Most everyone thinks they understand the basic idea behind charades (and they probably do), for it really isn’t much more than pantomiming. Many people don’t actually know the full rules to the game. So, here they are!

Number of Players

4 – multitude (best with a large group)


Pencil and paper (in small strips), and a stopwatch.


Divide all players into two teams and separate them into different rooms. Once sequestered, each team comes up with a series of words or phrases to write down on small slips of paper that will be handed to the other team to guess. The number of words or phrases must be a specific number, with at least one for every member of each team. The words or phrases can be anything, but teams may decide ahead of time to limit them to certain categories (for example, movies, book titles, songs, etc.). Once each team has filled their slips of paper, they place them in a hat, or small bag, or simply fold them over to conceal the contents. Teams then reconvene and hand one another their slips of paper.


A team is chosen to go first, and that team elects one of its members to be the pantomime. Someone from the opposite team takes the stopwatch and becomes the timer for the round. The pantomime draws a slip of paper at random from the selection given by the opposite team. They look at the word or phrase on the slip of paper, and indicate to the timer when they are ready to begin. Once the clock starts, the pantomime’s goal is to get their team to say the entire word or phrase out loud. The only restrictions are that the pantomime may not talk, write, lip-synch, or use sign language of any kind to divulge the information. Only pantomime may be used. There are, however, a number of existing gestures the pantomime may use to convey certain things. Some of them are:

  • Words and Syllables – breaking things up into syllables which can be guessed one at a time is almost necessary for the bigger stuff. It can be done by using the fingers to indicate numbers. For example, if your phrase is “heaven and earth,” the pantomime might start by simply holding up three fingers to show that they have a three word phrase. Once the team correctly guesses the number of words, the pantomime can now hold up one finger to indicate the first word of the phrase. Now the team knows there are three words, and they are about to guess the first one. The pantomime may now take two fingers and hold them against his/her arm. Fingers on the forearm mean syllables. The team is trying to guess a two syllable word.
  • Whole Word or Phrase – When doing a pantomime that represents the whole answer (and not just a word or syllable), make a grand sweeping gesture by waving one arm wide over your head.
  • Sounds like – Cupping a hand around your ear tells the team that the word they are about to guess sounds like something you are about to pantomime. Using the above example, you might then hold up seven fingers to indicate the number 7 (“heaven” sounds like “seven”). Once the team gets “seven,” they may now start guessing words that rhyme with it until they arrive at “heaven.”
  • Movie – If the word or phrase is a movie title, this can be indicated by pretending to wield an old-fashioned movie camera (cranking one hand to advance the film).
  • Book – Place both palms together and then open up your hands like you were opening a book.
  • TV – Draw a box in the air with a finger to show a TV screen.
  • Song – Open your mouth and use one hand to show things coming out (like music notes).
  • Small Word – Hold a finger and thumb close together to show something tiny. The team should now start guessing all smaller words they can think of (a, the, and, if, how, etc.), until they get the right one.
  • Longer or shorter – If a word is a longer version of something that was just guessed, you can pull your hands apart to suggest stretching. If it is a shorter version, you can push your hands together to suggest compressing (or perhaps make a chopping motion to tell them to cut the word down)
  • Past/future tense – For past tense, wave a hand over your shoulder or otherwise behind you. For future tense, wave it to the front.
  • Keep Guessing – Wave hands frantically in a “beckoning” motion (“keep it coming”).
  • Correct Answer – When someone correctly guesses a part of the word or phrase, point to that person with one finger, and place another finger on the tip of your nose (indicating that they got it “on the nose”).

There are, of course, other gestures that may be used to indicate any number of things, and even more that teams may invent for themselves. Just make sure the whole team understands which gestures mean what before the start of play.

The moment someone on the team guesses the entire word or phrase correctly, the timer stops the clock and notes how long the round took. Play then passes to the opposite team who elects their own pantomime, and the whole procedure repeats.


After each team has had an opportunity to guess every word or phrase given to them by the opposite team, the cumulative time for all guesses is calculated for each team. The team which managed to guess all of the words or phrases provided to them by the other team in the shortest amount of time is declared the winner.

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