It may be a game played in the classroom for years, but these days more and more teachers are using more kid-friendly alternatives to Hangman because, well … it can be offensive.
If your first thought was “What? Kids have played Hangman for generations,” you’re right. Not only was the spelling word game played on blackboards for years, it was even developed into a Milton Bradley board game back in the 1970s with Scrabble-like tiles. Hangman has a long history in education as a brain break and learning game … but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had an effect.
The teachers of Teach Starter sat down to talk to teachers who have ditched Hangman for more kid-friendly alternatives to find out why. We’ve also pulled together some of our favorite options to substitute in your classroom!
Is Hangman Offensive? Teachers Weigh In
There’s no doubt about it, this game definitely had dark beginnings. It is believed it was once played when a prisoner was facing the death penalty back in the 17th century. It was called the “Rite of Words and Life.” Without going into too much detail, you can kind of guess how it once played out.
We’ve been tracking the trend of teachers moving away from the game in their own classrooms, and we were curious. So we asked some teachers in the Teach Starter community if they found “hangman” offensive and if they would play it in their classroom.
Here’s what some of them said:
- “We’ve got significant childhood trauma that involves suicide. We do not play this game. Grow the flower is our game!” — Kristine
- “I don’t find it offensive, and I play it with my own family – but tend to use alternatives when teaching because you never have a complete picture of all the kids’ backgrounds and I don’t want to trigger anything.” — Jennifer
- “I think once you start diving down the rabbit hole of being overly PC all the time, you create a lot of unnecessary work and fuss over things that generally no one has an issue with. But, if someone I was educating had an issue with the name of the game I would definitely provide an alternative.” — Melissa
So, many teachers didn’t necessarily find the game offensive, but they were more concerned about the effect of playing the game with some students in their class and whether it triggered certain emotions.
But we didn’t stop there. We have also dug into the history of the game.
It turns out it goes even deeper than that. Some people in the educational space (and beyond) have compared Hangman in particular to lynching — violent and often public acts perpetrated against Black Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries.
As Michigan teacher Lois Beardslee — whos is Native American — says of the practice of using Hangman as a spelling game when considering the atrocities that the Black community faced,
“Some underlying, unspoken norm seems to suggest that it’s fine for a children’s game to feature a lynching. Of course, the dead person isn’t really part of the game — nor is the historic context of lynching. It’s just there, part of the silent, implicit curriculum that normalizes such deaths or makes them invisible.”
With those concerns in mind, why not check out these super-engaging alternatives to Hangman? You never know; your kids may enjoy them a little more…
6 Alternatives to Hangman for Kids
You’ll notice with any of these alternatives to Hangman, the premise of the game is exactly the same — you’re picking a word and putting a dash for each letter in the word.
Each time a player picks a letter that is not in the word, there’s a consequence.
Disappearing Ice Cream Sundae (Interactive PowerPoint)
We won’t pretend we aren’t biased about the appeal of the Disappearing Ice Cream Sundae game. Created by our teacher team, this interactive game challenges students to ensure the delicious ice cream doesn’t slowly disappear before their eyes! Words included in the initial download include:
- Ice cream
Don’t forget to download the blank option so you can add in your own words that may be more suitable for the age of your students. You can also upload the PowerPoint to your Google Drive and turn it into the Google Slides format to integrate with your Google Classroom!
Mouse and Cheese Game
The point of this fun Hangman alternative is for kids to save the cheese from the mouse while guessing the word.
Here’s how to play:
- Draw a simple mouse at the bottom of some stairs and cheese at the top (the beauty of this is you can decide how many incorrect guesses you’ll allow your students to get).
- Each time the students miss a letter, draw a little loop to show the mouse going up a step.
- If students guess the word before the mouse reaches the top of the stairs, they win!
Rocket Blast Off
It’s time to blast off with a space-themed version of the game.
Here’s how to play:
- Draw the base of a simple rocket.
- Add parts to your rocket as the students guess an incorrect letter. Make sure there is something final at the end, like three lines drawn at the bottom of the rocket that symbolize the rocket blasting off into space!
Not terribly artistic? Download this simple rocketship template to trace!
Just like the disappearing ice cream sundae, the disappearing snowman is an interactive PowerPoint that students can play again and again as a fun brain break or indoor recess activity.
The only difference? This is a frosty winter version that can be played all year long as a fun hangman alternative!
Spider in a Web
Another fun option to move away from playing Hangman for spelling word practice is drawing a web and then a simple spider hanging from or in the spider web.
There are a few different forms that we like to take with this game:
- Draw the spider (a body and eight legs) and then draw a length of spider silk as the last part.
- Alternatively, draw a simple spider web and the spider hanging from the spider web.
The option you choose really depends on the age of your students, the length of the words you are using, and how many incorrect guesses you are going to allow!
Wordle in the Classroom
Yup, the game that’s swept social media has ended up in the classroom too — see how teachers are using Wordle-type games to get kids excited about spelling and vocabulary!