A humorous and educational look at speech pathology.

The last two posts, addressing Apples to Apples and Rory’s Story Cubes, have addressed games that are better geared toward expressive language. Today, I’m going to focus on a game that works well with receptive language and auditory processing, as well as sequencing and organizing language: Backseat Drawing by Out of the Box Games.

Variants/Expansions: Backseat Drawing Jr. is a re-implementation designed for ages 7 and up. The key difference is that the prompt cards in the Junior version are low-literacy friendly, as they contain the prompt word as well as a picture.

General Overview: Backseat Drawing is a directions-based drawing party game designed for 4-10 players. Players take turns playing various roles: the “Director” gives simple drawing directions to the “Artist”, who follows those directions to the best of her ability while the other players try to guess what the picture is. The Director is only allowed to give verbal directions using shapes, numbers, locations, and patterns, but not objects, actions, or letters. For example, directions to draw a domino could be, “Draw two squares that share an edge. Put five dots in a cross pattern in one square and three dots in a diagonal line in the other square.” While this may not precisely create the “X” shape the five dots are in on a real domino, it’s enough to get the answer out of the audience.

Skill Support:

  • Auditory Comprehension – The Artist needs to demonstrate good listening skills to comprehend and follow the directions.
  • Segmenting/Sequencing – The Director needs to be able to break the image down into its component shapes, then provide step-by-step instructions to recreate that image.
  • Vocabulary – The Director needs to be able to use locative vocabulary to instruct the Artist to put the shapes in the correct position, the Artist needs to be able to understand the locative vocabulary, and the other players need to be able to name the item drawn.
  • Approximation – The pictures drawn are often imperfect; the audience needs to be able to guess based on an approximation of an object.


  • The Game Is Simple: This is a game that can be played out of the box with less than five minutes of setup and rules explanation. Modeling game play is easy.
  • Variety of Roles: By placing the students in different roles, monotony is decreased, and the students in the audience are indirectly encouraged to use meta cognitive skills to visualize how they might draw a particular set of directions. Further, the roles each use different skills, so the level of engagement is varied throughout the game.
  • Absurdity as Instruction: Miscommunication between the Director and Artist can generate images that are silly and entertaining for the students. By following each failed attempt to recreate an image with a discussion of how different directions might have been more easily understood by the Artist, the therapist can use the silly context to generate spontaneous feedback and reinforcement.
  • Engages Multiple Learning Modalities: Verbally implementing drawing instructions and then engaging the created visual product gets students involved through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic channels.
  • Low Literacy Friendly (Junior version only): The Junior version of the game features pictures on the prompt cards, giving a clear visual reference for the Director as well as helping out Directors who have difficulty reading.
  • Modification Suggestions (Junior version): The Junior version’s instruction manual lists a number of possible modifications to the rules for younger players, including being more lenient with disallowed words (the base rules call for the round to end if the Director uses any disallowed words) and approximate naming rather than needing to say the specific word on the card.


  • “Telephone”: Much like in a game of Telephone, one person can serve as a weak link in the process, creating a frustrating experience for the rest of the players.
  • Markers: In my experience, giving students markers is risky due to the possibility of tables, textbooks, iPads, and the like being marked up by fidgety students (but maybe that’s because I have a large number of fidgety students).


  • Therapist as Artist: When teaching the game, being the Artist yourself can reduce the “Telephone” challenge of the game as well as provide opportunities for instructional sabotage (such as intentionally misinterpreting vague directions from a student Director).
  • Expanded Prompts: If the prompts in the game are difficult for your students, your students don’t find them interesting, or they’ve seen them all, you can draw from other resources like Rory’s Story Cubes to provide additional prompts.
  • Electronic Whiteboard: I’ve started using the Draw Free app on my iPad to take the place of the whiteboard and markers, and apps like Glow Coloring can further bedazzle the Artist’s work. There’s less chance for a mess, the students have a chance to integrate technology, and it’s a lot easier to clean (the whiteboard doesn’t erase as well as it could). The use of a SMART board could be useful here as well, allowing all the students to see the drawing process and providing the Director with real-time feedback as to the quality of directions being given.
  • Director Feedback: Especially with students who are having a hard time with the directions, I’ve found it useful to allow the Director to review the Artist’s work and clarify the directions. This provides the Director an opportunity to be more successful with the task and reinforces the clarifying skill.
  • Colors: Adding colors to the drawing process, especially as the students are just learning, can add an extra level of directions or help the audience understand better what is being drawn. This can easily be accomplished by adding colored dry erase markers or using a technological alternative to the whiteboards as described above.

Alternate Uses: Like with the other games I’ve discussed thus far, the cards in Backseat Drawing can be used as prompts for the Expanding Expression Tool, story generation (can you tell yet that I use a narrative approach to school therapy?), and many other tasks requiring many noun prompts.

Overall, Backseat Drawing is unique among board game tools in speech therapy in that in engages students on multiple levels by integrating multiple roles in the game as well as being multisensory in nature. Students of all ages will likely enjoy determining where a Director’s instructions went wrong, and the drawing aspect of the game can let students who have artistic talents but struggle verbally have an opportunity to shine in speech class. This game’s a recent addition to my therapy bag  (or, as my sister refers to it, the “creepy old man bag”), but it’s a keeper in my book.

Has anyone else had experience using this game in therapy? How useful has it been? What other uses and modifications have you used? Are there any board games you’d like to see discussed in this space in the future?



Comments on: "Board Games and Speech Therapy: Backseat Drawing" (9)

  1. Great post- I didn’t know about this game…just put in my amazon cart. Thanks!!

    • Sean, I was actually trying to go through your archives for something for this post, and decided to publish without finding it or asking you. I thought I recalled at some point a SpeechTechie post about cheap/free drawing apps that I was going to reference for the “Electronic Whiteboard” section, but couldn’t locate it. Am I remembering correctly?

  2. […] previous posts in this series have focused on games that were originally produced in English-speaking countries and that are […]

  3. […] can benefit from using these cards as prompts are the Expanding Expression Tool, Apples to Apples, Backseat Drawing, and pretty much any other activity that involves identifying or describing […]

  4. […] collection that encourages students to collaborate rather than compete (the other notable one being Backseat Drawing). Because the student asking questions needs a single answer to get a good idea of what their […]

  5. […] I mentioned in the Backseat Drawing post that one person can serve as a weak link. This is doubly true here; being seated next to the […]

  6. […] who have difficulty conceptualizing “in”, using a SMART Board, tablet, or another game with a whiteboard or other drawing surface to sketch a picture of the comparison could be […]

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