A fun family word game

words in hat

writing words 2

writing words

choosing words

playing letter game

When we were in Chile in December, we coincidentally (and luckily!) bumped into another travelling family whom I have been following on Instagram for the past year. This family of four (@ouropenroad) have been travelling around South America in their westy van for the past three years (what an adventure!), and happened to be passing through our little surfing village on their way up to Santiago. We spent three wonderful days with Adam, Emily and their two girls – sunny days on the beach followed by dinners back at our little cabin. After dinner one night, they taught us a really fun charades-type of game, which we played until late that night and which has since become a family favourite over the past couple of months.

We played nearly every evening when my sister was with us over Christmas – with daily requests from the kids to play the ‘letter game’, as it’s been coined in our family, and we’ve spent many rainy afternoons inside our camper van playing over the past couple weeks. We’ve played it so many times, that we’ve now covered off every letter in the alphabet, and we’re starting again encouraging the kids to come up with new words.

The game is great fun for adults and reading-age children alike, and it’s educational too – our kids have learned so many new words which have since become regular words in their vocabulary. It’s also great for travel as you don’t need anything but some paper and pens – and a bowl (or a hat!) to hold your words. You also need an even number of people with a minimum of four (breaking off into teams of two).

Here’s how to play: 

  1. Divide into teams of two. If you’re playing with kids, we have found that it’s best to pair up an adult with a child.
  2. Collectively choose a letter from the alphabet. (If you’re playing with kids, it’s best to choose a relatively easy letter – one which starts many common words, like M for example.)
  3. Give each person 6 blank little pieces of paper. (You can increase the number for longer games, just as long as each person gets the same amount.)
  4. Each person will then write down six different words, one word onto each piece of paper, without showing your words to anyone else. The words must begin with the letter you all agreed upon, and they can not be a proper noun (name or place). So you’ll write six words (Mouse, Menace, Mix, Moon, Monkey, and Magic, for example). If you’re playing with kids, it’s nice to choose words you know the kids will understand – though saying this, my husband always likes to throw in a couple more challenging words because he likes that the kids learn some new words each game, despite how frustrated they might get during the game.
  5. After you’ve written your words, fold the papers and put them all into the bowl (or hat). The bowl will now have 24 words inside if you’re playing with four people. Note: there might be duplicate words, and this is okay.
  6. Now, you’re ready to start playing the game. Situate yourselves around a table or room, with team members sitting across from each other and the bowl of words in the middle. The object of the game is to be the team that collects the most words by the end of the game. You collect a word if you can get your team member to guess which word you’ve chosen from the bowl.
  7. The game consists of three rounds. The first round you are able to use words and actions to describe your word, but you can’t say the word or any form of the word. For example, if you chose the word ‘monkey’ from the bowl, you can turn toward your team member and explain that it’s an animal that often lives in the jungle, swings from the trees, eats bananas and another word for it is ‘ape’, all the while acting out that you’re a monkey. Your team member will then guess ‘monkey’ and you keep the word and quickly choose another word from the bowl. Each person gets one minute to try to get their team member to guess as many words as possible. If you get stuck on a word and your partner can’t guess it, you can not choose another word. You just have to keep trying until your time is up. When the buzzer rings after one minute, you pass the bowl to the next team and they will do the same. During this round, you pass the bowl around until the bowl is empty, making sure you alternate teams and take turns with the people around the room (we usually go in a circle). If someone didn’t get a turn during the round because all the words were used by the time it was his turn, that’s okay. This person will start the next round.
  8. After round one, when the bowl is empty, everyone counts their words and the teams add theirs up. For example, one team might have 10 words and the other team has 14. Write down your scores from round one. Then fold the words back up and throw them all back into the bowl for round two.
  9. Round two: by now, everyone has had a chance to hear all the words that are in the bowl. This round is slightly trickier – you will go around just like the previous round, trying to get your partner to guess the words, but this time you can’t make any sounds, ONLY actions. You will do as you did in the previous round with each person getting one minute to try to get their partner to guess as many words you can get, acting out each word. Again, if your partner can’t guess the word, you can’t choose another word. You can only take another word from the bowl if your partner guessed your last word. Go around the table just like round one, and when the bowl is empty, count up your words and write down your team’s score. Add your score to your score from the previous round. And again, fold the words back up and throw them all back into the bowl.
  10. Round three: again, you will do just what you did in the previous two rounds, starting with the person who’s turn it was from the previous round. But this time, you can not use any actions at all. You can only say ONE single word (but not the word on the paper). So, for ‘Monkey’ you can simply say ‘ape’. You will find that there are words that are much easier than others, but many elements from earlier rounds will help you decide which word to use to describe your word. Think carefully before you blurt out your word, because you don’t get to add a second word if your partner is confused by your first word. Just one word, and your partner has to guess what is written on your card. Again, each person gets 60 seconds to try to get their partner to guess as many words in the bowl. Take turns passing the bowl around, alternating teams. When the bowl is empty, count your words and add up your team’s score. Add to the previous scores. The team with the highest number wins the game!
  11. If you want, you can play again with a different letter. Endless fun awaits!

I hope this all makes sense. It turns out that writing game instructions is actually more difficult than you’d think! : ) If you have questions, just leave them in the comments section below and I will answer.

Have fun!
Courtney xx


Comments (15)

February 2, 2016

LOVE this game! I played it as a teenager but we put celebrity names in the hat. Wonderful to see a kids adaptation, will need to try it with my kids! xxx

February 2, 2016

Oh this sounds great! We will definitely give this a go. it will be a nice change to the “guess what animal I am” where you have to think of an animal and everyone has to ask questions about its look/habitat etc. We do that one a lot in the car – except Zak knows all weird and wonderful creatures from his unusual animals books and we don’t guess half of them! Love to know what else you’ve been up to on the down moments! X

February 2, 2016

Thank you so much! We’re going in holidays next week and definitely will try this new game! 😀
Enjoy your trip, we love your IG photos!

February 2, 2016

Sounds like so much fun, and bless you for sitting down and writing out such clear, detailed instructions, thank you!

February 2, 2016

Simply love this game, we have been playing this for quite a while in our family, we call it the name game, I think you explained it perfectly better than I could of done! Happy gaming X

February 2, 2016

Great game! Ilove charades games. Here is our funny twist to this one. In the third round, you can’t say anything, you can ONLY act out the word with your facial expressions, or you can make a sound ( roll your eyes for teh word wave, or you can bark if the word is dog etc.). So-so funny. Lots of laugh guaranteed.

Have fun on this fantastic trip of yours.

February 3, 2016

I just played this game for the first time a few months! It was so fun and now I’m glad you wrote instructions out for small groups – because we played it in two large groups of 10 people each! My favorite word from when we played was Mytochondia. Gosh, it was funny to see people acting that one out! You should sneak that one in and see if Michael can guess it 😉

February 4, 2016

This game got a name here in France “Time’s up” ! Love this game so much. It’s also very funny to play with adults because we can have famous people too. Enjoy !

February 6, 2016

[…] posted the instructions on Babyccino this week, but also wanted to share the photos here as well — to document a favourite […]

February 7, 2016

So fun! In our version, there is a round where you have to “be” the word without making any sounds. So if the word is saxophone you have to act like the instrument (and not the person playing it). May be too difficult for kids though?

March 17, 2016

[…] also love playing this letter game, which I’ve mentioned in a previous post. It’s a great game for learning vocabulary and […]

March 19, 2016

Sounds like a fun and educational game Courtney, thank you for sharing.
We are a family of 11 and often play another alphabet game whilst driving.
You start with the letter “A” and have to find a word starting with the chosen letter on either a sign or advertisement. You can only move onto the next letter ie “B” once the previous letter has been found and so on.
You play altogether, often with much enthusiasm as one finds the allocated letter and we all move onto the next letter. You may already be familiar with this game, however thought I’d share

July 22, 2016

Love it! In New Zealand, we call it ‘Awesome Saucepan’ Hours of fun!

Liz Turrigiano
July 30, 2017

This sounds like such fun! One quick question. If your teammate is unable to guess the word in the allotted time, what do you do with that word when the minute is up. Back in the bowl? Thx!

Courtney in Australia
July 31, 2017

Hi Liz,
Thanks for your comment. Yes, the word goes back into the bowl (without saying what the word is). Hope that helps! x

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