Dr. Know-It-All / Human Dictionary

The Basics:

Dr. Know It All is a line game.  Five or six players line up in front of the audience and they answer a question given to them, one word at a time.  If the answer goes beyond five words, which should happen, then it wraps around to the front of the line again.  Try to make the questions as open ended as possible.

A second variation on this game is "Human Dictionary."  Here the line of players takes on a nonsense word, and must define it, with each player saying one word in the answer.  The structure of a dictionary is a bit more complicated and can be an added feature to the game.  Start with the first player saying the word, then have the next player start spelling the word, one letter at a time.  Once the word is spelled, the next player says the word again (this indicates to all that the spelling part is over.) Then the next player says the part of speech the word is, and then finish with the definition, one word at a time.

In the Classroom:

  • This is a nice warm-up or filler activity (for when you have that extra ten minutes that you didn't plan for).
  • Human Dictionary is a nice review for parts of speech as well, but you may need to do some direct teaching about the format of the different definitions, especially for younger kids.  Otherwise everything becomes a noun even though it was introduced as a verb.  (Verb definitions always start with "to", adverbs usually start with the word 'with' or 'in a' etc.)
  • Teachers might be tempted to ask real questions, or try to review vocabulary in this way, but this becomes a very different game, and much less fun.  Kids don't feel safe when the words are real because the key word needs to be known by the right person.  This rarely happens, mostly because recall is very much reduced when people are put on the spot, and to make matters worse, it seems as though EVERYONE ELSE in the room knows the answer.  There is also no opportunity for other players to step up and save their teammate.  Instead the student who does not know is left standing there, letting his team down and looking foolish in front of the class.  


A colleague of mine introduced me to this game about 15 years ago.  I have since seen variations of the game in countless improvisation books and websites.