Counting Game

The Basics:

Players sit in a circle.  They count out loud, in order, from 1 to the number that matches the number of players.  Here are the rules:  1.  Each player calls out only one number per round.  2. They cannot establish any patterns or signals to indicate who would be next, it must be random.  3.  If any two players say the same number,  the group needs to start over with a new round.  4.  If any player calls out a number out of order, the group needs to start over with a new round.  5. If anyone calls out a number more than once in a round, the group needs to start over with a new round.

In the Classroom:

This is a game about developing focus within a group.  It trains students to be aware of their surroundings and sensitive to speaking over each other.  When a group improves at this game it means they are developing the skill of knowing when it is appropriate to interject themselves into a group discussion, they are understanding the flow of the class, and giving space that other people need, while still being an integral part of the whole. They are learning to recognize who needs to speak, and who hasn't spoken.

  • Secondary teachers can use this game just before they wish to have a class discussion. When they do this they should use the game rules as a model for that discussion. "Listen to each other, build off of what each other says, there is no structure about when each of you should talk, but we should all speak at some point, and in order to achieve that, others of you who speak a great deal up front need to pull back a bit later." You could say this before any discussion and have no success because no one will understand what part of that discussion is directed at them, but after this game everyone is ready to receive the message you are trying to send them.

  • Any teacher can use it as a focus exercise. It is amazing how teachers tend to complain to each other about how students are not able to do certain basic things, like listen and discuss, but at no point is that kind of skill ever explicitly taught or practiced. This game is what practicing listening and discussion looks like, it is the equivalent of conducting a passing drill in a basketball or soccer practice.

  • It is not only an exercise where teachers get to know their students better, but where kids get to know themselves better. If a player is always the one who talks over people, or is always one of the last people, or is always insisting on being number 4, this says something about them, and this game is a safe context to point that out. Not in the context that one is "bad" and the other is "good" but that there are a wide range of strategies out there, and that often success requires that we recognize tendencies in others, and adjust what we are doing to balance it.

Avoiding Problems:

  • There is an idea in improv that failure is not a problem, it is just an opportunity to try again. The key to this game is to not let any time go by between rounds. Once two people say the same number, try to train them to go right to "one" again. Discourage blaming or strategizing, encourage focus and silent purpose!

  • There are times when an individual student will try to get attention by messing the group up on purpose. The group is very good at monitoring this themselves...(They will get very mad at this person!) Usually, I will lean over to that person and say something like "If you are doing this on purpose, I don't think that strategy is working for you!" if he or she insists that it isn't on purpose, or if it continues, I will break the rules a bit and instruct that player to listen and wait to say anything until after the group gets to 10.

  • If the group is really struggling with the game and getting frustrated, I will set simpler goals, ("Okay! you made it to 5, our goal is 7!") declare victory, and end the game, with a promise that we will do it again some other time.

  • Remember to enforce rules as best you can. Stop the game when patterns form, break patterns yourself if you are playing with them, or if kids ignore when two kids say the same number.

  • Avoid trying to strategize for them. Let them figure it out!


This game is hard to attribute.  I think I first read it in one of Viola Spolin's books.  It is definitely one that has been "out there" for a long time.