Sit your group in a circle, so that everyone can see each other with ease.
Introduce three unique gestures and sounds:
– Strike one hand quickly under your chin and say a loud “AH.”
– Strike one hand directly above your head and say a loud “SO.”
– Finally, strike one hand directly in front of you and say a loud “KO.”
“AH SO KO” are always uttered in this sequence, but by one person at a time.
Indicate that with each strike of a hand, a new person is signalled to give the next gesture.
To begin, one person says “AH” as they point with their hand to their left or right neighbour.
This neighbour must quickly say “SO” as they point with their hand toward their left or right neighbour.
This neighbour must quickly say “KO” and point directly at any other person in the circle.
The person to whom is pointed will restart the sequence from “AH.”
This sequence repeats itself over and over until someone makes a mistake.
Upon a mistake, the group extends their clenched fists towards the centre of the circle, with thumbs pointed up and over their shoulders, shouting “YOU’RE OUTTA THE GAME” to whoever made the error.
The eliminated person will leave the circle and become a ‘heckler’ by distracting others hoping to cause them to make a mistake too.
Meanwhile, the circle re-joins, and the person to the left of the one who withdrew must restart the sequence from “AH” within three seconds.
So to begin it’s very important that where you are seated without too much effort you can see every person’s face. Perhaps you can just move back a little bit there, or move in a little bit. Could you see now past me? Okay. Adjust accordingly. Alright.
I have spent a little bit of time here at La Trobe University. They have a fantastic language course. And I did it as a part-time thing when I was interested in actually doing outer education at this particular facility.
And the language thing took us right back to really basic prehistoric or cave-person times where there was not language developed in the way we understand, but it was actually just a series of grunts. And I’m going to share the basis of this because sitting around a campfire at night they had conversations, and some of them would be very funny, wouldn’t they? Yes.
To begin it has a form of martial art feel about it. So just to set the tone and only applying it in the air, I would like you to imagine that either of your two hands is like a knife. Start chopping in the air and making appropriate sounding grunts as you do it. Are you ready? Go.
(people chopping and grunting)
Alright, good. This is all they had available to them. In fact they had just three tools. So the conversations wouldn’t last very long, but they would always, always, always start with one person, because they were always very polite, one person would talk at a time, and one person would start the conversation always with AH. They would always start the conversation with an “AH”.
You will note that as I said AH I brought my hand very rapidly towards my throat but pulled just short of my throat because I do find it hurts if I go all the way through. So AH is the first step of the conversation. Practise that now with both hands. Go ahead.
(people practising AH)
Good job. Having started the conversation built into it was the ability to continue it. Notice when I went AH I’m actually pointing to one person left or right of me. So I could go AH, point to my right, or AH, point to my left. So just note that.
So for example AH is an invitation to the person on my left to continue the conversation with the next piece which is SO. It sits directly above your head and you say it with a guttural sound like SO. So go ahead and just practise SO now. Ready?
(people practising SO)
And again with the other hand. SO. And note also you could be pointing to the person left or right of you either way, to the left or to the right. Remember it’s always about where the fingers are pointing, nothing else to do with the rest of your body. So just practise that, so AH and SO, in that sequence. Go.
(people practising AH and SO)
Good. Alright. We have just one more piece because as I said they didn’t have much available to them. The conversations didn’t go very fast. So at the very end, the final piece was that they got to the AH. The next person to whom I pointed, in this case, it would be Ngaire would then go SO, again could’ve pointed back to me or perhaps to the person on the left. That person throws the conversation to the other side of the fire circle and goes KO, the word KO. So just go ahead and just practise that highly refined skill. Are you ready? KO.
(people practising KO)
Alright. Now it’s very important that you are very intentional about exactly who you want the conversation to resume with. So this works so much better. KO. It’s really clear that I’m pointing over here rather than KO, because that’s a little bit all over the shop. So you want to be very intentional about that. It’s clear who you are pointing towards.
So just put all those three together, several times to get used to the sequence of the conversation.
(people practising AH SO KO)
Alright. You are now ready for the conversation. So we still have just a few more things to learn that one person speaks at a time but the conversation has a flow and it’s always identified by where the point occurs. So AH suggests the person to my left then picks up with SO. And you do a SO.
Beautiful. Niagara then points to the person to their left and you now do KO and point to anyone else in the circle.
Great. And now you start from AH.
(people having conversation with Ah So Ko)
Alright, hold it there, because at some point there’s an error. The actual conversation comes to a grinding halt because something was out of sequence or something was a bit too slow.
When that occurs they didn’t actually tolerate that error very, very well. And so what they would ordinarily do is look at the person, let’s presume it’s one of these people over here. I’ve forgotten your name.
So let’s say if it was Mela, we look at Mela, we then clinch our fists, go ahead and do that now, throw your finger up in the air and you look at them, with a guttural sound say, YOU’RE OUT OF THE GAME. So on three, ready? One, two, three, YOU’RE OUT OF THE GAME.
Now in fact for now you won’t be out of the game, Mela, but when that actually occurs and I don’t actually enjoy a great deal of elimination activities although they do form a big part of my program, but for this purpose you actually have a really special role.
Let’s say Mela you did actually happen to be eliminated. You now come out of the circle, the circle gets a little bit smaller. Notice each elimination the circle gets smaller and smaller and smaller.
You now have a special role. When you’re on the outside, let’s assume that I’m that person… When I’m out here I get to be one of those people… Who are those people we call at the back of the comedy club, they’re trying to put the comedian off their game?
Hecklers. Your task on the outside of the circle is to put everyone else off their game, remembering because of course if they make a mistake they’re out of the game as well and come to join you here.
But you have a few boundaries. One, I can’t touch anyone, I cannot obscure anyone’s view, but otherwise pretty much anything else is open. I’ve seen some pretty bizarre things to grab attention to put people off their game in this exercise.
Alright, so to repeat to continue the conversation it always starts with AH SO KO, and the person to whom is pointed resumes with AH SO KO. Always look where the fingers are pointing. When someone is either too slow or makes a mistake they’re invited to become a heckler, a very vital role.
The circle rejoins and then within three seconds the person to the left of the one who came out must resume with AH. If they don’t guess what? They’re out of the game. So it keeps the game moving. Got the basic idea?
We’re going to do this as a mulligan round which means we’ll go through the system but no one will actually be eliminated. Alright, I can see you’re all feeling a little bit tense at this moment so just shake it out, shake it out. Alright, and who would like to start the conversation?
(people having conversation as part of Ah So Ko)
(Can I do AH as well?)
No. We’re up to AH. The next one would be SO.
(people having conversation as part of Ah So Ko)
Fingers together, are you ready? You’re out of the game! But you’re not actually going anywhere. But you got the idea. Alright, it’s time to play for sheep stations, folks. We’ve got the basic idea of what’s happening.
So if you happen to be a little too slow, and it tends to gather pace as we go on, or you happen to do something out of what should be the sequence, guess what, it’s your turn to have some fun as a heckler on the outside.
So everyone ready? Alright. Because if you were honest with me you’d all say no. Who would like to start?
(people having conversation in Ah So Ko)
You’re out of the game! So come on out, Steph. The circle rejoins and you’re our first heckler, Steph. Well done. Make the circle just a little bit smaller and to the left within three seconds.
You’re out of the game!
(AH SO KO. People having conversation, heckling)
How To Play Narrative
This awesome game is just begging to be wrapped in a story (take a look at Framing Ideas,) but here are the basics…
Sit with your group in a circle, preferably on the floor (but this is not important) and in a way that everyone can see each other with ease.
To begin, ask everyone to follow your lead and practice striking one of their hands, palm facing down, quickly and directly below their chin, just short of their neck. And with this rapid motion, the person will utter an “AH.” Do it a few times, and invite everyone to practice it with you. The louder and more playful the better.
Then, the person to whom the first person pointed with their fingers (ie if they used their right hand to create “AH” they will be pointing to their left neighbour) will add a guttural “SO” and strike one of their hands, palm facing down, directly above their scalp.
Again, practice this move with your group, and ask people to note where they and their neighbours are pointing with the tips of the fingers.
The third and final gesture is assumed by the person to whom the second person pointed, who will extend one arm out in front of themselves pointing with their full open hand to anyone else in the circle.
As they point, they will also look directly into the eyes of this person and call out a “KO” which means ‘over there’ according to my extensive research of the feudal Chinese language. The person to whom the third person points will start the whole sequence off again, by engaging in an immediate “AH.”
To re-cap, by committing to their “AH” a person always ‘points’ to one of their neighbours who is responsible for delivering a “SO,’ who effectively points to one of their neighbours, who then assumes the position of “KO” who must then point to anyone else in the circle.
Got that? Okay, here’s the rules…
The game always starts with a volunteer offering a convincing “AH” and will always follow the aforementioned sequence of “AH SO KO.”
When the group is aware that one of their number has made an error, there is a brief interruption to the game.
Everyone is invited to place their clenched fists into the centre of the circle, poke their thumb up, look directly at the person who made the mistake, and as they throw their clenched hand behind their back, call out loudly “YOU’RE OUTTA THE GAME!”
When some poor soul is eliminated, they will withdraw from the circle. The circle rejoins and the game starts from “AH” within 3 seconds by the person to the left of the one who departed (otherwise, they’re ‘outta the game’ too.)
It takes a while to get there, but after a few dummy rounds, people get the hang of it really quickly, and will be eager to start.
Naturally, a quick game is a good game.
Once your group starts to grasp the sequence, start to ramp up the need for speed and accuracy. So, if someone is too slow, or they make a mistake in regards what they say (or not) or the positioning of their hand gestures, they are ‘outta the game.’
Game continues until you have one person left.
Practical Leadership Tips
To kick-off, I sometimes like to be less than obvious, and may spin a yarn about the pre-language days of feudal civilisations, before people realise that they are playing a game. Take a look at Framing Ideas for inspiration.
The more you ‘ham’ up the presentation of this game, the better. The humour should be very obvious in the degree to which you appear very serious as you introduce the key elements of whatever story you choose to tell.
Yes, it is entirely possible that the person saying “SO” returns the sequence back to the person who gave them the “AH” gesture. So, the “AH” person needs to be ready for this possibility. Or not.
Technically, it is also possible for the person saying “KO” to point directly at one of their neighbours.
Encourage those who are issuing the “KO” gesture to be very clear and obvious to whom they are pointing, especially in large groups. Lest, you get two or three people responding.
As the game gets quicker and more serious, I like to look in the opposite direction to that of my hand gesture just to put people off. Always fun.
Yes, yes, yes, this can be used as a ‘drinking game’ but I guarantee that it’s just as much fun without the alcohol.
You could integrate Ah So Ko into a well-designed SEL program to develop the skills of accountability and self-discipline to manage one’s behaviours as much as enjoy an outrageously fun group game.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
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 good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully play Ah So Ko speaks to the benefits of being mindful. The pace and randomness of the game require frequent short bursts of highly focused attention, thus making it a wonderfully fun way to introduce mindfulness to your group.
There are also moments of accountability insofar as accepting a penalty when an individual makes an error. In the context of the game, the rules exist to make the activity challenging, yet fun. However, you could invite your group to reflect on the benefits of being accountable in real life for one’s actions.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Ah So Ko could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Hecklers: When a person is eliminated, they are invited to become a heckler. This means that they can do (almost) anything – other than touch or obstruct the view of others – to distract them so that they, too, may make a mistake.
Ah So Ko No: Add a fourth gesture – “NO.” This gesture follows directly after “KO” and is performed by the person to whom “KO” is given. However, note that “NO” is purely optional. So, the person receiving “KO” may choose the traditional route and follow on with “AH,” or they can place both of their hands in front of their face and say “NO,” which like a mirror causes the “KO” to be returned to whoever delivered it. In this latter case, the person who had delivered “KO” must respond to the subsequent “NO” with an “AH” and the game continues.
Create Your Own: Add your own silly gestures and sounds to replace “AH SO KO.”
Take a look at Zip Zip and Zhwoop (coming soon) to enjoy two more circle games that reflect a similar nonsensical structure as Ah So Ko.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Ask each person to switch to Gallery view to see all of the video thumbnails of their group. Describe the game as above but replace the need to say “AH,” “SO” or “KO” with the name of the next person. In all instances, the participant must still perform the correct hand gesture but will now say the name of the person situated to the left or right of their video thumbnail (substituting for AH and SO), or any other random person who is still in the game (instead of KO.) When a person is eliminated, invite them to switch off their video for the remainder of the game.
Playful & energetic circle game to fill-in two minutes.
Playful circle game to generate energy, focus & laughter.
Useful Framing Ideas
At school, I spent a lot of time studying very ancient civilisations, especially feuding tribes. Theirs was a very proud culture, but one very much before language, so the only way they could communicate was by way of a series of grunts. To set the scene, can you practice a few karate chops in the air… [allow time for practice chops]. Okay, to start a conversation, someone, often sitting around a campfire, would begin with a sudden “AH” [practice the “AH” gesture…]. Invariably their neighbour would continue the conversation with a quizzical “SO” [practice the “SO” gesture]. Now, remember we’re focused on very ancient times, so there isn’t a great deal of history to talk about, so the conversations would be very short. Therefore, to conclude the topic, another person would point to another just like this [demonstrate the “KO” gesture] to indicate that it was their turn to start a new conversation…
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 fun, large group game:
Was this game fun to play? Why or why not?
What did you notice as the activity progressed?
What difference does enthusiasm make to our [ work, home, school, play…]?
What meaning, if any, to the life of your group could you draw from this exercise?
The inspiration for Ah So Ko, and many more outrageously fun games, was sourced in the following publication: