Information gap activities: what does it take to design a successful task?

Information gap activities: what does it take to design a successful task?

What makes an  information-gap task / activity a smashing hit in class? Why do some of these activities fail miserably to engage students and are dismissed as utterly boring ?

This post focuses on what makes such a task successful in terms of motivation, interaction and language output.  You can also find two jigsaw activities involving reading and speaking.

When things go wrong....

I can still remember when doing my teaching practice sessions. The technique I had recently unearthed from  a methodology book seemed fantastic!!! Two articles from different newspapers on the same  story. Students  divided in two groups. Group A reads the story  on newspaper A and respectively Group B  the report on newspaper B. Ss  work in pairs (formed by an A and a B). Then they discuss the story they've read with their partner and try to spot differences in each version.

Bought two different newspapers that very day. Found a story they had in common and designed the lesson. Success was guaranteed, or so I thought....

Learners could not spot any difference, the texts were long, linguistically challenging  and the topic was completely indifferent to them. What's more, there was no task dependency or a real life task to do. The outcome: shambles!!!

Here's a brief check list  to tick off when designing or choosing an information gap activity:
1.  Is enough info missing to stimulate students' imagination/curiosity?
2. Do students really need their partner's snippet of info to bridge the gap?
3. Is the outcome of the activity unpredictable or ambiguous enough so that students will not guess easily without having to communicate?
4. Is the task within the learners' schematic knowledge and linguistic range?

Below you can read two information gap activities.

Jigsaw reading
Digital material can be easily adapted to create an information gap activity especially if there is an interactive whiteboard.
The following activity was done in class using an interactive coursebook based on a reading activity. The students had to read the three texts as shown on photo no 1 and answer comprehension questions.
Instead I divided  students into three groups (A,B,C) and asked each group to use the   tool on their toolbar to focus on the text assigned to their group (A, B and C accordingly) and hide the others.
Photo from Access 1 (With the permission of Express Publishing)

step 1 Each group has to read their text and discuss if necessary, the difficult or unclear points in their group. Urge them to take notes if they think they will not remember the main points of the story.

Text assigned to group C

Step 2 students form mixed groups with A,B and C members. They are the editorial team of a website and they have to decide which one of the three stories, they should post. The students are not allowed to read each other's texts. They can only use their notes.

Step 3 They present their decision justifying it based on the discussion they had.

My pet monster
Ask pupils to imagine they have a pet monster.  Draw an example on the board (I usually draw a  cute monster with three heads ,  five legs,  6 arms etc) Ask them to draw their pet monster  on their notebook but they must not show their partner. If you need to encourage writing you can ask them to write a brief description:
Boo is my pet monster. It has got 3 heads and a big smile on the heads. It has also got .....

Then ask them to work in pairs. Student A describes his/her monster and Student B draws it. They are not allowed to look at each other's drawings until they've finished the description and drawing. Then they compare the two monsters. Finally, they swap roles and student B describes while student A draws.
A particularly popular activity among young learners who practice "have got", numbers, parts of the body and colors (if they have colour pencils with them).

Tips and Hints
  •  Make sure that students do not cheat because they will lose interest soon.
  •  Be prepared for a "creatively" noisy class
  • Insist that your students use English during the activity
  •  Optionally, give delayed feedback based on your monitoring during the activity
  • Don't hesitate to stop the activity and give instructions again if some pairs or groups have no clear idea of what they have to do.

 Information gap activities can stimulate a class and help shy students lower their inhibitions.

I look forward to reading your experience with such activities!
Dimitris Primalis    


  1. Great Post Dimitris Primalis!! I higly agree with you. The most relevant and significative learning we can provide to our students the best production we can get. Great activities to work. Once again, thank you for your kind contribution to the field. Congrats!!! Well deserved!!!

  2. The activities are interesting, but for me it's the first part that's the most important. All too often we think 'Yeah - that's a great idea!' but this idea can very easily fall flat as you pointed out. It's vital to ask ourselves 'Can anything go wrong?' and if possible to pilot new activities before experimenting on our unsuspecting students... :-) The first 4 points are particularly important, as are the first and last of the 'Tips and Hints'. Thanks for sharing! :-)

    1. Thank you, Nick! It is important to try again if the activity does not work basing our modifications on the feedback we have received. The second time is usually better than the first one.

  3. My favourite one is the pet monster - I love the creativity, kinaesthetic, artistic and communicative work the lesson plan provides:))

    - a crucial aspect of your article, of course, is the pragmatic warning as to how even the best activities can flop when we get too excited about the activity and forget the student-centred experience and how it will be for them as learners.

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