Announce that your name is ‘Simon’ and you want everyone to follow your commands exactly.
Instruct your group to only follow your commands if the words “SIMON SAYS…” are spoken before them.
If someone initiates a move without this command, or makes a wrong move, ask them to add one point to a tally.
Formally announce the start of a round, and issue a series of commands with or without matching movements from yourself, eg “PLACE HANDS ON HEAD.”
After 30 seconds of commands and action, formally announce the end of a round.
Play several rounds, with each round getting progressively harder.
The person(s) with the least number of points at the end wins.
How To Play Narrative
This is a wonderfully inclusive re-working of the classic follow-the-leader type exercise.
Ask your group to stand directly in front of you, in a circle, in lines, or distributed evenly throughout an area, where every person has ample space to move and can hear and see you.
Explain that your name is ‘Simon’ and you are the leader, which means that everything you command must be followed – exactly! However, as with the classic version, emphasise that only those commands that are prefaced with the words “SIMON SAYS…” should be obeyed.
Start your first round by announcing that you will only ever issue the following commands…
“LEFT ARM UP
LEFT ARM DOWN
RIGHT ARM UP
RIGHT ARM DOWN
BOTH ARMS UP
BOTH ARMS DOWN.”
As with all commands, I recommend that you add a matching movement to your command (or not, if you intend to lead them astray!)
Now, for the best bit.
Explain that once the game starts (with a formal announcement,) if anyone initiates or completes a move that is issued without the command “SIMON SAYS…” before it – or performs the wrong move – they simply add a point to a nominal tally.
This rule is a master-stroke of this game’s success because it dispenses with the typically awkward consequences of elimination.
In a practical sense, build the suspense by issuing a series of “SIMON SAYS…” commands one after the other, and then quickly follow up with an instruction sans the “SIMON SAYS…” piece to catch a few people out. And repeat.
Game continues, perhaps over several more challenging rounds, until you formally announce that the game is over. Here are a few suggestions for how you may vary your sequence of commands:
Before closing a round, ask your group a question, indicating they should raise their hand (Gotcha!)
Reassure your group part way through a round, and ask them to “SHAKE OUT THEIR STRESS” (Gotcha!)
Add inflection in your voice, so that when you say “UP,” the pitch of your voice goes up, and vice versa. Establish a pattern, and then change it to catch people out.
Add more actions and commands, eg turn 90 degrees left or right, lift left leg up/down, and right leg up/down, clap once, twice, etc.
The person(s) with the least number of points at the end wins.
Practical Leadership Tips
As with the original classic, you could simply eliminate those folk who do not obey Simon’s commands, but aiming to score the least number of points is much more fun – not to mention, it keeps everyone involved and engaged.
If you can, establish a high vantage point so that everyone can see and hear you, but more selfishly, so that you can see your group (make mistake after hilarious mistake.)
By all means, encourage your groups – or individual members – when they get it right, especially after a strong of errors. Yes, the game is fun when people make mistakes, but this exercise is best used when your focus is on the value of practice and the development of listening and critical thinking skills.
Note, I rarely ever conduct a survey of points at the end of a game. I have nothing against the competitive element, but I view the tallying of points as simply a mechanism to engage people for as long as possible (rather then eliminate them.)
Take a look at this video of Michelle Cummings leading Simon Says Stretch – she’s a master at being Simon.
You could integrate Simon Says Stretch as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s abilities to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a healthy dose of physical activity and a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to successfully follow Simon’s commands may speak to the benefits of being mindful because it would limit the impact of the many distractions which surround each person. You could also lead this exercise as part of a broader conversation about being accountable for one’s actions, particularly if you define even the smallest of impulses or movements as a move that could cause elimination, ie it could be easy for some very small impulses to be missed by Simon.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Simon Says Stretch could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Non-Verbal Activity: Add the rule that if someone should utter a word, groan or a giggle at any point during the game, they must add a point to their tally.
Clapping Round: Introduce a championship round in which you add the command “SIMON SAYS … CLAP YOUR HANDS ONCE (TWICE, etc.)” Then, to have some fun, celebrate how obedient your group has been during the exercise by inviting everyone to clap their hands – aha, gotcha!
Alternative Commands: Substitute your commands with any series of fun movements and stretches, such as “DO A JUMPING JACK,” “DO A PIROUETTE,” “STAND ON LEFT LEG,” etc. The sky’s the limit.
Travelling Simon Says: Deploy this game to move your group from point A to point B. Everyone starts at one end – in a line or bunched up, it doesn’t matter – and issue a series of commands – such as “TAKE THREE STEPS FORWARD” – as Simon attempts to move your group from one side of the gym, or playing field, etc to the other. If someone makes a mistake, ask this person to return to the starting line, or, better still, adopt the friendlier ‘tally points’ option.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Take a look at Jump In Jump Out to explore another energetic exercise that involves a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do approach.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Invite everyone to switch on their videos to populate the gallery view of your screen, but instruct all others to select Speaker View (you.) Ask everyone to step back from their machines and focus on your screen as you introduce the activity. Continue play as per normal.
In advance, ask all participants to grab a coin and flip it once. Identify how many are heads and tails. With each mistake a participant makes, ask them to switch sides of their coin, ie if they start as heads, they flip the coin over to tails when they make their first mistake and then flip it back to heads on their second mistake, etc. Identify the winning team (heads or tails) at the conclusion of the final round.
As above, but start with an equal number of people who start with heads and tails.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Do you know of someone who says one thing, but does something else? Within the context of leadership, the consequences of asking people to do something that you do not do yourself can be a recipe for disaster. At the conclusion of this next exercise, we’re going to explore this issue a little deeper, but for now, let me introduce Simon to you…
In theory, this next task seems very easy to achieve. Yet, in practice, you are almost guaranteed to make a mistake or three. Why is that? There are many factors, but the fact that you will take in information from at least three primary sources – visual, audio and mental – all at the same time, may explain why your brain gets mixed up. Although extremely powerful, the brain can only perform one task at a time, so when it is presented with too much information, it will often prioritise it based on your preferred style of learning, ie in regards to how you see, hear, think or feel this information. Consider the impact each of these styles of learning may have on your success in this next task…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this wonderfully energetic game:
What did you notice during the game?
What did you say to yourself when you made an error? How did it make you feel? Why?
What was the consequence of making a mistake? Was there stress involved?
Were there times when you made assumptions about what was going to happen?
Did practice improve your performance?
Where else in our lives do we hear one thing, but see something very different?
What’s the impact of incongruent words and actions?
The inspiration for Simon Says Stretch was discovered in a training workshop lead by Michelle Cummings many years ago, who reminded me of this all-time classic exercise.