Family Games: Charades

What's Your Sign?

It is important that all players involved know certain hand signals.

  • Movies: Use one hand to shade your eyes and the other to pretend you're winding the film of a camera—squint one eye as though you're looking through a viewfinder.
  • Book: Hold your palms together as though in prayer and open and close them as you would a book.
  • TV show: With your finger in the air, draw an imaginary square in the air. Some people indicate that it's a TV show, by pretending to point a remote control.
  • Quote or phrase: Make quotation marks in the air with your fingers.
  • One finger means first word: Once everyone says “first word,” you can start acting out the word. If no one is getting it, you can act out the first syllable.
  • Syllables: First indicate how many syllables are in the word by laying the like number of fingers across your forearm—so if the word has two syllables, lay two fingers on your forearm. When everyone says “two syllables” indicate that you will act out the first syllable first by then laying one finger on your forearm.
  • Length of word: Make a little or big sign using your two hands (like you're measuring a fish).
  • Sounds like: Cup one hand behind an ear. This means that you will act out a word that rhymes with the original word.
High Score

Whether you have a neutral party or an egg timer, it's a good idea to establish how long you think each actor should get—usually three minutes is adequate. You don't want to give too much time because that takes the tension out of the play—and too little time might be frustrating for all players involved. You may find you need to play a couple of rounds before you figure out the right timing.

Some gestures you're just going to have to make up. There are only so many universal gestures you can establish in advance.

Act your heart out, as fast as you can, and hope your teammates figure out your waving, bending, hopping, skipping, and grimacing.

Ready, Set, Act!

Establish which team will go first by drawing a name from a hat: team 1 or team 2. The leader of the team that is going to go first pulls one of the index cards from the pile. The card will have a word, sentence, phrase, or person indicated on it (you will have to prepare these cards in advance of the game). The leader of team 1 then stands at the front of the room, or wherever your designated “stage” is located, and play begins.

Once the leader of team 1 has read the card and takes his or her place, the timekeeper clicks the stopwatch and the team 1 leader has to start to act—there's no time to waste.

The timekeeper can either be a neutral party (someone not involved in play) or a member of the opposite team who can concentrate on the time and not on the play. Make sure it's someone trustworthy! The timekeeper is responsible for saying “start” to begin play and “stop” when the clock runs out.


There are several different scoring methods you can use.

Winning Plays

There are several versions of charades you can play; one of the funniest I've heard of is Hip Charades. Each team leader spells out a word in the air using … you got it … his or her hips. This game can have some really funny moments.

Each time your team wins a game you score a point. You can play as many rounds as you want. You can set a point limit also—let's say the first team to win 10 points is the winner.

Another way to score is to have the timekeeper record the amount of time it takes to guess the answer. For example, when a team guesses the answer, the time it took them to guess is recorded by the timekeeper (this is why you may need a neutral party). If the answer is not guessed before time is up, three minutes is marked down on the score sheet.

To determine the winner, you add up the times. The team with the lower score is the winner—because it took them the least amount of combined minutes to guess the answers.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Family Games © 2002 by BookEnds, LLC. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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