Whether you’re the parent of a budding actor, or a drama enthusiast hoping to ignite a stage spark in your child, there are plenty of cool acting games you can play at home! These interactive, improvisational activities are used in many top drama classes and workshops because they’re really handy for developing key performance skills in a fun way. Another cool thing about improv for kids is that it costs nothing but time and creativity, yet yields educational and personal development as well as hours of precious creative family time!
What Acting Games Are Right for My Child?
The best acting games are those that your child loves, and that helps them to explore and grow in new ways. Finding the right theater activities for your child is an adventure. Here’s a list of our favorites and classics to play with young aspiring stars. Ideally, these games should be played in a group of three or more, but there are a few you can try in pairs if it’s just you and your little actor. Break a leg!
Quick note: The theater games below are sorted by age and grade level, however, many of these can be adapted to different age groups. Even easy games can be valuable for older children.
Dance Party With Props Or Household Items
Age range: 2 – 3
Quick description: A fun, interactive improv acting movement game where children can explore music and movement concepts.
Anyone who has spent any time with toddlers knows that they’ve got lots of energy to spare! One good way to channel this energy into an interactive pantomime game is to throw a Dance Party with Props (specifically, household items).
- Choose a favorite song that your child loves to dance to, and use some household items such as a dust rag or a small broom.
- Start the music and start moving! Use prompts like “how does this music make you feel?” and “how does this music make the prop move?” to inspire your child to get creative with their movement.
This party can be kinesthetically creative, while still showing toddlers how to begin to move with control. Who knows, it can also help children develop positive attitudes around cleaning up!
Acting Out a Story
Age range: 2 – 3
Quick description: Children play different roles and act out favorite story books or fairy tales.
Another structured acting activity for kids recommended is called Acting Out a Story. This will help toddlers begin to develop their listening skills, vocabulary, and imagination, as well as utilize their energy. Choose a favorite story, and assign each child a part to act out. You can either choose a story that your whole group or family knows (fairy tales work well for this) or you can use a favorite picture book.
It’s common for children to want to tell you what they’re doing as they explore the story. But, encourage your young actor to stay in their role. “Show me, don’t tell me!” is a great prompt to keep your child committed to what they’re doing instead of explaining with words.
Clap, Snap, Stomp
Age range: 4 – 6
Quick description: Children clap, snap, and stomp in turn and sticking to a steady rhythm, making for a great listening game.
As children begin to get older, it’s fun to try more complex and intellectually challenging theater games with them. Clap, Snap, Stomp is a creative performance-based game that’s great to use when children are ready for a new challenge. By kindergarten, most children have had some experience with musical instruments and singing and clapping along. With Clap, Snap, Stomp, the children can act as a team, and at the same time develop individual mental focus and listening skills.
- Start by having the children stand in a circle, and count off around the circle: 1, 2, 3. Continue for as many children as you have, only counting up to three.
- Repeat this count off, but this time all the 1’s will be replaced by a snap of the fingers: snap, 2, 3, snap, 2, 3, etc.
- Then do the count off again, but this time replace the two with a clap: snap, clap, 3, snap, clap, 3, etc.
- For the final round, 1 will be replaced by a snap, 2 will be replaced by a clap, and 3 will be replaced by a foot stomp, making the sequence sound like: snap, clap, stomp, snap, clap, stomp…and so on.
Depending on how it goes (specifically, how successful the students feel doing it and their interest level with it), you can add variations: after a few rounds, you can do an elimination round, and if someone makes a mistake, they must sit down. If you have a larger group of students, make two smaller groups that can play concurrently!
Age range: 4 – 6
Quick description: Participants add their own sound and movement to an ever-growing human machine.
The Human Machine is an old favorite, played in many acting and improv for kids classes and by both children and adults of all ages. It is particularly good for this young age group, especially for more shy and/or less verbal children.
- One at a time, each child becomes part of a grand machine. Start with one student (or you can even start as the first part of the machine). Each part of the machine has a noise and a movement that is unique to that part.
- One at a time, another student will join the machine by connecting themself to another part, and adding their own unique movement and sound.
- By the time everyone has added their “part”, you will have an elaborate piece of machinery with lots of movement and a cacophony of sound!
- Optional: After the machine exercise is complete, have the children sit in a circle and ask them what kind of machine they think it was. Encourage discussion about how each part fits into the whole machine.
- Then, ask them if they’d like to make another type of machine; and for this second round, have a specific function for the machine in mind.
Who’s the Leader?
Age range: 6 – 11
Quick description: One of the best awareness-building theater games where one child leaves the room, and the others silently follow a leader. When the child comes back into the room, they observe to see who is leading the group.
Who’s the Leader is another one of those fun group improv games that doesn’t require a lot of dialogue, and encourages everyone to participate:
- One child leaves the room while the others stand (or sit) in a circle and choose a secret “leader”.
- The leader will start making a repetitive motion (hand claps, shoulder taps, or something similar) that the other children follow; then, the leader will gradually change the motion, while the others follow without missing a beat.
- The student outside is invited back in, and will try to guess out who the leader is by observing the circle.
- He/she will only get two or three guesses.
- Once the leader is revealed, the process is repeated.
Zip, Zap, Zop
Age range: 6 – 11
Quick description: An awareness-building game where children use the words “zip”, “zap”, and “zop”, to signal each turn in the circle.
Zip, Zap, Zop is another acting game that can be used as a warmup or team builder. Only three words are required, but it moves fast and can get quite intense!
- Begin by having the students stand in a circle.
- The first child (“Player A”) claps their hands, and ponts their hands (in prayer position after the clap) toward another player. Simultaneously, Player A will call out the word, “Zip!”
- The second child (“Player B”) repeats the action of clapping and pointing at another student (Player C) while saying “Zap!”
- Player C repeats the action, pointing at yet another student and saying the word “Zop!”
Actors do not need to follow any order and can clap and point at any other player they choose, but they should follow the pattern of “zip, zap, zop.”
Props/Scenes from a Hat
Age range: 8 – 12
Quick description: Scene suggestions are placed in a hat, selected, and at the end of the scene the “audience” guesses what the prompt was.
The popular improv comedy TV show, “Whose Line is it Anyway”, features many improv games that have been used by actors for years. While many of the games are designed for adult actors and audiences, many can be adapted for young performers. One favorite is Scenes from a Hat.
- Have students write brief scene suggestions on small bits of paper, and place them in a hat (or box, or any handy receptacle). Examples could be “job interview”, “how to get out of taking a test”, “first day as a [insert career]” etc.
- Two actors draw a scene from the hat and improvise the scene without telling the audience what the prompt is.
- Students who are not performing (those in the “audience”) can guess the prompt to end the scene, or make a guess after the scene concludes.
Be sure to offer examples to help students understand what a prompt is. This game helps with listening, focus, and writing skills.
A similar game is called “Props”, where random objects are placed in a hat/box; the actors draw one object, and use it to build a scene.
Age range: 8 – 12
Quick description: The actors are challenged to perform a scene where every line spoken is a question, and no statements are allowed.
Now that the students are a little older, they can be challenged to try more complex improvisation that requires both thinking on their feet, and thinking before speaking. An example of this is an improv game called “Questions”.
Asking questions is usually discouraged in improvisation, but in this game the questions are deliberately used to build the story:
- Ask the audience for a setting for the scene
- Choose two actors who can only speak to each other in questions. Example: “Hi, are you here to buy a new car?” “Does something seem wrong with the car I drove in with?”
- Avoid one-word questions if you can!
- If a player accidentally responds with a statement, they are “out”; another actor can replace them.
- Continue until the scene naturally ends, or you run out of actors
Age range: 12 – 13
Quick description: Participants use sounds and motions to initiate action around a circle.
Woosh! Is one of my favorites: it’s a great improv acting warm up, icebreaker, cast bonding, and truly fun game that is verbal, kinesthetic, and gets everyone involved. Great for junior high students, but can also be adapted to any age group.
- Have students stand in a circle.
- Choose a student to start (Player 1), who turns to either neighbor (Player 2), and says `Whoosh` (accompanied by hand waving or similar gesture)
- Player 2 passes the Whoosh to their neighbor (same direction), and thus the Whoosh gets passed around the circle (either clockwise or counterclockwise, depending on which direction Player 1 sent it).
- The “Whoosh!” continues around the circle, but there are 4 other sounds/movements that players can make: Whoa!: indicated by saying “whoa”, and holding up both hands in a stop motion.
- A “Whoa” changes the direction of the Whoosh. Zap!: instead of passing the Whoosh to your neighbor, it gets zapped to the person across the circle to someone you point to with your hands clapped together (similar to the “Zip, Zap, Zop” game).
- The recipient of the “zap” then continues with either a Whoosh to his neighbor, or another Zap to another person. Then the “woosh!” can resume in either direction.
- Groooooooovelicious!: a player who is “Whooshed” or “zapped” (but not “whoa’ed”) can shout out, “Groooooooovelicious!” and incite a dance break of their own creation, which all the other players in the circle must copy. Afterwards, the player who started the Groovelicious sets the Whoosh in motion again, in either direction.
Age range: 12 – 13
Quick description: One actor uses lines from a script and the other actor uses improvised lines to build a scene.
“Actor’s Nightmare” is an improv game that not only helps creative thinking, but encourages literacy skills. It can be played with as few as two students, or as many as you like (as long as you have time to give each player a turn in either role):
- Player 1 needs a script; if a copy of a play isn’t available, you can use a comic, novel, or book.
- Player 2 doesn’t have a book/script, and is thus experiencing the “nightmare” and must improvise the responses.
- Player 1 reads lines from the book/script to player 2, who must respond.
- The object is for player 2 to respond logically (as possible) to each line player 1 says. The goal is to build character and story based on the information in the play/book and keep the scene going.
- Players can switch who holds the book midway, or start a whole new scene; other actors can be rotated into either role to keep the scene going and see where it ends up!
Age range: 14 – 18
Quick description: “Quirks” are written on pieces of paper and placed in a hat. Each actor takes a piece of paper from the hat and uses it as inspiration for their character. Afterwards, the audience sees if they know which actor was given each quirk.
This improv game is a drama class favorite, great for tailoring improv for kids, and ideal for several (5 or more) players. It’s a very fun way to build up ensemble chemistry, and get everyone involved.
- Have everyone in the group write down a “quirk” on a piece of paper to add to a hat/bin (similar to “Scenes from a Hat”): IMPORTANT: be sure to encourage students to be creative, but respectful. In other words, don’t use real illnesses, disabilities, hate speech, or anything that seems to be mocking a type of real person. Think more along the lines of: “believes she/he is a cat”, “obsessed with lapels”, “off-duty crime scene detective who thinks everyone’s a suspect”, “food thief”, “compulsively quotes movies” and so on.
- Remind actors that it’s best if they choose a random quirk from the hat, not one they’ve written themselves.
- Once all the “quirks” are placed in the hat, choose one player to be the “host”:
- Start with the “host” on stage, and the “party guests” offstage.
- Each partygoer chooses a quirk from the hat, but cannot share their identity with the host or other guests.
- The Host sets the scene by readying the room for the party. Players announce themselves offstage one at a time, saying “Ding Dong!” to cue the host to let them in; be sure to give the host and each guest adequate time to interact before the next “guest” arrives. Guests can also interact with each other to develop their characters.
- The object of the game is for the “host” to try and guess each guest’s quirk; if you have a large group, have the guests exit the scene once the host has successfully guessed the quirk.
“Party Quirks” can evolve into a long-form improv game, so be sure to allow sufficient time for the “party” to build steam!
Age range: 14 – 18
Quick description: Actors use gibberish and movement fundamentals to create a “movie”.
Dubbed Movie (also known as “Foreign Film”) works best with a minimum of four players.
- Four actors form two pairs: in each pair, one player is the “actor” in an imaginary foreign language film, and the other is the actor who “dubs” the lines in English. In other words, two actors are performing a scene in gibberish, using mainly grand gestures, tone of voice, and body language, while the other two actors “interpret” what’s happening for the audience.
- Players can switch roles (from “film actor” to “interpreter” and vice versa), and you can swap out actors as the “film” goes along to give everyone in the group a chance to perform.
- Some high school students may be fluent enough in another language to say lines in that language, but it’s more fun if the scene is done in gibberish so that no audience members can decipher the actual words being said; it also encourages the performers to focus on using their faces and bodies to communicate!
Theater Games For Every Situation
While some theater games are perfect for warming up, others are great for team building, and others are great for building focus. Here are some activities you can try, sorted specifically by activity type.
Age range: 8 – 18
Quick description: Tongue twisters are used to warm up the voice and body.
Getting warmed up is essential for any drama lesson and good performance. Many drama teachers who teach improv for kids introduce tongue-twisting acting games to kids of all ages to help them focus on articulation. A great way to start is by asking your kids to scrunch up their faces and make them as small as possible for a couple of seconds. Then, get them to stretch their expressions to make them as wide as they can go. After a quick nose wiggle, you’re all set to twist those tongues! Here are a few tongue-twisting favorites to try:
- Unique New York. Unique New York.
- Can you can a can as a canner can can a can?
- Red lorry, yellow lorry. Red lorry, yellow lorry.
- She sells seashells on the seashore.
- Kitten in the kitchen.
Ideally you should start by saying the tongue twisters slowly together. Once the confidence is up you can ask your child to say it on their own. While doing so you should also encourage your little one to use their stage voice, not a normal voice – meaning, their voice should carry across the room. Depending on the age of your kids, you could take this up a level by assigning an emotion to each tongue twister; for example, you could try angry ones, happy ones, sad ones, and so on. Or even better, as a challenge, you can try to gradually increase the emotion per turn (this works well even if it’s just two players).
Building Ensembles and Trust
Age range: 8+
Quick description: Actors build a story, one word at a time.
This is a great game to help with focus and teamwork.
- While facing each other or seated in a circle, the first player says a single word to begin the story.
- Progressing through the circle, the person on the left of Player One says the next word, and so on. The aim is to tell a comprehensive story through only one word exchanges.
Age range: 16+ (can be played with younger groups as maturity allows)
Quick description: Participants guide each other around the room in pairs. One person is blindfolded, the other is the guide.
Difficulty: Intermediate – Advanced
As the name says, this game is all about walking blindly in pairs to build trust and encourage players to be more comfortable with each other.
- This game must be played in silence as the first player is asked to close their eyes. Player Two must then guide Player One around the room by only holding their hand or shoulder.
- This continues for about two minutes, with the couple wandering around in silence – then of course you can switch roles. The aim of the game is for the blind player to be more trusting, and the leading player to create a safe environment.
- At the end of this game it’s great for all players to reflect and chat about how their partner made them feel safe, and how they made their partners feel safe.
Age range: 7+
Quick description: Actors stand in a circle and take turns building on one movement or gesture.
There are many acting games that are designed to help even the shyest of little actors break out of their shells within a few moments. One of our favorites is the Exaggeration Circle. In this game, players can stand in a circle or facing each other. The goal of the game is to gradually dramatize Player One’s gesture.
- Player One can start small, such as with a little finger pointing.
- Then, Player Two can make it bolder, with Player Three even adding a shout to the pointing, and so on.
- Obviously this can be rotated if you’re playing it with a smaller group. The thing to remember is that all players must maintain the integrity of the initial gesture. We find this game to be a handy start to larger themes for character development later on.
Age range: 6+
Quick description: Actors mirror each other’s movements to build awareness skills.
Actors need to be aware of their bodies and be able to convey a message through the slightest body movements. This game is a cool activity that can help with movements as well as general team building. You can play this one in pairs with players standing opposite each other.
- Player One begins by being the person looking into a pretend mirror, with Player Two acting as the reflection.
- During the game, Player One should move very slowly and Player Two must mirror every movement, including facial expressions.
- You can take this game up a notch after a while by nominating no leader or follower – just slow mirroring.
On the Spot
Age range: 6+
Quick description: Actors add motions and sounds to a scene on a specific theme.
Creative juices must have constant flow on stage! This fun acting game is fantastic for stretching the imagination and increasing spontaneity.
- To begin, create an imaginary stage and get players to step forward one at a time. Explain that one person will be in charge of picking a theme or topic, then the remaining players will need to perform something that fits in into that theme – it can be really simple, like a sound, or a pose, or a motion – anything that links to the theme.
- Try to encourage out-of-the-box interpretations of common themes.
What Theater Games Will You Try?
We hope that you’ve found our list of acting games handy and we trust that it will give you hours of family fun while learning new skills! If learning how to act is something you or your child is interested in exploring further, enrolling in private acting lessons can make a big difference. Working with an acting coach creates the perfect environment to enhance improv acting strengths and improve weaker areas of performance – all in a very safe space. Give it a try, and remember – have fun with it!