Pictures and Words

I am skeptical about the aphorism, “One picture is worth a thousand words”. Maybe it is true in advertising, but in training, how do you efficiently convey the concept of bias by using pictures? Do you show a photograph of a woman looking longingly at a cute baby while ignoring an ugly baby? This picture will lend itself to alternative interpretations. Even if you are trying to convey a concrete word like a spiral by using a doodle, people may think you are trying to show a spring or a tornado.

Here’s a jolt that demonstrates that communicating through pictures often results in misunderstanding.


Ask the participants to alternatively convey a concept through words and pictures.


The explore the limitations of communicating through pictures.

Training Topics

  • Communication
  • Misunderstanding
  • Interpretation
  • Words


  • Minimum: 3
  • Maximum: Any number
  • Best: 5 to 30


5 minutes for the activity. 5 minutes for debriefing.


  • Blank index cards
  • Paper clips
  • Pencils


Distribute the supplies. Give everyone five blank index cards, a paper clip, and a pencil.

Write a word. Ask each participant to work independently and write a word (or a short phrase) that is related to the training topic. (Examples: webinar, technology, communication, training, or software platform). Pause while the participants complete this task.

Pass the word to the next participant. Ask each participant to give his or her card to the person seated on the left. The last participant gives the card to the first one.

Draw a picture. Ask each participant to study the word on the card that he or she received. Instruct the participant to use a blank index card and draw picture to convey the meaning of the word. Tell them that they must not use any words to caption or label the picture. Pause while the participants do this.

Paper clip the cards. Ask the participants to place the card with the picture on top of the original card and attach the two cards with a paper clip. Instruct the participants to make sure that the word on the original card is hidden by the new card with the picture.

Pass the cards to the next participant. Ask each participant to give the paper-clipped cards to the next person.

Guess the word. Ask the participants to study the picture and guess the word it is related to. Ask everyone to write the word associated with the picture on another index card. Pause while the participants do this.

Continue passing the packets of cards. Ask each participant to place the new card on top of the earlier cards and attach them with the paper clip so only the latest word is visible. Ask the participants to continue passing the paper-clipped cards, with a picture or a word on the top card.

Conclude the activity. Stop the activity after five rounds, when the participants have run out of index cards. The last card will show a word.

Review the transformation. Ask the participants to take turns to read the words on the first and the last cards.


Debrief the participants. Conduct a discussion about how communicating through picture can lead to misunderstanding.

Compare pictures with words. Also ask the participants to discuss whether pictures or words would be more useful to accomplish these purposes:

  • Communicate an emotional message
  • Communicate with people who don’t know the language
  • Encourage imaginative thinking.
  • Encourage logical analysis
  • Explain contextual information
  • Explain ideas to illiterate people
  • Focus on the key idea
  • Provide precise information
  • Reduce chances of misunderstanding
  • Specify abstract concepts

Learning Points

  1. The same picture can be interpreted in different ways.
  2. Pictures and words serve different functions in communication.
  3. The best way to communicate is to use a combination of words and pictures.