Don't Say the Forbidden Words

Don't Say the Forbidden Words


This is an exercise in describing objects so that delegates can improve their communication skills. It’s all too easy to use jargon and assume that everyone knows what you mean. However, you may need to downgrade and describe a product, a feature or a concept in simpler terms. This entertaining and competitive exercise helps the delegates to train their vocabulary skills and learn how to communicate effectively.


Delegates must describe the features of an object to another group without using any direct terms that reveal the nature of the product.

What You Need

  • Pictures of the following objects:
    • Mobile Phone
    • Lipstick
    • Christmas Tree
  • Colour Pens
  • Flipcharts or large papers
  • A4 Papers
  • Envelops
  • Prizes (optional)



  • Place each picture and the corresponding forbidden words in a separate envelop.
  • Also give each group an A4 paper and a large flipchart that they can draw on with the colour pens.


  • Divide the delegates into a number of 3-person groups. You need to have as many envelopes as there are groups.
  • Pass the envelope to the group and explain that they should not reveal the picture or their instructions to any other group. Ideally they should sit as far away as they can from each other. You can use spare rooms if you have any available and if you have many delegates.
  • Each group should look at their picture and write a description of it for another group. The only limitation is that they should not use any of the forbidden words or their derivatives in any way.
  • The other group, upon receiving the notes should draw the object based on the instructions given.
  • Finally, when all are done, the groups can share the original picture of the object and the drawing made by the other group and discuss.
  • Depending on the number of groups you can use the following two systems for groups to pass their instructions to each other:
    • Pair up groups. Each group writes the instructions and then gives these instructions to the other group in the pair.
    • Groups pass their instructions in round Robin, i.e. A to B, B to C, C to D and D to A.
  • You can give a prize to the pair of groups with the best imitation (this is only applicable if you have more than 2 groups). Indeed there can’t be just one group winner as both groups need to do their best for a success. There is a message here in itself which you can also discuss.


Explaining the Test: 10 minutes.

Activity: 15 minutes to make the instructions + 10 minutes to draw the object => 20 minutes

Group Feedback: 15 minutes.


This is an entertaining exercise. You may need to fine tune the exercise based on your delegates or even over time as you observe the progress of the delegates. Remember, you need to select objects that are easy to draw and you may need to add more to the list of forbidden words if some groups find shortcuts to solve the problem (believe us, they do). You can adjust the level of the challenge by increasing the number of forbidden words.

You may need to work as the carrier delivering the notes between groups so they don’t see each other’s work.

After the exercises are finished, ask the group how they found the exercise. Was it easy to describe the objects in this way? Was the drawing similar to the object? What approach each group took? What was their strategy? How would this apply to the real world?



List of Forbidden Words

Mobile Phone

  • Communication, call, phone, buttons, flip, keyboard, screen, all brands, talk, hear, speak, text, menu, games, chat, Internet, wireless, Bluetooth, wifi, CPU, stylus, processor, battery, SIM card, music, audio, video, charger



  • Cosmetic, lips, red, beauty, healthy, face, cap, women, cream, all brand names, lady, glossy, model, magazine, fashion,

Christmas Tree

  • Tree, branch, accessories, decoration, Christmas, holiday, Jesus, plastic, red, children, gifts, December, leaf, green, winter, Santa, cold, snow, birth, religion, sun, wood

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