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Heads Down, Thumbs Up is a game that I have learnt very recently, while working as a Teaching Assistant in a Primary School.

Having decided to pursue a career as a teacher, I left my last paid job in February 2007. I started volunteering at local schools to try out being in a classroom, and make sure that it was actually what I wanted to do. It's worked out really well so far, and my training to become a teacher starts this September.

One thing I quickly realised on my second voluntary placement was that I don't have a great repertoire of games and activities for children in my head, and this was a bit of a problem. I've made a concerted effort to learn some useful and simple games and activities to overcome this. Heads Down, Thumbs Up is one of those games, and is particularly great because it's a quiet game that tends to have a calming effect on a group of children (sometimes a vital part of the school day!).

How to Play

This is a game for any number of children. The least I have played this with is around 12, and that worked well. I haven't yet found a maximum number, I think that depends on the age and temperament of the children, as well as the size of the room, and the number of people supervising.

  1. All players sit in a circle.
  2. The person in charge picks three people to be Choosers.
  3. Everybody else must bow their head, close their eyes and put their thumbs up in the air. It's important that players thumbs are easy for the Choosers to reach.
  4. The Choosers move around the circle as quietly as possible, and touch the thumb of one of the players sitting in the circle. That player must put their thumbs down.
  5. When each Chooser has chosen, they move to the side of the circle.
  6. The person in charge instructs everyone playing to put their heads up and open their eyes, and stand up if their thumbs were touched.
  7. It's important to pay attention while the Choosers are choosing. Children often claim to have felt their thumbs being tweaked when no one has. Having to check with the Choosers because your mind was wandering when they were playing tends to spoil the next part of the game.

  8. Each child standing up takes a turn to say which of the Choosers touched their thumb. If they guess correctly they swap places with the Chooser. If they are wrong they sit back down and the Chooser gets another go.

We tend to limit the number of goes someone can have as a 'Chooser' to three, so after they have successfully evaded being identified three times they get a reward (Team Points, sweets, verbal congratulations) and someone else is selected to be a Chooser. This can be a good way of keeping order during the game, if you make sure that all players know that their chances of being chosen are directly related to their behaviour!


The children in my current class really seem to enjoy being in the right (I'm starting to think this is true of all children!) and as a result really don't like being identified by the players. They often play with a Decoy. The Choosers secretly select one of them to be a Decoy who moves among the players as if they are a Chooser but doesn't touch anyone's thumbs. This makes it harder for the players to identify who touched their thumb.

With a larger group of children, there could be more Choosers. The number of Choosers is really only limited by space. If you're in a very large room it's easier to have lots of choosers, whereas if you've only got space for a couple of children to creep around, it may be better to limit the number of Choosers to three or less.

I recently ran a game of Heads Up, Thumbs Down outside to calm the class down at the end of a frenetic breaktime. As I didn't want the children sitting on the floor, I grouped them around two large picnic tables, which worked well.

I haven't seen any adults playing this game, but have a sneaking suspicion it could be adapted into a drinking game without too much difficulty!

Versions of this game with seven people choosing can be found in the e2 write ups for 7up and Heads Up 7up. Thanks to all.i.ask and Scribe!

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