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Kid-Friendly Alternatives to Hangman to Play in the Classroom

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Photo of Holly (Teach Starter)
Updated | 4 min read

It may be a game played in the classroom for years, but 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. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t had an effect.

Is Hangman Offensive?

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 asked some teachers if they found the term ‘hangman’ offensive and if they would play it in their classroom, and 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
  • “No, I don’t. 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 triggers certain emotions.

And it goes even deeper than that. Some have compared Hangman in particular to lynching — violent and often public acts perpetrated against Black Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As teacher Lois Beardslee 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, you either draw one part of a picture or click to make part of an image disappear (Interactive PowerPoints). If they choose the word without the image being completely drawn or completely disappearing, they win!

Disappearing Ice Cream Sundae (Interactive PowerPoint)

Your students will adore this fantastic alternative to hangman – the Disappearing Ice Cream Sundae game. They’ll be ooo-ing and aah-ing as the delicious ice cream slowly disappears before their eyes! Words included in the initial download include:

  • heat
  • pool
  • beach
  • summer
  • swimmers
  • sunshine
  • holidays
  • barbeque
  • ice cream
  • waterpark

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.


Mouse and Cheese Game

The point of this game is that you want to save the cheese from the mouse. 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.

Rocket Blast Off

It’s time to blast off! Draw a simple rocket, adding parts to it 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!

Spider in a Web

Another fun option to move away from hangman for spelling word practice is drawing a web and then a simple spider hanging from or in the spider web. You could either 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. All of this 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!

Disappearing Snowman

Just like the disappearing ice cream sundae, the disappearing snowman is an interactive PowerPoint that they can play again and again. The only difference? This is a frosty winter version … that can be played all year long as a fun hangman alternative!

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!

Do you have a Hangman alternative you love? Let us know below!


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