This activity is a 'Picasso dictation' where the teacher describes a picture and the students draw it. This is based on Salvador Dali’s 1937 surrealist painting “Swans Reflecting Elephants”. It can be adapted for the language and artistic skills of your students.


Content: introduction to Dalí and surrealism

Language: artistic skills

Skills: listening and speaking/writing

Lexis: vocabulary to describe paintings – the objects in the painting, colours and shades (can be adapted according to language level of students)




  • Tell your students to get out a blank sheet of paper and drawing materials.
  • Read out the description of the picture one line at a time and let students draw what you describe. You might prefer to read the whole description once before students start to draw and then read one line at a time. Read at a speed suitable for the language ability of the students and give enough time for students to draw before reading the next line. If your focus is art then give more time, if language is more important give less time. You may need to read each line several times. Tell students not to look at each other’s drawings until the end. (Optional – give students the written description of the picture to see if they want to make any changes)
  •  When the students have finished drawing, tell them to look at each others’ pictures – this usually leads to a lot of laughing!
  • Finally, show the class the original picture.


This activity can be followed up in several ways:

  • Speaking and listening – give pairs of students new pictures and tell them to describe and draw, as above.
  • Writing – give students other pictures and ask them to write their own descriptions.
  • Follow up with more work on Dalí and the surrealists according to your curriculum.
  • You can simplify the picture description for lower level students or write your own for another painting.

By Chris Baldwin


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