12 Verbal Literacy Games for Speaking, Listening & Thinking

I play a lot of verbal games with my girls, especially when we are travelling or waiting at appointments. Verbal games are great for developing speaking and listening skills, vocabulary, thinking and reasoning abilities and even social skills, such as turn taking. And the bonus is that we need nothing but our brains and our voices to play them!

Today I am sharing 12 fun verbal literacy games that we enjoy. Some of the easier ones are suitable for play with children from around 3 1/2 years of age, others are better suited for kindergarten through school aged children.
Games for Speaking, Listening and Thinking. Verbal games for kids. Great for travel and waiting.

12 Verbal Literacy Games for Speaking, Listening & Thinking

1. How many? This simple game started when Immy was about three years of age and fascinated by animals but it can easily be adapted to other themes. I would start by asking a question about a specific 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 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?

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 players are 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. Who Am I?: 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 instead of an object.

4. I Went to Market: The aim of this game is to remember as many of the items in the shopping basket as possible. The first player begins by saying, “I went to market and bought a ___,” adding an item they would buy. For example, “I went to market and bought a bag of potatoes.” The next player in line continues with, “I went to market and bought (insert the name of the first player’s item) and a ___ (adding a new item purchased).” For example, “I went to market and bought a bag of potatoes and a candy bar.”

Player three adds to the chain of shopping items, “I went to market and bought a bag of potatoes, a candy bar and a newspaper.” Players continue to take turns. Any player who makes a mistake is eliminated until only one winner is left.

5. What’s better: This fast paced game simply asks kids about their preferences between two things –

“What’s better – banana or apple?”
“What’s better – banana or cheese?”
“What’s better – cheese or chocolate?”
“What’s better – chocolate or ice cream?”

Of course, you don’t have to choose food – books, TV shows, superheroes, sports – anything is fair game. Debates about different choices that children make provide lots of insight into their individual personalities and preferences.

6. Odd One Out: Begin by naming three items – two that are connected in some way and one that is not (you can make this as easy or as hard as you wish, depending upon the age and interests of your children) and ask your children to choose the odd one out. For example with “train, bus, hair” it is easy to identify the odd one out. “Platypus, cobra, horse” is more challenging. “Chop, chicken, ship” focuses the game on identifying different sounds. “21, 63, 78” turns it into a math challenge.

Games for Speaking, Listening and Thinking. Verbal games for kids. Great for travel and waiting.

7. 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.

8. Silly songs: Younger children love to listen to silly nursery rhymes created by altering the rhyming words of familiar nursery rhymes. For example,

“Twinkle twinkle little bat,
How I wonder where you’re at”
“Baa baa black sheep
, have you any eggs?
No sir, no sir,
 But I have some pegs.”

Spotting the funny rhyme is fun for little ones whilst older children (5 years+) will enjoy making the rhymes with you.

9. Tongue twisters: Make up your own funny tongue twisters by choosing a letter or sound and working together to make a sentence with as many words beginning with the chosen sound as possible.

10. Rhyming tennis: Players agree on a rhyming family – say ‘at’ as in hat – and take turns, back and forth, each saying a new word that fits the family.

11. Sound tennis: 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.

12. Alphabet chain: Choose a category and take turns naming an item that fits the category following the sequence oaf letters of the alphabet. So the first person chooses a word starting with a, the second person a word beginning with b, the third person with c, etc. The category can be anything at all – animals, countries, names, superpowers, etc.

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



  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 ___…”).

    1. 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. 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……

    1. Stephanie Drown says:

      I agree and i also think it s very sad and worrying.

  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. 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! 🙂

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

  10. 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!

  11. Racheal Tighe says:

    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.

  12. 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.

  13. Maryam Aziz Chohan says:

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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)

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  33. Definitely going to add the sound tennis to our repertoire! We also play the ‘I’m thinking of game’ with my now 3.5yr old, we started when she wasn’t was 2, and did things like, “I’m thinking of an animal. It lives in the ocean, it doesn’t have any bones, it has tentacles…” until she guesses it. All sorts of things- better than I spy for in the car since she’s rear facing and has limited view! Also great for the plane!

  34. We also play a game where the next person has to find a word starting with the last letter of the previous persons word. If a word is repeated then this person is out (to make it harder the person that is out can come back in if they beat another person to a word and person beaten is now out … until only one person left). For example, the first person says “Apple”, the second person has to work out that the word ends in “e” and find a word starting with “e” such as “Elephant”; third person has to find a word starting with “t” …. (timer – rabbit – tree – egg – giraffe – enormous – silly – yacht ….).

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