Form partners, with each person facing the other about 1 metre apart.
Each pair will aim to count out loud the numbers “1, 2, 3” with each person saying one number at a time, eg Jane says “1” and then Amber says “2,” then Jane says “3,” etc.
Pairs continue repeating this pattern of numbers as fast and accurately as possible.
After a short practice, explain that you want each pair to repeat the process but first substituting the calling of “1” with a clap over one’s head, eg sounds like clap, two, three.
Then, after several rounds, repeat the process by substituting the calling of “2” with a little jump on the spot, eg sounds like clap, jump, three.
Finally, repeat the process by substituting the calling of “3” with the sound of a cat’s meow, eg sounds like clap, jump meow.
Encourage each pair to complete the exercise as quickly, accurately and for as long as possible.
If a mistake is made, the pair should enjoy a good laugh and then start over.
Swap partners, or try a variation.
Video Transcript for One-Two-Three
presented by Mark Collard
… moment I’m now going to share with you an exercise that has literally been in every single program I have delivered in the last sort of fifteen months. I saw a Chinese educator share this activity with me and it was new to me and it has been an absolute boon for my programs, but maybe it’s not new for you, I don’t know.
But let me share something with you first of all what I first learned from them, and then what I’ve added to it since.
So you’re going to be facing your partner first of all. So Georgia, you and I are going to be facing each other so we’ll just work it like we could see each other and everyone can see us. That’s perfect.
Now I may have set you up, but I’m confident that you can count to three. Okay, right, I’m not being silly because in a moment we’re all going to laugh about the fact that either one of us is going to forget how to do that.
Alright? So here’s how it works. One of us shall start by saying one, clearly. The other person will then follow by saying two. The other person then says three, then we start again.
The object to this exercise is to say one-two-three, one-two-three, as quickly and as accurately as possible. Okay? So this is a little bit how it sounds and looks. Are you ready?
Would you like to start or me?
(I’ll start. One.)
There it is, folks. See what you could do in ten seconds, as fast, as accurately as possible. Go.
At this point you’ll have discovered just how hard it can seem… Because I write books for a living, not only do I write a lot of stuff that ends up online for the database as well, but I know just as a practitioner if I had read that in a book I would turn the page going how much fun would counting to three be? I’ll just turn the page and look for something more interesting.
Well, we’ve only just started. So Georgia, you and I, facing off. So you already know the first part, okay? We’re still going to do the same thing but for one thing now is that we no longer say “one”. We replace “one” with a clap above our heads. The clap must be above your head. It can’t be in front of you. It can’t under your leg or anything like that. It must be above your head with your hands starting by your side.
So it now sounds like clap-two-three, clap-two-three, again as accurately and as fast as possible. Would you like to start or me?
(You can start.)
Are you ready? Here we go.
Three. Alright, you got the idea. How far can you go?
(people playing One-Two-Three)
So Georgia, okay, so we now move on. So now we’ll replace number “two” with something. So we’ve already replaced “one” with a clap. “Two” will be replaced with just a little jump. Okay? It’s just something where you come off the ground a little bit. So it’s going to look and appear like a clap-jump-three, clap-jump-three, clap-jump-three. Are you ready? Would you like to start or me?
(Mark and Georgia demonstrating)
Alright, you got the idea. See how far you can go.
(people playing One-Two-Three)
Crazy. Now I should also warn you at this point I have been very easy on you because when I first learned this, remember it was a Chinese educator, I was working in Beijing a lot last year, working with a couple of schools. A
nd this particular educator naturally using their native tongue introduced it in Mandarin. So the game is actually y?-èr-s?n, y?-èr-s?n, y?-èr-s?n which is one-two-three in Mandarin. But we’re just doing the English version for now, because that’s about as much Mandarin as I know.
Alright, setting up ourselves here, Georgia. So we already know the “one” and we know the “three”. We now… Sorry, “two”. We now replace the “three” with a “meow”, just a cat’s meow. Alright, so it’ll sound like a clap-jump-meow, clap-jump-meow. Alright, are you ready?
Here we go. Would you like to start or me?
Here we go.
(Mark and Georgia demonstrating)
Alright. See how far you can go.
(people playing One-Two-Three)
Same exercise but right into it. You already know the one-two-three now, so go right into clap-jump-meow with your high-five partner. Go.
Doing this quite comfortably as I have shown it to you to this point, and then someone, it was actually a student, some months ago had said, Could you do this in teams? And do you know what my initial reaction was? No, you just do it in pairs, that’s how you do it.
Because guess what? Particularly if you are experienced but also when you’re new you tend to focus on that which you are comfortable. That makes sense. That’s how we are built as human beings, it’s baked into our DNA is to seek comfort. And so we work with those areas that we are comfortable with.
So when I have been presented with the idea of can you do it in teams I’m going but I’m really comfortable with singles, just one other person, so I know that works, let’s just do that. So I then said okay, well let’s give it a go.
And this is what happened. You and your current… who is it, handshake partner at the moment? Just find another pair to stand with right now. Don’t do anything else. Just simply stand with them.
… you are my demonstration model. I’ll go to the end here. We’ll have two groups facing each other. It won’t matter the number of people. So there’s three and three in this occasion.
As a team we are going to start with a clap, then as a team you’re all going to jump, and then as a team we’re all going to meow at you and backwards and forwards, again as quickly and accurately as possible.
Naturally if one of us, any team, makes a mistake, you get to have a good belly laugh and then start again. So would you like to give this a go, we’ll see how it goes? Shall we start?
Okay, on three. One, two, three.
You got the idea. See what you could do. Keep on going.
(people playing One-Two-Three)
How To Play Narrative
On paper, this exercise seems so easy, until you actually do it. Therein lies the fun and laughter.
Ask your group to pair up with a partner, perhaps using a fun technique from Getting Into Pairs. Then facing one another about a metre (3′) apart, explain that there are four levels of challenge to this exercise.
The first, very simple challenge requires each pair to count out loud the numbers 1, 2 and 3, and to keep repeating these numbers in sequence for as long as possible without a mistake. However, each person only says one number at a time.
For example, Jane may start with “1” and then Amber says “2,” then Jane says “3” and then Amber starts back at “1” etc.
Give your pairs a chance to practice this highly refined skill, and then push onto the second level which involves substituting the speaking of “1” with a clap above one’s head. So, the exercise will sound like [clap], “2, 3,” [clap], “2, 3″… etc.
You can imagine what’s about to happen next.
The challenge now is to repeat the task, but this time, substitute saying “2” with doing a little jump on the spot. Listening to two people doing this task will sound like [clap], [jump], “3,” [clap], [jump]… etc.
Finally, we reach the ultimate challenge. Substitute the number “3” with the sound of a cat’s meow. Putting it all together, it will sound like this – [clap], [jump], “MEOW,” [clap], [jump], “MEOW,” … etc.
If it sounds funny, I promise you, it will look even more hilarious.
The key to all of these challenges is to complete the exercise as quickly, accurately and for as long as possible.
Suggest that if someone makes a mistake, the pair enjoys a good belly laugh for a moment, and then starts over.
Common errors include performing a move or sound at the wrong time, or perhaps even moving when all they had to do was speak a number.
Practical Leadership Tips
In the beginning, don’t wait for pairs to make a mistake much longer than 20 seconds, otherwise, it becomes boring for others. Having a go and generating energy is what this activity is all about (it’s not about getting it right.)
A reminder – the key to success (ie generating lots of laughter) is to encourage people to complete the task as fast and as accurately as possible. Expect mistakes, that’s the whole point.
A further key to the success of this exercise is the fact that with two people, the person who says or performs the first number/action changes all the time. To this end, three people just doesn’t cut it.
I watched my good friend Brendan Smith (YMCA Victoria Camps Division) introduce this exercise in a training program in China, and I’ve been using it ever since. Thanks bud!
You could integrate One-Two-Three as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships, not to mention, enjoy an outrageously fun time.
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 good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to accurately and rapidly adhere to the sequence of the numbers may speak to the benefits of being mindful – not to mention resilience – but these would be considered minor attributes of this fun partner game.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which One-Two-Three could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Quad Challenge: As above, but involve four people, standing in a circle facing each other.
Physical Actions: Vary the actions for each of the numbers. For example, perform a star jump, bark like a dog, beat your chest, etc.
New Language: Translate the numbers into a foreign language. Indeed, when I first learned this exercise in China, the activity was “YEE, AR, SARN” which are the phonetic sounds for “1, 2, 3” in Mandarin.
More Numbers: Take a look at 1-2-3-4 and Your Add for two more mathematically-inclined partner exercises.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Form pairs and allocate each set of partners to their own unique breakout room. for no more than 30 seconds at a time. Admittedly, they will not be there for long, but serious video and audio lag issues aside, this fun game certainly works in a virtual context.
One of the best rapid-fire group-splitting methods ever.
People to People
Anatomical pairing game with lots of fun movements.
Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever read a set of instructions and thought the task looked pretty simple to perform, only to discover that it was much harder than it looked. Here is one of those exercises…
Can you pat your head up and down while rubbing your tummy in a circle motion, all at the same time? The brain is very good at doing one thing at a time, but it can quickly get confused when we try to do more than we are capable, such as this next activity…
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 hilarious partner energiser:
Was this exercise challenging? Why?
What was your reaction when a mistake was made?
Is it okay to make mistakes? Why, and in what circumstances?
The inspiration for One-Two-Three, and many more infectiously fun group games, was sourced from the following publication: