Tag Archives: no props needed

No Props Needed: Name Games (part 1)

It’s the start of another school year and at my church in Beijing we have a LOT of new teens in our youth groups this year. There are new grade 6 students now old enough to attend, some 7th graders who didn’t come last year, some older students who’ve decided to be more involved this year, and a bunch of families new to Beijing.

When half your group is new, learning names is a big deal – when you know others’ names it makes you feel more connected, less isolated. For the not-new students, learning the new kids’ names helps them be more inclusive, and get to know the new people faster.

With that in mind, we’ll be sharing some great name learning games that don’t require much by way of prep or props. These are the games we’re using to start off the school year in our youth groups.

The Pillow Game

When I was a student, we played this game with a rolled up newspaper. With my groups now, I use pillows. It doesn’t really matter what you use, as long as you can hit people with it without actually hurting them. Pool noodles would work well, too.  So yes, a prop is needed, but there are lots of round-the-house type options. The best thing about pillows is that you can throw them across the circle to hit your target – an additional bit of fun.

Everyone sits in a circle; one person stands in the middle with the pillow. A name is said to start things off. The person in the middle has to hit the named person with the pillow before they say another name. Then the person in the middle goes for the newly named person, who says another name. It keeps going in this fashion until the person in the middle hits a named person before they can say another person’s name. (You can’t call the name of the person in the middle). The new person stands up and the one who caught them sits in their chair – this means people change seats throughout the game so you have to remember what a person looks like, not just what part of the circle that name was! When the person in the middle catches someone, they must say a new name before sitting down – or they can get whacked back and be right back in the middle.

That’s a little confusing, with all the pronouns, so here’s how it works. Let’s say Bob is in the middle. The name “Mary” is called. Mary yells “Lily” before Bob gets to Mary. Then Bob runs toward Lily who yells “David”. David says “um um um” at which point Bob hits him with the pillow. David stands up and takes the pillow, Bob says “Peter” and sits down.

With a large group, we added a second pillow – so two people were in the middle, chasing after the one name that was called. If you have two people with the same name, the group should agree ahead of time on separate names (use a nickname, a surname, whatever you like) so that they can be distinguished. Careful, though – those nicknames can stick!


A prop is needed for this, too – just a blanket or heavy sheet/tablecloth, or something or that sort. You could use a tarp or a piece of canvass… lots of options. This game works best once the kids have had a chance to learn names first – so it’s best played after another name game or a few weeks in.

Divide the group into two teams. Two leaders hold the blanket (or whatever) between the groups so they can’t see each other. A leader counts down from 5 to 1, while the groups each choose a representative, who stands in front of the blanket. When the count gets to 1, the leaders pull down the blanket. There are two kids facing each other who must now race to say the other person’s name correctly first. The first one to guess correctly wins a point for their team.

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Posted by on August 31, 2011 in Games


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No props needed: the great game of AIRPORT

This is the first post on no-props-needed games. Sometimes I’ve looked over lists of games and mentally crossed out 2 in 3 (or more) because they call for props that are difficult – or expensive – to come by in China. I’m sure the list of available props in places less metropolitan than Beijing is much more restrictive.

Enter the no-props-needed games. These are games that we love, that are engaging and fun, and best of all – don’t require you to buy crazy things! This game requires chairs and an empty water bottle – but since most meetings I’ve been to have chairs of some kind available and the water bottle is basically trash, I’m going to count it anyway ;)

Airport is my favourite youth group game (at least at the moment). I learned it from John Sorrell, and he in turn learned it from Smick (Erik Johanson). As with most great games, this one has a story. We start out by having each kid grab a chair and scatter throughout the room (and sit). Then someone tells the story…

We are waiting in an airport and we just found out our flight has been delayed for 8 hours. Again. So, being bored we have decided as a group to mess with the next person to walk up.

One person gets out of their chair and goes to the opposite side of the room. They attempt to sit down but the whole group shifts around so that the person who’s in can’t get a seat. This sometimes requires creative thinking and teamwork on the part of the seated kids. There is always an empty chair, so the trick is to make sure the empty chair keeps moving away from the person who’s in.

One last thing. The person in the middle is given a slight handicap – they must hold an empty bottle between their legs (we usually use a cheap plastic water bottle someone’s just finished). This is to simulate the luggage they would be carrying around, of course! When that person manages to sit down, the last person standing is the next one in.

I know it sounds simple, but I promise – it takes off quickly! John says he’s played it in 6 countries and kids have always engaged with it. Here in Beijing it draws in kids who can be stand-off-ish in games times normally. I’m not a huge games person and I love playing it! I’ll admit, it gets a little crazy the way we play – people diving on chairs, sitting on each other (arguing over who got there first), some bent chair legs, and a few minor injuries…

One great thing about this game is that it’s so easy to add (or subtract) a player anytime – if kids show up late they can easily join in whenever they arrive. We sometimes play attempting to get every person in at least once – even teaming to get a certain person in rather than to stop the person who’s in from sitting down!  I’ve seen a kid walk behind the one who’s in (and is less mobile due to the bottle between their knees) ready to duck in front of them and steal the chair they’re headed for. I’ve seen a grade 6 boy fling himself on a chair as if his life depended on it! There’s so much room for creativity and engaging in individual ways. And it’s just plain fun!

Departure waiting areas at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok. That's a familiar sight...

Departure waiting areas at Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok. That's a familiar sight...

The best part about airport is that the story is SO TCK. If you try this in your home country, the game works but the story doesn’t connect. In Asia, you tell that two sentence story and every kid is with you – they know the pain of airport delays. There’s something awesome about a game with a story that fits your life – and this game’s story fits the TCK life beautifully. A game that brings your friends with you into the boredom of a delayed flight? Well that just rocks.

I know what (and who) I’ll be thinking of next time one of my flights is delayed ;)

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Posted by on May 20, 2011 in Games


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