5 Games for Speaking, Listening & Thinking

Immy and I play a lot of verbal games, especially in the car or while waiting for things to happen. These games are great for developing speaking and listening skills, and thinking and reasoning abilities. As I have indicated below, you will find that some of them are suitable to play with verbal children from about the age of three years old, and others are more suitable for kindergarten through elementary aged children.

1. How many? This simple game started when Immy was around three and fascinated by animals but it can easily be adapted to other themes. I would start by asking a question about a specific animal attribute (see some examples below) and she would call out as many responses as she could think of;

  • How many animals can you name that hatch from eggs as babies?
  • How many animals can you name that have patterns on their bodies?
  • How many animals can you name that eat leaves?
  • How many animals can you name that live in the sea?
  • How many insects can you name that have six legs?
  • How many vehicles can you name with four wheels?
  • How many things can you name that are cone shaped?
  • How many things can you name that can fly?

2. I’m thinking of…: A simplified version of 20 questions, and somewhat easier than I Spy when on the move in the car, we start this game with a single object in mind and the phrase, “I am thinking of something ….,” and then name a feature or attribute of the object or thing. So it might begin, “I am thinking of something that is blue.” The other person is welcome to make a guess or ask for another clue and we go back and forth between clues and guesses until they work out the correct answer.

3. Guess who? We started playing this game when Immy was four and play it in much the same way as we do game #2 but focus on a storybook or movie character or an actual movie instead of an object.

4. Secret Message: This well known game is best played with a group of children from kindergarten age upwards. Everyone sits in a line or circle and the first person whispers a short message to the next person in line, with the message then being passed from person to person in whispers along the line or around the circle. The last person announces the message they have heard to the whole group and everyone has a good laugh at how the message had invariably changed as it has been passed along.

5. Sound tennis: Great for children who are learning initial sounds or blends (or even children who have mastered them), I have Immy’s pre-primary teacher to thank for this one. The players agree on an initial sound or blend, say ‘P,’ and then take turns back and forth, each saying a new word that begins with that sound, until the round comes to a finish when one player cannot think of a new word beginning with the nominated sound. We allow the other player, the ‘winner,’ to choose the new sound for the next round.

I would love to add to our game repertoire. What verbal games do you enjoy with your children?

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  1. Oh we are definitely adding sound tennis to our list of car games! Brilliant :-)
    Our favourite at the moment is hide and seek where Bella counts by 10s up to 100 or by 2s up to 20. Or a game similar to sound tennis but with rhyming words (real or made up :-))

  2. We play the “I’m thinking of ” game using people.
    So the questions become “is the person male/female; are they a member of our family; do we know them from kinder/school; do they live in our street etc”.
    They can be well known people so the children then learn about current affairs or the like (eg Prime minister or other world leaders, or sports people).
    We also play one similar to sound tennis but you say a word and the next word has to start with the same letter the previous word ended with.
    I love verbal games, they learn such a lot.

  3. Another car favorite is “A my name is Anna” — my kids LOVED that one and we found ourselves scrambling to come up with names/places/products that started with Q, X, etc. (“A my name is Anna and my husband’s name is Albert, we come from Albuquerque, and we sell alligators….B my name is ___…”).

    • I love this game.
      We also use a game to improve auditory memory.
      It starts with:
      A man went shopping and he bought a cap. Consecutive children repeat the sentence and add another item to the shopping list.
      The idea is that the children have to remember what has gone before.
      Ann Foster

  4. Vanessa says:

    Thank you for posting this article. This has been a BIG rule for my car! DVD players are not allowed unless for a long trip and only for a short time. Our favorite games are “I spy…” and looking for car tags from different states. I have been saying for years, while the increase in technology is awesome and our children have so much to gain from its use, the social interactions between humans have been compromised. So many children are unfamiliar with simple expanding expressive language or simply leaving a message on the phone. I am noticing an increase of children expecting answers provided immediately and if they are unable to recall the answer right away giving up, instead of taking a moment to process and think through through it. I feel natural creativity/ imagination is losing or maybe it is just changing……

  5. We play whispers ALL the time and it’s always hilarious, especially when you involve the 3 year old!
    We also play a modified version of 20 Questions which my kids all love.

  6. We play sound tennis! Although we don’t call it that. Thank you for sharing your other ideas. We will try them out too :)

  7. We play sound tennis when were driving places. I’m sure dimples will live these other ideas :-) thanks

  8. Just tweeted.

  9. Great ideas, I look forward to playing these with Pebble and the kids in my class next year. I’m already making plans for them! :)

  10. Great ideas!!! Love this. It’s amazing how many children need these types of games so thanks for sharing.

  11. I remember a few of these games from childhood. I loved them. When the twins get a little bigger, I can just imagine this as a little family game too. Oooo and those games will be great for relief teaching too! Love!

  12. These are great ideas!

    Another fun and useful adaptation of ‘I spy’ is ‘Letter sounds, I spy’. Instead of saying only the first letter of the word, you say all of the letter sounds in the word. For example, if you wanted to use the word hat, you would say, “I spy with my little eye, something with the sounds h, a, t”.

    This activity encourages kids to develop listening, concentration and early literacy skills.

  13. Such a brilliant list of games. Looking forward to trying them with my kids. Thanks Christie :) xo P

  14. I love verbal games. This is a great list and I’ve shared it on my fb page. I haven’t ever played Sound Tennis but it sounds like lots of fun.

  15. Maryam Aziz Chohan says:

    It is a useful post , I hope it will rock in my classroom.

  16. Thank you for the ideas! We play the tennis game with beginning sounds and rhyming words. We also play word association where I say the first word that comes to my mind and my little one says the first thing that it makes her think of, we go back and fourth until she loses interest. I have been astounded by some of the associations my 3 year old has come up with.

  17. Lianne Moller says:

    Hi, thanks for these. The games we play are

    1. I say: ‘what noise does the cow make’ they say ‘moo, moo’… but we try to keep going for as long as we can without repeating… e.g. a peacock says caraw caraw, camels go ‘hurumph’, and so forth… then we move on to vehicles, or home appliances, or people we know. Works great for really little kids (I will ask the questions and my husband will help my kids with the noises)

    2. Again good for younger kids, is asking them their preferences between two things… So ‘what’s better, mango or cherries?’ ‘Cherries’ ‘what’s better, cherries or chocolate?’ Chocolate… ‘chocolate or ice cream?’ ‘Ice cream’ ‘Ice cream or mango’ ‘mango’… ‘I see… star wars or Harry potter?’ I’ve found this is a really good as a circuit breaker when I sense the kids are getting wrestless… I’ve found it is important not to dwell on their answers but just keep throwing questions up, with the occasional shift in topic when a line of questioning dries up.

    3. Who lives there… as we are driving we make up stories about who lives in interesting houses. Then we might pick which house is ours, and if we get really silly, we’ll start saying ‘you live in that mailbox’, and ‘you live up that tree’… but this later variation is best with older kids as little ones won’t get the joke.

    4. For school age kids, ask what would you do if… e.g. the car stopped working and we couldn’t get it started again… ‘I would get out and push’… ‘what if you pushed it so hard that the car was thrown up in the air and into orbit’… And so on… be creative… my kids aren’t quite up to this one… my almost 5yo gets frustrated and tells me not to say silly things like that : ) but it’s a good game – hopefully 2014 will be the year it clicks for her.

  18. Such a fun list of verbal games. My daughter’s teacher plays a game similar to the second game that Lianne Moller mentioned. The teacher suggests two or three items, animals, foods or characters and the students nominate which they would prefer.

  19. We play ” I one it ” someone smells something bad or sees a dead animal on the side one the road someone yells I one it next person yells I two it …… I four it ……. I six it until finally some one has to say I eight it or I ate it giggles all around three boys and that one never got old. We also sing Road kill stew and Tom the toad why did you hop out on the road you were my friend and now your dead….. well that list goes on maybe we are strange. Lol

  20. Our version of “I Spy” take place inside the vehicle. I spy something that turns on and off, that blinks, that makes a whirling noise, that gives a warning, etre
    We also do the license plate or sign game where we start at the letter a and go to z in order, using either road sings we pass or license plates on cars.
    Another game is sign bingo. I have cards they each keep and we check them off as we see them.

  21. Thank you for this post! we try to go on longer roadtrips during nap time but that’s not always possible or sometimes it’s a shorter trip and on such cases we play pretty much all of the above, plus singing, but we also play: choose a colour and count the cars that pass by that are that colour; guess the colour of the next car to appear and a game we cal “dictionary” because basically it consists on her saying a word and i have to say the same word in another language of her choosing (i speak 5 languages). when i was a child my parents and my brother and i would play another game, that my daughter is still too young to fully understand so i’m saving it for latter. it consists in making up somthing to match the license plate of the car in front of us. in my country the license plate consists of 2 numbers+2numbers+2 letters and then the year and month of the car. so it’s funny to say that 20 monkeys ate 35 bananas and then Hijacked an Airplane at 3 pm on a december rainy day (20-35-HA march 2012)


  1. […] play simplified versions of I-spy and ‘spot the xx colour car’. I love these suggestions for speaking, listening and thinking games to play with children from Childhood […]

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