Ask five volunteers to form a straight line facing side-on to the group, standing about a metre apart from each other.
Tap the closest volunteer on the shoulder, inviting them to turn around and face you.
Proceed to mime a 20 to 30 second story which features lots of action, intricate movements, use of imaginary props, etc.
As the ‘story-teller,’ you cannot speak or use any verbal communication whatsoever.
Other than the audience, only the first person you tapped will have witnessed your story.
Once your story is complete, the first volunteer taps the shoulder of the next person in line and proceeds to re-tell the story as best as they can remember it.
This process of re-telling the story continues all the way down the line until the fifth and final person witnesses the story.
The story-teller may only mime their story once.
For fun, ask each person starting from the very last person to explain what they saw happening in the story.
Conclude by performing the original story again, mostly for the benefit of your group of volunteers.
How To Play Narrative
Most groups love playing charades. Well, this game celebrates charades played in a line.
Gather your group, and ask them to get comfortable as you invite five volunteers to join you up front in the ‘performance area.’
Starting from the left or right-hand side of your space, ask them to form a straight line facing away from the centre, so each person faces the back of another person standing about a metre (3′) away from each other. From the perspective of the audience, the line of people will be facing side-on.
Tap the first person’s shoulder, and ask that person only to turn around and face you.
Their task is to closely observe everything that you (as story-teller) are about to ‘perform’ because, very shortly, they will have to repeat this story exactly as he or she sees it occur.
The ‘story-teller’ cannot speak or use any verbal communication whatsoever, but simply mime their story.
Ideally, the story should feature lots of action, and involve intricate movements and all sorts of props, etc.
As an example, I may mime the following:
… I walk in swinging a bag in my hand, I stop and pull out a chair and a fishing rod from the bag. I sit down, light up a cigarette, throw my line into the river, and start to relax. Suddenly, my fishing line starts to tug, and I feverishly try to reel it in. After much effort, I am disappointed to discover an old rubber boot hanging off the end of my line. I empty the water out of the boot, put it on my foot, and walk off. End of story…
Check the Resources tab to download a series of ready-made stories to get you started.
Other than the ‘audience,’ only the front person you tapped will have witnessed your story. You now sit down, and this first volunteer taps the next person in line, and repeats the story exactly as they remember it, which on average is about 60% of what actually transpired, and 40% that never did. Therein lies the entertainment.
This process continues all the way down the line. As you can imagine, much like Chinese Whispers (see Framing Ideas for description of this classic game,) the story is bound to get warped along the way.
During the re-telling of the story, the audience is certainly permitted to laugh (try to stop them!) but should resist the temptation to indicate or say that the story is ‘wrong.’ They should simply sit back and enjoy – some of the most painful laughing fits I have ever experienced have been while watching this activity.
Once the last person observes the story re-told for the fifth time (in the eyes of the audience,) most of the fun will be had. But it’s worthwhile asking each person, starting from the very last person and working back to the start of the line, to explain what they saw happening in the story.
The game concludes with you performing the story again, mostly for the benefit of the volunteers who had their backs turned away at the time is was first shown.
Interest in more rounds is bound to have been piqued, so invite a second, third, fourth, etc set of volunteers to create and re-tell a new story.
Practical Leadership Tips
Charade Line has become a popular night-time entertainment, community-building activity.
Pick your moment and your group for this exercise. Clearly, you need at least five people to volunteer, especially in the context that they don’t know what’s about to happen – so consider your sequence leading up to this activity. Ideally your group should be ready and prepared to have a good laugh.
Note, the story should last no longer than 20 – 30 seconds – much longer, and each story-teller’s task becomes much more difficult.
It goes without saying, but the folks who have their back turned away from the action, should resist the temptation to look over their shoulders at any time. They will certainly hear the laughter and wonder what is going on, but ask them to patiently wait their turn.
Just to remind you, even if requested to do so, the story-teller may only ever perform their story once.
Double Act: Invite two people to mime a story to another pair, the first in a line of I’ve-got-my-back-to-you pairs. You can provide some thinking time for the initial story-tellers to develop their story. Or, to be held totally in suspense, allow the process to be improvised, so the initial story is created by the first story-tellers spontaneously.
Occupations: Each person mimes the actions and gestures of a chosen occupation, eg baker, plumber, dentist, zoo-keeper, etc. At the conclusion of the mines, ask each person (starting from the last) to identify the occupation they saw demonstrated before them.
Click the Resources tab to download three more stories you can tell. Especially useful to have up your sleeve if your group can’t think of an interesting story to tell.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever played Chinese Whispers? For those who don’t know, one person at a time whispers a short story or sentence to another, all the way around the group. Invariably, by the time the story returns to the person who first told it, it is unrecognisable to the original. It’s a lot of fun and highlights how difficult it can be to communicate exactly what you want to say to others. Here’s an active adaptation of this wonderful game…
Consider standing in front of ten people and speaking to them for one minute. It is highly likely that after the minute has elapsed, each of the ten people will have heard a slightly different message. At first glance, it is difficult to understand how this can occur when you know everyone heard exactly the same message. Yet, we all know this phenomenon to be true. The same can be said for stories…
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 story-telling game:
How much fun was it to watch the stories being told as an audience member? Why?
As someone who formed part of the Charade Line, how did you feel as the story unfolded?
What can we learn about effective communication in this exercise?
The inspiration for Charade Line, and many more fun, audience-style activities, was sourced from the following publication: