The Telephone Game

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Updated on Oct 11, 2013

Grade Level: 6th -8th; Type: Social Science

This project will explore how messages get lost from person to person. Using the telephone game and a voice recorder we can hear the progression from the original message to the final message.

  • At what point(s) does the message deviate from the original?
  • Does deviation increase with an increase in participants?
  • Are some messages more memorable than others?

Before the days of computers and audio recording people would communicate through letters. However, only the wealthy, educated class had the means and intellect to write. Stories were often passed down through oral traditions from generation to generation. When the stories were written among the latter generations variations within those stories began to appear. Like in the classic game, “Telephone” players are given a phrase and are told to pass it down the line to the next person. At the end of the line the message is often transformed from the original. In this project we will track the progression of the message as it travels through the “telephone line.”

  • Voice Recorder - Available at department stores, electronic stores.
  • iPod voice recorder attachment

  1. Find 5-20 subjects to participate in your game of telephone.
    1. You should designate an order so participants know who to tell the message to next.
  2. Come up with your messages:
    1. Sentence with many numbers.
    2. Famous Quote
    3. Phone Number
    4. Sentence with many colors.
  3. Give each participant the rules:
    1. The experimenter will tell the 1st participant the message and recording the message at the same time. The experimenter will then state the time.
      1. Experimenter turns on the recorder & tells the message to the participant: "Four out of forty people who live on 5th street moved to in on Jan. 24, 2010." The experimenter continues to record and states the time, "10:05am".
    2. The first participant will pass along the message in the same way, recording and stating the time.
      1. Include instructions on how to operate the voice recorder.
    3. Participants are not allowed to write down any part of the message.
    4. The message can only be repeated if the listener could not hear the message clearly the first time. Participants cannot ask to have the message repeated to help them remember the message.
    5. Participants may not listen to the voice recordings.
  4. Start with 5 people.
  5. Relay the 1st message.
  6. Once the telephone line is complete have the last person return the voice recorder to the experimenter.
  7. Did the message change?
  8. Repeat Steps 5-7 with 10 people, 20 people.
  9. Repeat steps 4-8 with the other messages.
  10. Organize your data in a chart.







    Sue is going to …




    Sue is going to…




    Sue went to…




    Sue was going to…




    Sue was going to…

Terms/Concepts: Telephone/Grapevine/Whisper Down the Lane Game; Oral Traditions vs. Written Traditions; Short Term Memory


Melissa Bautista is a research scientist, freelance editor, and writer, with a focus in Neuroscience. She believes in establishing solid foundations in education through experience, creativity, and collaboration. She is fascinated by pedagogy and the concept of learning through living.

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