Ask your group to stand evenly-spaced apart facing you.
Explain that you are ‘Top Monkey.’
Everyone aims to become Top Monkey but unless they imitate the correct animal gesture as demonstrated by Top Monkey, they shall be eliminated.
By way of demonstration, decide on three unique animal gestures such as:
– Raccoon – make circles with thumb and pointer fingers on both hands, and peer through them;
– Crocodile – extend both arms out in front, palms facing, and slap together several times; and
– Giraffe – both arms extended above your head, hands clasped and bent forward.
With each animal, demonstrate the gesture and ask your group to imitate you.
When you call “TOP MONKEY” everyone must remain motionless, otherwise, they are eliminated.
When you call “NOT A MONKEY,” everyone must quickly assume one of the three animal gestures.
Those who match the animal demonstrated by Top Monkey remain in the game, all others are eliminated.
To begin, make a series of calls to allow your group to practice this basic routine (actual eliminations are not necessary.)
Finally, announce that all further rounds will require everyone to have their backs to Top Monkey (you.)
Same rules apply: everyone must remain motionless on the call of “TOP MONKEY” and on the command “NOT A MONKEY” everyone will turn to face Top Monkey as they commit to one of the three animal gestures. Those who match the same animal as Top Monkey remain in the game.
Continue until one person remains, the winner.
Invite the winner to become the new Top Monkey.
Play several fast rounds.
How To Play Narrative
There are two parts to this zany game – made up of one part Simon Says and one part ESP – the set-up and the play.
To develop the set-up, explain that you are the ‘Top Monkey’ by making various scratching-under-the-armpit motions like a monkey. Hamming it up, and just for the fun of it, encourage your group standing directly in front of you to do the same.
Explain that all of the animals in the jungle (your group) want to be the Top Monkey. And because you are king (or queen,) the Top Monkey often chooses to imitate the other animals.
At this point, decide on three animals you would like to imitate – it doesn’t matter which ones you choose, just be sure their actions are unique. For example:
Raccoon – make circles with thumb and pointer fingers on both hands, and peer through them;
Crocodile – extend both arms out in front, palms facing, and slap together several times; and
Giraffe – both arms extended above your head, hands clasped and bent forward.
With each animal, demonstrate the gesture and ask your group to imitate you. The more animation, the better. You are now ready to play.
Tell your group that the only way that they can become Top Monkey is by beating Top Monkey at his or her own game, ie imitations. With people still facing you, you call “TOP MONKEY” over and over again, each time scratching in all the appropriate spots for good effect. Meanwhile, your group should remain motionless in front of you.
Suddenly, you shout “NOT A MONKEY” which is a trigger for everyone (including you, the Top Monkey) to quickly become one of the three other animals. The trick is that everyone wants to be the same as the animal now revealed by the Top Monkey.
Those who match the Top Monkey get to stay in the game, while those who do not, are asked to sit down, ie they are eliminated.
Play a few quick ‘practice’ rounds so your group gets the idea. These trials will build their confidence, just before it really gets interesting.
Announce that you are about to start the game for real, but from now on, everyone will face away from you, the Top Monkey. I can hear the groans from here.
Once your group has turned away, call out “TOP MONKEY, TOP MONKEY, etc, etc…,” during which your group must remain motionless. Until… you suddenly shout “NOT A MONKEY” as you imitate one of the three animals.
Immediately, everyone swings about gesturing their chosen animal as they turn, and voila! Some will be imitating the Top Monkey (hooray,) others not (goodbye.)
To be clear, if a person moves or twitches during your incessant calls of “TOP MONKEY,” they will be kindly asked to sit out the remainder of the round.
Continue until you are down to the last person – the winner.
They shall be crowned the new Top Monkey (and handed a banana,) at which point you invite everyone to return for a new round.
Practical Leadership Tips
Stress that people must have committed to a particular animal before they start to turn around to face the Top Monkey. Otherwise, it’s just too easy to see what Top Monkey is doing and quickly imitate him/her. In the beginning, this is hard to police, but as the crowd thins out, this tactic becomes easier to spot.
It helps if Top Monkey is elevated above the rest of the group, eg stage, platform, or solid box, etc, to ensure everyone can see him/her.
Part of the fun and thrill of this game is the similar sounding words “TOP” and “NOT.” While you should take advantage of this similarity as you make your calls, be careful to enunciate correctly, lest you be accused of making it too difficult to understand which call you have given.
A quick game is a good game. Vary the pace of your calls, but keep the action moving. With a group of 30 people, you should expect to have eliminated most people within 2 minutes.
You could integrate Top Monkey as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability 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:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
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 short burst of physical activity and a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully respond to the leader’s commands may speak to the benefits of being resilient because, like a game of chance, participants are more likely to be eliminated than not.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Top Monkey could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Matches: Rather than eliminate people, ask everyone to record the number of ‘matches’ made with Top Monkey. For example, out of 12 rounds, an individual may have imitated the same animal as Top Monkey on 5 occasions. The person who matches Top Monkey the most often wins.
Reward Difference: Eliminate those who make the same gesture as Top Monkey, while those who are different remain in the game.
Paired Matches: Take a look at ESP for a similar fun, paired-matching exercise.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Apart from the peculiarity of participating from a remote location (and in front of a screen,) the game can be briefed and played as above.
Be aware, some people may experience slow internet connections, therefore, it may be possible that some people will appear to respond slower than others.
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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 fast-paced, guessing game:
What did you observe while playing the game?
Did you note what you were telling yourself as you played? What did you make these comments mean?
How difficult was it to match the Top Monkey?
Where else in your life do you need fast and accurate reactions?
The inspiration for Top Monkey, and many more energising group games, was sourced from the following publication: