Do you remember the Telephone Game, also referred to as the Broken Telephone or Pass the Message? By whatever name you might recall this childhood game, it is a fun way to develop listening and communication skills. For those who might have missed out on the fun, the rules of the game are simple. Start with five or more players standing in a line or circle so that each person has someone next to them. One person starts the telephone chain by whispering a set of words or a message to the person next to them. The player needs to pay close attention as the message will only be said once. The next person hears the message and passes it along to the next person exactly as he or she has heard it. Choose a message of moderate difficulty providing something which might be easily misheard.  As people relay the message from one person to another, the message often gets distorted, sometimes so much so that the intent of the original message is completely lost. We have all sent or received a text or email message where the intent changed somewhere between what was written and what was read. The telephone game is the live version of the misread text or email situation. 

The art of listening and communications skills are seemingly less developed these days, especially as people spend more time communicating through their devices rather than one on one. Having the skills to be a good listener and communicator does not happen without effort. Paying close attention, looking at the speaker while they speak, seeing the cues they present as they speak all communicate more than just words.  Active listening promotes one being “all in” with the conversation. You cannot communicate effectively if you cannot actively listen. 

In our technology-driven society, a fun face-to-face (rather “mouth to ear”) interaction can help promote listening skills and communication skills in a variety of ways. When listening for the message, the participant needs to focus on the speaker and what the speaker is saying. They need to pay close attention to what is being said to communicate the speaker’s original  intent. After hearing the message, the speaker needs to communicate the message effectively to the next person. Each person gets a chance to participate in this game as both listener and speaker.

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Games such as the Telephone Game can be played at any age and in almost any situation, such as at the beginning of a school year where a new classroom setting might seem overwhelming to a child, or an adult meeting where an ice-breaker might be helpful. Such games provides a fun setting focusing on both listening and communication skills and can be a win-win situation for kids of all ages.

Lisa Smith, M.A. DEVM, Teacher’s College Columbia University, is an Educational Consultant specializing in customized workshops supporting child development through play. Ms. Smith is also an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Union County College.  She can be reached at or her website