Here’s a word game that’s fun to play with kids, like when you’re waiting for the school bus. It’s an easier version of 20 questions. It works like this:

Grownup: OK, I’m thinking of something. [secretly thinking “monkey”]

Kid 1: Is it a car?

Grownup: No, like a car, it can move from one place to another, but unlike a car it’s alive.

Kid 2: Is it a dog?

Grownup: It is a mammal, like a dog, but it’s not usually kept as a pet.

Kid 1: A cat!

Grownup: Remember, people don’t usually have them as pets, but they are furry and they have tails.

Kid 3: A beaver.

Grownup: It has hair and a tail, but it doesn’t live in the water. It lives in the trees.

Kid 2: A three-toed sloth!

Grownup: Remember, it has a tail, but it does live in the jungle, like a sloth does, but it jumps around a lot more than a sloth.

Kid 3: A monkey!

Grownup: Right.

Here are the rules.

1. One person is “it.” When teaching the game to kids, the adult should be “it.” They think of a “thing.” Just about anything. The younger the kids, the easier the “thing” should be.

2. The other players make guesses.

3. For each guess, the one who’s “it” explains one way that the guess is like the “thing” and one way it’s not like the “thing.” This step keeps the game interesting for a grownup because it can be a challenge to think up “likes” and “unlikes.” And if a game’s boring for a grownup, it doesn’t get played as much.

4. The other players keep guessing, using the hints they get with each guess.

5. If the other players have a hard time guessing, the one who’s “it” should respond with more and more generous hints.

Kids as “It”: Kids will want to take their turns as “it.” Help them remember to give “like” and “unlike” hints. Kids often think that they “win” if the other kids can’t guess. Help them learn that the fun is in giving good hints: hints that help but don’t just give it away.

Twenty Questions: If the kids get good at guessit, they can graduate to 20 questions. Guessit fills the niche for kids that are old enough to play guessing games but too young to play 20 questions with anything like skill.

April 2004