10 January 2016

15 Great Group Games

My first junior youth group, 2003
Over about 12 years of facilitating junior youth groups in various forms, I made a growing list of the best group games I've encountered. I'll provide details below on how to facilitate the games, and what worked well in different situations.

The spiritual empowerment program for junior youth is intended to provide a rough balance between study, service, and recreation. To be successful, the group should not focus on one of those exclusively, or ignore one entirely. With that in mind, the recreational piece can be defined pretty broadly, and incorporate anything from crafts to sports, hiking, or trips to the zoo. Many of these games have the advantage of being short and easy to organize, so they could be added to every gathering. 

Junior youth groups are meant for ages 11-15, during a time of growing social awareness. Especially in the first few meetings after a group forms, it's important to establish an attraction and desire to participate. While the facilitators should be careful not to make it a group who's only purpose is to play, recreational activities are great for establishing friendships and leave people with a good feeling about the group.

Please leave comments if you have more to add.


The tricky part of this game is that you need to create a repetitive beat that everyone participates in. For example, slap your legs, clap, snap, pause. Repeat. 

Once everyone gets the pattern, pick a category, such as animals. As the facilitator, you'll start, and on the "pause" beat you'll say the name of an animal. On the next beat the person to your left will have to say the name of an animal that hasn't been said already, then the person to their left, and so on. If someone hesitates or repeats on their turn, they get eliminated and the next person in order continues.

Eventually you'll have two people going back and forth one after the other until one fails. The game goes fast, so don't be afraid to eliminate people and start a new category. If people are having a hard time, practice first with the alphabet as the solution set, or say that the game has to go around the circle once before anyone can be eliminated.

Try another round with the category plants, or states, or countries, or names of people you know.


Choose an outspoken person and send them out of the room so they cannot hear. Maybe put headphones on them to make sure they can't hear. 

Everyone else needs to decide on a mental problem that everyone has. It works best if the facilitator dictates the problems rather than brainstorm as a group. When the psychiatrist returns, they need to go around the room asking questions (any questions) and try to figure out what the problem is. I'll give an example:

You tell everyone that they only answer the previous question, not the current one. The first answer is a wash so it can be any answer. The psychiatrist comes back in and asks someone, 
Question 1: "What's your favorite color?" Person 1: "I like cheese!"
Question 2: "What is your name?" Person 2: "Green"
Question 3: "How old are you?" Person 3: "James"
Question 4: "What grade are you in?" Person 4: "14"
Question 5: "How many slices of pizza did you eat?" Person 5: "8"
Question 6: "What is your favorite color?" Person 6: "3"

It won't take long for the psychiatrist to guess the problem. Usually someone volunteers right away to go out and be the psychiatrist. Here is a full list of ailments that work well. Keep in mind that the answer usually doesn't have to have anything to do with the question.
  1. Answer the previous question, not the current one.
  2. Look at the psychiatrist's feet for the duration of the answer.
  3. Touch your head for the duration of the answer.
  4. Answer in a full sentence and use a color in your answer (requires creativity).
  5. Answer as the President would answer.
  6. Your answer must have exactly two words.
  7. Answer in one word that starts with the last letter of the question.
The last one is the most difficult, so give it to the person who thinks they're so smart that they'll definitely get it. There's always one.

Positive Encouragement

Similar to psychiatrist, send someone out of the room. Decide as a group what you want that person to do when they return. Typically it will be in the form of "go to this thing and do something with it".

When the person returns, nobody is allowed to say anything. They can only clap and provide praising hoots and hollers. Like playing hot or cold, it won't take the person long to find the place in the room, then they'll have to try to find the "thing". Sometimes they need to be reminded to try different things and not just stand there. When they find the thing, usually it's obvious what they're supposed to do, and everyone gives a huge cheer when they accomplish their job.

Example: the group decides that the person should go to a particular set of venetian blinds and raise them up. When the person walks in the direction of the blinds, the claps get louder, when the person walks away from the blinds, the claps disappear. When the person is standing within reach of the blinds, there is constant clapping. When they touch the string, it gets even louder, and when they pull the blinds up, everyone yells in delight.

In the venetian blinds example, it's pretty obvious that you either raise them or spin them. If the thing is a glass of water, then obviously the person should drink it. If the thing is a hat... a flower... a book... you know. Have them find a cell phone, and then call the phone right when they pick it up. They'll know what to do.

If people are good at this game you can make it more complicated, like read a particular book to a particular person. Or water a particular plant.

Celebrity - Forehead

For this celebrity game, you need to make a list of famous people beforehand. The only requirement is that it is the name of a person everybody would know. So it could be a person in the group, a singer, actor, fictional character, historical figure, etc.

Start by taping a name to somebody's forehead so that the person wearing the paper can't see the name. Give instructions that nobody is allowed to say the name or give any hints about it. Once everyone has a celebrity name, you can start by asking one yes/no question about who you are. Once you've asked your question, go around the circle giving everyone a chance to ask one question. Keep going until everyone figures out who they are.

For example, you might ask:

  • Am I a female?
  • Am I fictional? 
  • Am I in a movie? 
  • Was I born before 1950?
  • Am I black? 
  • Do I sing pop songs?
If people get stuck you might give them a hint by telling them what question to ask, as long as you don't say their name.

Celebrity - Taboo/Charades

In this case, the names of celebrities are generated by the participants. Give everyone four slips of small paper and ask them to write the name of a famous person on each paper. If someone wants to write more, give them more papers.

Drop all the papers into a hat and play Taboo. Someone will have exactly one minute while drawing names one at a time to get the audience to guess the person, but the speaker cannot say the name of the person. For example... Time starts. Draws paper, says to audience, "Who is the current president?" Someone shouts, "Barack Obama!" Draws another paper, says to audience, "Who is that guy who left One Direction?" "Zayn Malik", and so on until the timer is up. There is no need to keep score or compete people against each other. The audience wants to be the first to guess the name, and the speaker will count up the correct answers to see how many they can get in a minute.

Continue giving turns until all the papers have been used up. If people don't recognize a name, throw it out of the pool. Repeats are okay.

Then start round two. Shuffle the papers in the hat, and play the same game, except now they can only say one word to get the audience to guess the famous person. Example... "President", audience shouts "Barack Obama". "Direction", audience shouts "Zayn Malik", and so on. They can only say one word, so if they choose a word and the audience doesn't get it, they have to wait until the timer is done. Everyone has heard all the names previously at this point, so it's not too hard.

Then start round three. Shuffle the papers in the hat, and play the same game, except now they cannot say any words. They must use movements to get the audience to guess.

Junior youth are everywhere

Drawing Telephone

This one requires some preparation, and you need at least six people.

Estimate how many people will participate. If eight people will participate, including you, then make eight stacks of index cards or cut printer paper into quarters (If you're not sure if you'll get a ninth person, then make nine stacks of eight papers) Each of the eight stacks should have eight little papers. Staple each stack in the corner. If you want to be even more prepared, label the sheets of paper 1-8 with small page numbers.

When you start the game, give everyone a stack of paper and some pencils (colored pencils are best). First, ask everyone to write their name somewhere on the first page. Then ask everyone to also write a description of a scene on the first page. The more detail and the more outlandish the scenario, the better (Example: A rhinoceros flying a plane over a desert). Don't give any further instructions until everyone has finished.

Ask everyone to pass their stack of paper at the same time to the left. Explain carefully that each person must read the description, turn the page, and draw a picture on page two (Do NOT write on the back of page one!). Try not to use any words in the picture.

Once everyone has finished their drawing, make sure everyone's paper is folded so that only the picture is on top. Then everyone passes at the same time to the left again. Now each person should look at the picture only, turn the page, and write a description on page three. Continue like this, alternating between writing and drawing, without looking at previous pages, until the stack of paper is spent and it returns to its owner.

You don't have to give any further instructions. When people get their original stacks back, they will quickly flip through to see how things changed with each person, and laughter will ensue. The funniest stacks of paper will be passed around naturally to everyone. If you have a very shy group, ask a few individuals to flip through and show everyone each page, reading the text.

Egg, Chicken, Dinosaur

This one has no purpose other than some physical exercise and to make people do silly things. You'll need at least 6 people, and it works with as many as 40.

Tell everyone that they are eggs and to get into an egg position by hugging their legs. Remind them that eggs cannot talk. Eggs can only waddle around and play rock-paper-scissors with other eggs. Choose two people for demonstration purposes and have them play rock-paper-scissors until one wins, then ask everyone what hatches from an egg... a chicken!

The winner evolves into a chicken, and must flap their wings and cluck. Remind them that chickens do not speak English. The egg who lost must go on to find another egg and play again, creating a second chicken. Then two chickens recognize each other and play rock-paper-scissors. Still in demonstration mode, ask the group what a chicken evolves into... a dinosaur! The loser remains a chicken and has to wait until another chicken hatches.

The winner of the chicken battle evolves into a T Rex and has to keep their elbows pinned to their side, while scraping the air with their two claws, while roaring. Remind them that dinosaurs do not speak English.

At this point mention that dinosaurs evolve into... superman! When someone wins a dinosaur battle, they must fly around the group in circles while singing a song like the Star Wars theme.

Now ask everyone to go back to being eggs and start the game for real. Eventually you will end up with one egg, one chicken, one dinosaur, and a bunch of people flying around in circles. Now announce to the group that the egg is actually the winner, the chicken second place, and the dinosaur third place.

Sharks and Minnows

This is by far my favorite sportsy game because it evens out physical ability. The only challenge is getting a clear perimeter for the game. For most sized groups (7-12) a basketball court is a great size. If you're in a field, you'll need several cones or shoes or sticks to make a court. If you're at the beach it's easy to draw a big square.

Choose an athletic person and place them in the very center of the court. Everyone else should be lined up on one side of the court along the edge. When the person in the middle says, "go", everyone must stay inside the court boundaries and get to the opposite side without being tagged by the shark. 

When someone gets tagged, they must plant their feet at the spot and stay there. They become seaweed that can help the shark catch the minnows. The shark, likely with one seaweed now, goes to the center of the court and shouts, "go". The minnows now must make it to the opposite side without being tagged by the shark or seaweed. Continue running back and forth until the last minnow is tagged. If someone goes out of bounds, they take one step inward and plant as a seaweed.

The last minnow to get tagged gets to be the next shark. Slow people will get tagged early and not have to run much, but they can still participate by tagging others as seaweed. Fast people end up being super exhausted, especially when they win the first round, then become the shark and have to run even more. After a few rounds everyone is pretty well evened out.

Make adjustments to the court size depending on your group. With a rectangular court and a large group, try lining up on the long side with a shorter crossing. If the seaweed ends up forming an impenetrable barrier, then the court is too small. If the shark doesn't catch a minnow in the first two runs, the court is too big.

West Wind Blows

Sit everyone in a circle in chairs (not couches) with one person in the middle, and no empty chairs. The person in the middle says, "The west wind blows on everyone... " and they can finish the sentence with whatever they want. Everyone fitting the description must get up out of their chair and find a new seat, while the person in the middle also tries to find a new seat, stranding someone to stand in the middle and repeat a new command.

Example: Joe is in the middle and says, "The west wind blows on everyone wearing yellow." Three people wearing yellow get up, leaving four people to find three seats. After the scramble Maria is left without a seat, stands in the center and says, "The west wind blows on everyone born in 2003." Four people stand up and scramble along with Maria to find a seat. Josh is left standing, and the game continues until everyone gets in the middle at least once. If you want to make sure someone gets a chance, just say, "The west wind blows on everyone named Jorge."

Who's it?

Give everyone a small paper and ask them to write something interesting about themselves that nobody else in the room knows. Put the papers in a hat and draw one at random. As a group, try to guess who is being described. The author of that paper becomes the next person to draw and read, and so on.

You can also try this with more specific personal topics, like favorite childhood toy, what would you name your child, or what city in the world would you want to visit.

I remembered to take a picture this time

Build a Tower

This is best with Kapla blocks, but it can also be done with a lot of index cards.

If the group is large, break them up into groups of 3. If the group is less than 6, then leave them as a single group. Give each group a stack of blocks and ask them to practice different methods of stacking. After a few minutes of practice, give them all the blocks and see who can build the highest tower from the ground. Don't forget to take pictures!

Spell the Alphabet

Have everyone close their eyes. You'll start by saying the letter A, then anyone can say B, then anyone can say C. If two people talk at the same time, then you must start over with A, and everyone must say at least one letter.

This is a good exercise for a group having trouble with focus and attention.

I was cool once

Human Knot

Everyone stand in a circle and grab two different people's hands who are not your neighbor. Once everyone has a hand, try to untie the knot that you've made without letting go of hands.

If that is too easy, try to do it without talking.


Create and print a bingo card that is 5x5 and in each square write a statement that describes a person. For example: knows the capital of Canada, has never been to Hawaii, or was born in September.

In a group of 10 or more, give everyone a bingo card and a pen. Each person must go around asking people questions and writing in their name to a box that fits the description. Example: Joe asks Mary, "Have you been to Hawaii?" If Mary says "no", then he can write Mary in that box. Then Mary asks Joe, "Were you born in September?" If Joe says "yes", then she can write Joe in that box.

The first person to get 5 names in a row gets a prize. For a larger group, you can have prizes for the first boy and also the first girl, and also the first blackout.

This game is hard to create because the questions have to be tailored to the group playing. You don't want a few people completely left out of the questions, but it's also fun to make them very specific to the group and occasion. Here are some questions that might work to fill in the bingo squares.

  • Has been to New York City
  • Can sing a song (must do it)
  • Can recite a quote (must do it)
  • Has met a US president, senator, or governor
  • Was born in September (this is the most common month, statistically)
  • Has read Pride and Prejudice
  • Knows the capital of Canada
  • Has never been to Hawaii
  • Can recite the alphabet in another language (they have to do it at least once)
  • Can resolve x = 2^8 (of course, they have to tell you the answer)
  • Has an older sister
  • Cried while watching Titanic
  • Was born before 2000
  • Was born after 2005
  • Has ever been to Kansas (or whatever state)
  • Has never been to California
  • Was born outside of Oregon (the state you're in)
  • Was born in Oregon (the state you're in)
  • Can stand on their hands (must do it)
  • Has been to Europe
  • Has lived outside of North America for at least a month
  • Has solved a Sudoku puzzle
  • Has riden a horse


I put this one last because it encourages lying and deception, and it's SO FUN!

Take some playing cards and pull out a jack, a queen, and a king (alternatively, write them on strips of thick paper). Suits are unimportant. Add in other numbered cards to make a deck equal to everyone playing. You will not be able to play if you're facilitating, so don't include yourself.

Before passing out cards, explain that there are three special cards. The jack is the mafia, the queen is the doctor, and the king is the police. The rest are townsfolk. Pass out the cards and make everyone promise that they will not show anyone their card or make any sounds of approval or disappointment when they get their card.

Once all the cards are passed out, announce that it is nighttime and everyone must fall asleep, so everyone should close their eyes. It helps to have some background music going so people can't hear small movements. Only the facilitator has their eyes open. Announce that the owner of the jack (the mafia) should open their eyes without making a sound, and quietly point to someone. Once you quietly acknowledge who they pointed to, tell them to close their eyes and go back to sleep.

With all eyes closed, announce that the owner of the queen (the doctor) should quietly open their eyes and point to one person, then close their eyes and go back to sleep.

With all eyes closed, announce that the owner of the king (the police) should quietly point to someone. Then without saying anything, you should give the police a thumbs up or thumbs down, indicating whether they selected the mafia or not.

Then announce that morning has come and everyone should wake up. Announce to the group that last night there was a murder and (whoever was pointed to) was killed by (insert method). If the doctor happened to select that person, then they remain alive, otherwise, show the murdered person's card to the group, and that person will remain dead the rest of the game.

Now all the living townspeople must decide on two people to stand trial. The simplest way to do this is choose the first two names that are blurted out. Have each of those people stand trial by saying why they're innocent, then go around the circle so that everyone votes for which one is guilty. The person with the most votes is killed and you show everyone their card. If they are the mafia, then the town wins and the game is over. If they are not, then everyone goes to sleep for the night, and the process repeats.

The mafia wins if they are the only person alive at the end.

You will have to remind dead people that they are strictly forbidden from ruining the game by giving away the roles that they discover at night. Dead people don't talk. When they first discover who the mafia is, they will give a loud, "WWHHAAT? AAHHH MAN", which is okay. 

You can change it up by adding two mafia cards, but they can still only kill one person each night.

1 comment:

  1. Can we take into consideration that we are needing to incorporate games that are co operative and ethical. A challenge in this world, however it is possible.