Five Games for Teachers (Part 1): Reverse Charades / Rollick

reverse-charadesWith the school year about to start, I got to thinking about the games I always had with me in my class room. After 18 years of teaching, these were the ones I found myself going to over and over again. Over the next week or so I will be sharing my top 5…

The Game: Reverse Charades or Rollick

These games, Reverse Charades and Rollick are virtually identical owing to a split between the creators. Both won the Major Fun Award and they are both excellent choices. I tend to refer to the games interchangeably as Reverse Charades because the game of charades is recognized by my students. I’ll continue to do so here.

Reverse Charades is my go-to game for those unexpected deviations in the schedule: those times when your class is waiting to be called down for pictures or waiting for a speaker to show up or just when your lesson or class activity ended earlier than expected. I tend to introduce it early in the semester as a way to relax a bit with my students and let them perform. I have it on my phone, but I also keep several copies of Rollick in my room. The app version is well worth the investment.

The Set-up:

Rollick_Spread1Reverse Charades is just like the classic game Charades except that the group does the acting and an individual does the guessing. For the past several years my class size was around 20 so splitting the class in half was doable. A class much bigger than 20 and you will probably need to make at least 3 teams. With teams of 10 I will have 7 actors and 3 guessers. The guessers always rotate out, and a student can’t become a guesser again until everyone on the team has been one.

You will also need to arrange a space between the actors and the guessers. A row of desks or a table or lines of tape on the floor will do. Over the course of the game, especially as the tension and excitement mount, there is a very strong tendency for the actors and guessers to move toward each other as if they will attack one another. I suggest keeping a space of 6 or 8 feet between the two groups—you can even deduct points if they violate the “neutral zone.”

Maybe it goes without saying but I will mention it anyways: this game is loud. There is no way to make it quiet without straight-jacketing the whole affair. Consider the classes around you, and be prepared to accept a certain degree of exuberance and chaos into your life.

When it is time to start, bring one group of actors up to the front. If you are playing with the physical game, give the timer to a student on the other team. Show the clues to the actors and then listen for the guessers to answer. Make sure the guessers say the answer and not the actors. You’ll also need to watch so that the actors aren’t mouthing words or using letters and numbers. Usually this is done accidentally or in the heat of the moment. A reminder usually works but subtracting a point can drive the point home if someone seems to be “forgetting” too much.

The Value:

At the risk of raising a gasp of astonishment from legislators and gasp of mock astonishment from everyone else, there are moments of “down time” in school. So far, it has proven impossible to structure each and every moment of each and every day. For which I say, “Thank goodness.”

Being playful is a hallmark of intelligence. It is one of the traits of our remarkable neural architecture. Not a by-product. Not a happy accident. Playfulness is not a product of intelligence so much as an aspect of it—much like the relationship between magnetism and electricity. Reverse Charades provides a lightly competitive way for my students to play with words and ideas and communication in a way that brings all of us closer together. Sure we all like scoring and winning, but we absolutely love laughing and acting and guessing. The important thing here is play and the engagement that occurs in its pursuit.

Now, maybe you need something a bit more academic—a justification that fits better with state standards. If that’s the case then consider the thinking and communication skills that are involved in a game of charades. The actor needs to understand the target word or phrase, in many cases must break the clue into discrete parts, and then must decide on the best physical clues to give in order for the guessers to get to the target. The guessers must attend to the physical actions of the pantomime as well as the actions that show them where to focus their attention. They must come up with multiple ways of expressing the actions and in most cases must then come up with synonyms in order to get to the exact wording. Indiana has the following standard for 11th and 12th graders:

Indiana Standard (Speaking and Listening) 11-12.SL.3.1: Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems…

This is a very basic standard that exists in almost all disciplines and across all grades. My guess is that your state has a standard that reads like this one (maybe even word for word given the way these standards often come to be written).

In general, I found that the more I got my students to just play with ideas in ways that made them laugh, the more likely they were to play and engage with the “serious” curricular materials.

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