Gesture Down The Row

This is one of my favorite activities with larger groups.

I haven’t thought of a catchier name for it yet.

You know the game where Person A whispers something to Person B, who repeats that to Person C, who repeats it to Person D and so on around the circle?

Take that game and do charades instead of whispers.

Much fun.

When I first tried this, my introverted high school students liked that they could participate without being forced to talk in front of their friends. The outgoing ones were too busy entertaining us to notice they were essentially reviewing for a test.

Years later, when I worked with 4-12 year olds, I discovered this activity can be adjusted to almost any age. Adults seem to like it, too!

Here’s what you do (it might take a practice run, and then most will catch on quickly):

a) Get ready by making everybody line up in a row, so that you have a front of the line and a back of the line – not side by side.

b) Announce a category. Helps people focus their brain cells, especially if they’re new to this game. Let’s pretend the category is … Emotions.

c) The person in the back of the line (Person A) starts things off by tapping the shoulder of the person in front of him (Person B). Person B turns around to face Person A. No talking allowed!

d) Person A gestures, oh say, sad to Person B without talking and without making any helpful sounds. Person B happily gets it and turns to pass the gesture on to Person C, who is tapped on the shoulder as a signal to turn around to face Person B.

e) Naturally, those in the back of the row get to see how the gesture moves along towards the front of the row, and you need to encourage those who have already gone to not reveal any hints.

But no one may turn around towards the back until tapped on the shoulder by the person behind her/him.

f) When the gesture reaches the front of the row, that front person should easily identify the original gesture. Riiiiiiight.


1. I Know My ABCs. Tracing letters and words on the back of the person in front of you.

2. There are castles in the city. Gesturing the target vocabulary or phrase.

3. Make a Circle. Instead of a long row, little ones in class with a parent might be able to trace simple shapes (something like the great ditrigonal icosidodecahedrons) on their parents’ backs. Have the parents name the shape. Switch, and have the parents write on their little ones’ backs.

4. In smaller groups, have one person trace a shape or letter into another person’s hand.

5. Read My Lips. If you have access to a set of noise-cancelling headphones (1 per student), put headphones on each kid’s head. The first kid then articulates as clearly as possible phonics sounds, a word, phrase, song lyric, or the day’s weather report – again without talking.


1. Start with easily recognizable categories (emotions, foods, sports) no matter what the level of the group is. With experience, you can move into trickier categories.

2. Encourage fast play. Grab what you understand and pass it along.

If you notice the group agonizing over accuracy, divide them into smaller groups and turn the activity into a relay (see which team is the fastest at passing the gestures down the row).

3. Check beforehand whether your groups can benefit from mirrors or reflections in windows!

Okay. ___________ (Shh! No talking! I’m waving good-bye! Pass it on!)


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