Activity 23: Find the Differences

▶ Duration:  10–15 min
▶ Aim:  Oral fluency practice
▶ Summary:  Students speak in order to find the differences between two similar pictures.

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This is a well-known activity, and a classic example of the principle of an "information gap" in communicative activities. If you put two pictures in front of a pair of students and tell them to talk about the differences, there is not much to motivate them. But if you arrange the activity so that each student only sees one picture, then an information gap is created. Cooperating with their partner to identify the differences becomes an act of genuine communication.

Although suitable pairs of pictures are provided in many modern textbooks, this activity is included here to remind teachers that it is not too difficult to create picture pairs by oneself, especially with access to the internet. For example, cartoons can be adapted. A suitable picture can be found to fit with almost any theme-based lesson.

The first step is to find a suitable picture. These might come from books and magazines, or from the internet. For example, try a search on Google Images (note that the Advanced Image Search allows you to limit your results to black and white, or a particular size). There are also several websites which sell cartoons online, such as CartoonStock.

In Discussions that Work (Cambridge University Press, 1981), Penny Ur writes:

"The preparation of such pictures is fairly simple and fun to do. You need a black and white line drawing (not photograph) with a fair amount of detail but without shades of grey (these do not reproduce well). The content of the drawing should not entail vocabulary beyond the level of the students. You photocopy it and then make the requisite number of alterations to the original drawing, using either a black fibre-tip pen (for additions) or white type-correcting fluid (for erasures)."

Alternatively, the modifications could be done on a computer using even the simplest "paint" application. If you create any picture pairs in this way, please send them to us for inclusion on this page.

See the Resources section for examples.

You need to make enough copies so that each student will receive either one copy of "Version A" or one copy of "Version B".

If the students are already familiar with the concept, then you just need to repeat the "check" questions. But the first time you do this activity, it is helpful to explain the concept using the blackboard: draw two simple pictures with one or two differences and explain that partners will each receive one version. They must not show their pictures to each other, instead they have to talk to each other and circle the n differences. Check:

After the activity, you can either provide the answers, or elicit the answers from the students, or simply tell the students to put the pictures side by side so that they can check whether the differences they found really exist or not.

Dentist Cartoon

This cartoon (drawn by Adey Bryant, and found on CartoonStock) depicts a dentist holding a stick of dynamite behind his back, saying to the patient "I have to remove all your teeth": dentist_diffs.doc (html preview)

The 5 differences: window on door, dentist's spectacles, patient's missing tooth, extra pedal under chair, extra finger holding dynamite.
Rating: 5 stars

This activity does not demand any real conversation per se, but it is a motivating and enjoyable communicative speaking activity. Furthermore, it can be adapted for almost any lesson, and is good for filling a 15 minute gap in a lesson plan.

I like it very much. It's very interesting. Thanks a lot.
Sandy []
17.05.2004 , 21:53

I love it!
eileen []
12.06.2004 , 22:50

Great! I wish i had found this website long ago.
don [] [homepage]
05.07.2004 , 17:14

I wish I had found it before! How can simple activities can improve so much?
I really would like to know.
It´s very interesting work.Go on doing it.
Márgara []
16.08.2004 , 11:07

TOM []
13.09.2004 , 16:17

What a great activity to begin a lesson on compare and contrast!
Melissa []
24.11.2004 , 03:49

I'm an English teacher here in Pakistan and have found this site one of the most interesting and usefull sites I've ever visited. I'm regulary using the material from this site to assist my students acquire maximum language fluency.
Talat Naeem []
03.03.2005 , 18:43

i found this website useful and helpful in activities organizing.i appreciate it so much
rachel []
22.05.2005 , 14:34

the job you have done is admirable. but can we have more of the activities of different types, please, you know teachers are usually deal with diferent activities, therefore we need varoius types.
wish your success
khatereh alavi []
18.03.2006 , 14:46