Telephone challenges students to share a single phrase, with the goal of repeating the phrase to the next person exactly as it was said to you. This activity demonstrates how verbal messages have the potential to change and evolve when shared over time through multiple people. It can also serve as a metaphorical representation of rumors and gossip, a circuit, or a catalyst.
Invite students to sit or stand in a circle. Introduce the activity: I will begin by thinking of a word or phrase and whispering it in the ear of the participant next to me. That person whispers the phrase in the ear of the participant next to them, in the exact same manner as it was passed to them, and so on around the circle. Explain that the group challenge is to pass the message without changing anything. The catch is that no one may ask for a repeat of the whisper; students simply repeat whatever they thought they heard the first time. The idea is to see if we can get the same phrase to travel all the way around our group. Once the word or phrase has been passed around the circle, the first and last person shares the beginning and phrase. Discuss how or why the phrase might have changed. Suggest strategies for success and try again.
- How did we do as a group? Were we successful? Why or why not?
- How did the message change as it traveled?
- How does this game relate to your understanding of a rumor or gossip?
- What does this game have to do with the way people communicate everyday?
- No repeats allowed—say whatever you thought you heard!
- Remember the goal is try and successfully share and maintain the phrase around the circle. Think about what choices you can make to help us achieve our collective success.
- Pass a pantomimed gesture or sound instead of words.
- If helpful for the group, allow students say “operator” to hear the phrase a second time after it is spoken to them.
- Reading/Writing or Social Studies: Use the strategy to discuss a moment in a story, text, or historical event in which information gets passed from person to person. Invite students to consider: What parallels do we see between the way we passed information and the way information was passed in the event discussed? Explore connections to how history is constructed or how media shares information.