I’m a drama teacher, and I recently had a group of listless neighborhood kids, mine included, complaining about being bored. They couldn’t agree on what to play and were gearing up for a feud. I dug into my bag of drama teacher tricks and taught them versions of some of my favorite drama games. They loved them.
Once taught, these games can be led by one kid, and players can take turns being the leader. These games also can be played inside or outside.
You don’t have to be a drama teacher or a theatrical person to lead or play these games. They encourage teamwork, imagination, following directions and leadership skills. I’ve caught my kids teaching these drama games to their friends at the playground and could not be prouder of my little thespians.
Zip, zap, zop
This game has “outs,” so keep that in mind for sensitive souls. You can eliminate the outs and just play until someone gets bored. Technically, this game can be played without a leader, but it works best with one to act as a judge.
How to play: Kids stand in a circle with the leader on the outside, rotating around the circle, watching, and judging when questions of in or out arise. The leader picks a kid to start. The first kid clearly looks and points at someone across the circle and says “Zip.” That kid looks at someone else, points and says “Zap.” The third person looks across the circle and says “Zop.” The person who was the target of the “Zop” starts the pattern again with “Zip,” and it goes pingponging around the circle until someone hesitates, breaking the rhythm, or says the wrong word. You can make rules about how long of a pause is acceptable and whether or not you’re allowed to tag someone back who just pointed to you. Play goes until the final round, when two people go back and forth saying “Zip, zap, zop, zip, zap, zop” until someone messes up or gives up.
This game is highly modifiable and can even be played with just two kids.
How to play: All the players start by lying on the ground as though they’re asleep. The leader tells them that when they wake up, they will be newborns. When the leader claps their hands, everyone wakes up and acts like newborns until the leader claps again and tells them to go to sleep, at which point they resume a sleeping position. From there, the leader increases the ages of the players, with sleep time in between. I like to use the following ages: newborn, 1, 3, the first day of school (5), the current age of at least one player, the first day of middle school, high school, my age, their grandparents’ approximate age (65), and a very elderly age, usually 85. You can choose any number or combination of ages, but it’s best to play the game in order. Sometimes I have the leader give some developmental milestones, such as “One-year-olds are learning to walk and talk but can only do those things a little bit.”
When the kids are awake and acting out an age, I like to ask them questions related to that age. For example, if the age is 35: “Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you have a job? Where do you live?” and I invite them to show me their answers by acting it out. Afterward, it’s fun to discuss what choices they made in their lives and if it’s what they really want or if it’s just for the game. I’ve had kids marry each other in the game, be criminals and even turn into cyborgs.
How to play: This game has the same rules as the age game: Players go to sleep and when they wake up, they follow commands. This time, though, I have them think of an animal ahead of time. Sometimes we pick a favorite animal or research the animal they chose, paying special attention to its manner of movement. I tell players that they live in a bubble and, while they should be aware of other players, they cannot interact.
In the first round, I tell the players to wake up as though they are waking up as their animal in its habitat. As players start to act out their animals, I coach them through the actions by asking questions and encouraging them to show, not tell. I say, “What do you do first thing? Do you groom or stretch? Or are you looking for food? Are you a predator or prey or both? Show me how you get food. Show me that you are being a predator or prey. How do you move when you’re hunting? How do you eat? Return to your home and go to sleep, but show me your bedtime routine.”
Other rounds of the game can have the players being their animals and interacting with each other (with clear touch expectations), or they can create human characters based on their animals (a snake-like person or a puppy-like person) and act out made-up scenes based on their characters.
Here’s another game that can be played with one kid or as many as are available.
How to play: Have players walk around an open space and tell them to be aware of other players, avoid bumping into each other, but otherwise pretend they are alone walking down the street. I usually start by describing the current weather and have them show, not tell (this game should be played silently except for the leader), what they are feeling. I ask them to notice the temperature and the air. Are they dressed well for the weather, or are they hot or cold? I then have them pretend they are walking home and the weather begins to turn to winter. They should show me how their posture and walk change as they walk. Once they are freezing to death in a blizzard, I have them imagine the sun coming out and melting the snow. I keep describing the temperature until it’s scorching hot.
You can modify this game by making it silly. What if suddenly they were walking on hot sand? What if suddenly they were up to their knees in Jell-O? What if it rained feathers?
Count to 10
How to play: This game seems very simple, but it is deceptively hard. It works seated, lying down, eyes open or closed, and is best with more than a couple of players. I have the leader say “One.” The group needs to count to 10. The trick is that no two players can say the same thing simultaneously or the game must start over. I usually remind players that they don’t need to say more than one number and should practice sharing the talking. I also make it a rule that you can’t say two numbers in a row.
Editor's note: This article was published in 2021 and has been updated for 2023.