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Visual Glossary

Object of Play

The object of this game is to clearly define a set of terms so that a group has a common vocabulary.

It’s not in our nature to admit ignorance. When greeted with an unknown or abstract term, many people find it easier to pretend they understand than to ask for clarification.  This is dangerous in knowledge work, where a common understanding is necessary to work together.

Groups that make time to define their terms visually will work faster and more effectively by starting on the same page.

Number of Players


Duration of Play

30 minutes to 1 hour

How to Play

  1. Introduce the exercise as a means to create a common language. The first step is to brainstorm the tough phrases and terms that make up the group’s shared language.  Have the group brainstorm these individually on sticky notes.  Examples might be jargon, slang, technical terms, or acronyms that they use in the course of their everyday work.
  2. Have participants post their notes in one large pool and examine them. Discuss which terms were the most common and which are of the highest priority for visual definition.
  3. At this point, you are ready to make the glossary. From the pool, assign the most important terms a space on the wall. Pick a term to start with, and ask the group to describe it first with words. The group may uncover points that are foggy, conflicting, or inadequate in their verbiage.
  4. Then try to clarify the term with a picture.  Ask: what does this look like? If the term is abstract, try a diagrammatic approach.  Start with the people or things involved and connect them in a way that visually captures the definition. For example, the word social has many definitions and contexts, but by asking the group to describe a picture of what they mean, you will get a clearer definition.


Don’t try to define everything up front. Find the most important terms, where there is the most opportunity to clarify, and do those first.

A good visual glossary will have utility beyond one meeting. Use the visuals in follow-on activities; make them available online, or in training materials, if appropriate. Encourage participants to use the visual elements as shorthand when communicating and working with these terms.

The Visual Glossary game is credited to James Macanufo.