Barrier Games

Using barrier games for the teaching of positional language, demonstration  of understanding & categorisation – Let's get those kids talking!

Barrier games are simple games that require pupils to speak clearly and be attentive listeners. They learn how to give clear descriptions, instructions and clarify through questioning while also developing communication skills such as social and linguistic skills.

 A barrier game requires two pupils to sit at a table with a screen/ barrier between them. The barrier can be anything that inhibits them from seeing each other’s work (a folder, bag, books, or sit back to back, etc.). Each pupil receives the same materials and pupil A draws/ constructs/ arranges the items in front of him/her before describing it in detail to pupil B so he/she can construct the same. They then remove the barrier and compare their patterns/ drawing etc.  There are many variations of this game possible all of which can be adapted to suit pupil’s abilities. Groupings can vary from one to one instruction, one person giving instructions to a group or whole class, working in teams or pairs opposite each other.

Barrier games encourage children to be precise in what they are saying and can be used in many different ways to practice giving and receiving instructions from others. Barrier games are a powerful tool to use for oral language as pupils receive immediate feedback on how successful they were, and while pupils enjoy this task, they also become determined to succeed with their partner.

Encourage the pupil drawing to ask questions and clarify instructions. Use these games for the development of:

  1. Expressive and receptive language skills
  2. Expressing and receiving one, two, three or more step instructions
  3. Vocabulary use such as verbs, nouns, adverbs etc.
  4. Giving clear and concise instructions of concepts like shape, colour, size, quantity etc.
  5. Questioning for clarification
  6. Storytelling
  7. Discussion and reflection
ADAPTATIONS: To adapt games for pupils with learning difficulties or who are less verbal, you could remove the barrier after each instruction is carried through so pupils can check how they are doing.    


Language for Living contains wipe-able picture scenes (20 x2), Spot the Difference cards(15 pairs) and grid cards(x30) for use in many activities.

Some examples:

  • Initially go through effective barrier communication language with the pupils. Vocabulary such as verbs (take, get, find, locate, place, put, do you have, is), prepositions( beside, next to, under, over, above) and adjectives( long, short, little, large, colours, etc.) are essential as the ultimate goal of these games is to develop the pupils oral language and communication. 

Grid card barrier activities:

  • Give identical sets of blocks/ cubes/ coloured crayons/ lego etc. to both pupils and grid cards. Describe where to put items on the grid. One pupil can be the instructor or the pupils can take turns instructing. Grid cards can be numbered for some pupils if necessary.
  • Give each pupil grid cards. One pupil draws simple items such as a cup and saucer in the boxes on the grid card, giving instructions on the item and where placed. This can be continued until there are items in each box.
  • Give the same set of tangrams and grid cards to each pupil. One pupil uses words to describe where to place each tangram shape. E.g. Place the orange square in the middlebox of the top row.

Spot the difference barrier activity

  • Take a matching pair of ‘spot the difference cards’ from Language for Living. Put students in pairs. On giving the pictures to the pupils tell them not to show their partners and tell them how many differences there are before they begin. (10 differences) Give picture A to one pupil and picture B to the other. Have students take turns describing what they have on their pictures. Encourage students to listen carefully, ask questions and mark the differences. Finally, they remove the barrier and compare and discuss the differences.

If anyone has any other ideas for barrier games or activities that help to improve ‘Speaking and Listening’ skills, please share via the comments section below.

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