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How to Play the Broken Telephone Game (+ Phrases)

Here are some fun broken telephone phrases, as well as an explanation of how to play the telephone game.

You have probably played a version of the “broken telephone game” as a child, either at a party, in a classroom, or at home.

You may have called the game “pass the message,” “whisper” or just “telephone.”

People of all ages around the world take part in a similar activity. Depending on your country, the name you call this game can translate to “whisper down the lane,” “from ear to ear,” “secret message,” or “gossip.”

No matter where you live or what you call it, the broken telephone game is wonderful for engaging your preschooler and learning while playing.

Play it around the dinner table for some family fun.

Children at a party playing the broken telephone game

How Do You Play Broken Telephone?

The telephone game rules are simple:

  1. Gather 3 or more players.
  2. The person starting the game thinks of a word or phrase and whispers it into the next player’s ear only once, with no repeats allowed.
  3. That listener tries to correctly repeat that same word or phrase into the next player’s ear. The last person in the line or at the end of the circle repeats the phrase or word aloud.
  4. Allow a moment for giggles if the message is “broken” or changed. The player who started announces the correct word or phrase.
  5. Players take turns thinking of the next phrase or word to pass through a whisper.
Reasons to play the broken telephone game

What Does the Game Telephone Teach Us?

Older kids learn about the pitfalls of listening to and believing gossip. After several people have told a tale, the story often twists and evolves. This can be an important tool to use for building social skills and even in counseling.

Although some older preschoolers may begin to grasp the concept of gossip, this circle game has a host of other educational benefits for kids, such as the following:

1. Sounds Through Alliteration

Encourage your child to practise target sounds and develop their auditory perception through the use of alliteration. For example, ask them to repeat, “Little Larry likes to lick lollipops.”

This offers them practice with the sound of the target letter “L.” They hear how the letter sounds and notice what happens if someone misunderstands.

2. Rhyming

Rhyming is an important pre-reading skill. When your child hears and repeats a phrase such as, “Auntie Jewel swam in the pool,” they hear how “Jewel” and “pool” sound alike.

As a follow-up activity, talk about other words that sound the same: “school,” “cruel/crewel,” and “tool.”

Children are learning patterns they can then translate into print when they begin to read, such as knowing that “cool,” “fool,” “pool” and “tool” all sound and look alike.

3. Listening

Your goals for your preschooler often includes an increased attention span. By taking part in this fun game, their job is to be a good listener so they can pass on the correct words. If they are not attentive, they may not be able to repeat the phrase to the next player.

Musical Statues and Simon Says are two games that are perfect for developing listening skills in early childhood.

Also, try a listen and draw activity to teach following directions.

Mom and daughters playing broken telephone game

4. Patience and Taking Turns

Part of the socialization process is learning to take turns and wait for others. This game helps youngsters practise these skills.

5. Memory

Working memory is an important cognitive skill that you can practise through this game. Children listen carefully and keep the words in mind long enough to repeat them.

6. Vocabulary

When talking with kids, we often use the same sorts of words from one situation to the next.

With the game of telephone, parents and teachers can deliberately introduce new words in sentences where the context helps to explain what the words mean.

Discussing what these new words mean after the game will help broaden your child’s vocabulary.

Other great ways to increase vocabulary are playing the Odd One Out Game or teaching your child to follow 2 step directions.

7. Drawing and “Writing” Stories

Later, when children search for an idea for a dictated story with a picture, they can think about topics brought up in the telephone game. They can expand on the ideas and put those into a more tangible form on paper.

Children drawing

8. Categorization

Category formation is an important cognitive skill.

The game may be played with the adult choosing the words each time, to fit into a certain category, such as farm animals. At the end, ask your child what the words all have in common.

9. Cooperation

When you present this game to children, stress that the goal is for the message to remain “unbroken” and make it all the way to the end in its original form. Build upon the idea of this being a team effort to see if they can do it!

Each preschooler then feels a certain responsibility to do their best for the good of the group.

10. Having Fun

If the message is “broken,” urge the players to smile, laugh and try to listen more carefully next time. Above all else, have fun and enjoy the experience.

What is a Good Telephone Game Phrase?

Cartoon of children playing the telephone game

Depending on your child’s age and understanding, choose from the following types of telephone game phrases for kids:

  • A single word for the youngest
  • Alliteration or using a target letter sound at the beginning of single words or those in phrases
  • Use of target sounds at the end or in the middle of words
  • Tongue twisters that mix sounds, such as “s” and “sh” (“Sally sells seashells…”)
  • Use of players’ names; kids love to hear their own names used in games
  • A real event that actually happened involving the players
  • Fun words that kids love to hear and say: “bonkers,” “clodhopper,” and “pizzazz,” for example
  • Themed words, such as colours, animal names, nature words, etc.
  • Increased complexity and less familiarity of phrases for older preschoolers
  • Introduction of more unusual nouns, verbs, and adjectives to help increase vocabulary

Broken Telephone Phrases

You can use short or long phrases to begin the game. Then hear the broken telephone sentences revealed at the end of the line or circle. Or be pleasantly surprised by phrases that make it to the end intact.

Here are some sample broken telephone sentences to get you started:

  • The shark tank holds a guppy.
  • I wish I had a pet alligator.
  • White roses have green, thorny stems.
  • Ten tiny toads ate five flying flies.
  • A bunch of yellow bananas ripened on the table.
  • Twelve tall people pulled turnips from the garden.

Here is a list of 100 Telephone game phrases.

The possibilities are endless. Model the kinds of telephone game sentences you know are likely to work with your children.

When the time comes for them to choose words and sentences, they can follow your lead, or they may totally amaze you!


Would you like a year of done-for-you, ten-minute activities to teach your 3-5-year-old through play? Get your copy of the Learning Through Play Activity Pack for only $27.

Activity Pack for preschoolers

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