word they need to nominate one person to describe the term and one to stand behind them to 'check' that none of the forbidden words are used. The rest of the group has to guess the word. The roles should circulate around the group.

Explain the rules for timing and scoring. This can be adjusted according to the groups.

Managing the activity

Circulate around the room but try not to intervene unless the groups are completely lost. Circulating will help give you an understanding of which meanings of which pupils are unsure.

Adjust timings according to the group. As an extension pupils can be encouraged to write their own taboo words or to rethink and write down their descriptions ensuring they are as geographical as possible.

If any of the groups are struggling they can be given more support by discussing with them the meaning of the term to help them break it down into an appropriate description.
Ensure that enough time is allocated in the lesson to discuss and debrief the activity.
As a follow up or homework activity pupils can be asked to produce an explanation for each taboo word






What is the purpose of the game?
Why were some groups more successful than others?
How did the activity make them think?
What were the features of a good description or explanation?
Why were some terms 'easier' or 'harder' to describe than others?