Most of us think that we understand and remember everything we hear, but when we're tested we find out that the truth is very different. The classic party game Telephone brings this to light, often with hilarious results. In addition to producing laughs, Telephone can help children or people learning English develop their active listening skills.
To play Telephone, you'll need a group of players. More is better, but a group of more than 10 players can make the game too long. If you have a large group, consider splitting your players into teams. Choose a phrase for the team to use or let them select one themselves. Phrases should be complicated, with plenty of detail and unfamiliar words -- for instance, try using a phrase such as "Mahogany tables don't look good painted fuchsia." The phrase should never be a familiar expression; these are too easy to remember. Only one player should know what the phrase is.
Starting the Whispers
The player who created or received the phrase starts the game by whispering it into the ear of another player. She cannot repeat the phrase, so the second player needs to listen carefully. The second player then whispers the phrase to the third player, who whispers it to the fourth, and so on until the last player.
Seeing the Outcome
Once all players have spoken, the last player repeats the phrase. Unless everyone on the team is a very clear speaker and a very attentive listener, the phrase will have changed. What began as "Mahogany tables don't look good painted fuchsia" might end up as "Behold, any stables look good waiting on blue sand." If you have time, go back through the players, asking each one what the original phrase was and pinpointing where the various changes occurred.
Scoring and Analyzing
Telephone doesn't really have a winner and loser -- it's about demonstrating a principle and creating some laughs in the process. You could give the same message to both teams and declare the one with the least-changed message the winner, although encouraging teams to be less funny is probably against the spirit of Telephone. This game can be an enjoyable springboard for discussion about the importance of active listening and the ways in which we tend to fill in details from context when not actively listening.
Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.