Using the Guess Who? board game to encourage speech-language development

The Guess Who? board game lends itself well to developing deductive reasoning and a wide range of receptive & expressive language skills.

Guess Who? Board Game

Manufacturer: Hasbro

Suggested Retail Price: $17.99 US

Availability: discount stores, toy and game stores, online

Number of players: 2 (more players can compete as teams)

Recommended age: 6-12 years, but I’ve used it with preschool through geriatric populations

Description: Each player has a board with windows that flip up to reveal 24 faces of men and women with their names written at the bottom. The game begins with all windows up. Each player draws from the deck a card displaying one of the faces on the board. The players do not show each other their cards. Players take turns asking questions about physical features of the face on their opponent’s card, e.g., Does your person have red hair? Or, Is your person bald? All questions must be answerable with 'yes' or 'no'; What color is your person’s hair? is not allowed. If the answer is 'no', the asker puts down all the people on his or her board that have red hair; if the answer is 'yes', the people with red hair stay up and those without red hair go down. Players take turns asking questions to narrow down the choices; the first player who correctly names the person on his or her opponent’s card is the winner.


Guess Who? is one of my favorite speech therapy games. In its off-the-shelf form, the game lends itself well to developing deductive reasoning skills, as the winner is the player who most effectively uses the process of elimination (plus a bit of luck) to determine which character is on the opponent's card. Younger children may need extra support to play successfully. Common mistakes include asking questions about the character on one's own card, and turning down the wrong set of characters following a turn (e.g., turning down characters with red hair if one's opponent responds that his or her character does have red hair).

In addition, Guess Who? can be used for a wide range of speech and language development goals, including:

Articulation. For children who are capable of producing accurate /s, z/ and/or /r/ sounds when consciously practicing, but misarticulate them in more spontaneous speaking situations when they are not paying attention to their articulation, Guess Who can be a great exercise in learning to self-monitor. When using Guess Who for this purpose, I require the child to ask all questions using one of two forms:

  • Is your person _____?
  • Does your person have _____?
Both of these forms contain one /z/ sound, one /s/ sound, and two post-vocalic /r/ sounds. In addition, I require them to answer using a full sentence, not a simple yes or no. There are four typical forms for an answer:
  • Yes, my person has _____.
  • No, my person doesn’t have _____.
  • Yes my person is _____.
  • No, my person is not _____.

All four forms have at least one /s/, one /z/, and one post-vocalic /r/; the yes responses have an extra /s/. Depending on the features the asker chooses, there may be additional occurrences of the target sounds (glasses, moustache, red hair, brown eyes, etc.).

If a child is working on a different sound, or needs practice with /s, z/ or /r/ at a more simple level like single words or short phrases, Guess Who?, like many others games, can be used to follow a “practice and go” pattern. The child simply practices the target sound in a word, phrase, etc., before taking a turn.

Comprehension; Responding to questions. Playing the game as designed, without modification, is a natural exercise in listening comprehension, as well as logical and deductive reasoning. For the game to work, both players must understand each other’s questions and respond accurately and truthfully. In addition, each player must understand how to determine which faces get turned down and which remain up. However, the game can be modified in a number of ways to suit a variety of goals.

A fun variation that pushes auditory processing and comprehension skills a bit harder is to play “Guess Who? Bingo.” This variation can be done with one or two players plus a “caller.” Each player begins with all of the faces up on his or her board. The caller shuffles the cards, draws one at a time, and describes the physical features of the person on the card without saying the person’s name (e.g., “Bald with blue eyes and glasses”). The players must correctly identify the person described and turn down the corresponding picture on their boards. The first player to turn down a row of faces is the winner (unlike a standard Bingo card, the Guess Who? board is six by four, so a vertical row will obviously be easier to get than a horizontal row). You can also change it up with the standard Bingo variations, such as squares or four corners. Obviously, for this to work with two players, the faces on the two players’ boards must be arranged in a different order; otherwise the game will end in a tie every time. This variation puts greater demands on your child’s auditory processing and comprehension skills because it involves the presentation of several features at a time and requires the child to hold these features in working memory while doing the visual scanning and mental reasoning to identify the picture matching the description.

With younger children and those who have never played Guess Who? before, it’s a good idea to bring in a second adult or an older child, and play as a “team” with your child against that person. That way, you can talk through your decisions and strategies, e.g.: She says her person doesn’t have red hair. I want to leave her person standing up, so I’m going to leave the people who don’t have red hair standing up. I’ll put down all the people with red hair, because I know her person isn’t one of them.

As you play a few games this way, you can “fade” your support gradually and allow the child to do some of the decision-making.

Question formation. Forming yes/no questions in English involves inverting the subject (e.g., your person) with either the main verb (e.g., is, as in Is your person a woman?) or the auxiliary verb (e.g., does, as in Does your person have a beard?). If I’m working with a child who says Do your person has a beard? or Do your person is a woman?, I might write out two cards with the appropriate forms and keep them on the table. If the child uses an incorrect form, I’ll cue the correct form by tapping the appropriate card. With others, a simple verbal cue, “Try that again the new way,” is enough. It’s also a good idea to have the child practice the two forms before beginning the game.

Describing salient features; subjective vs. objective. If you have a child who often communicates by pointing or uses a lot of non-specific vocabulary like that, this, or thing, playing Guess Who? can contribute to using more specific descriptions. Since players sit facing each other, your child will not be able to communicate with you by pointing at the pictures on his or her board. If this is a difficult thing for your child, it is a good idea to look at the cards together beforehand and warm up by discussing the characters’ distinguishing features. For example, you can sort the cards according to hair color, then talk about how they are similar: “Look, these all have brown hair, and these ones have black hair; tell me about these ones,” and point to the people with red hair. Then you can re-shuffle the cards and sort them according to another feature like eye color, baldness, gender, facial hair, glasses, hats, etc. This offers an opportunity to distinguish between objective descriptions (hair color, eye color, gender, presence/absence of glasses, beard, moustache, etc.) as opposed to more subjective descriptions, such as pretty, scary, cool, happy, etc. (recently, a child on the autism spectrum asked me if my person was "on the down-low"). A lot of the children I work with don’t understand the terms objective and subjective. I’ve had better success by talking about 'fact' and 'opinion' with older kids; with younger students, I phrase it as ‘things we might argue about’ and ‘things we probably won't argue about’. We can argue about whether a person is "on the down-low", but we probably won’t argue about whether a person is wearing glasses or a hat.

A variation I often use with children who are working on descriptive vocabulary is to draw pairs of cards from the deck and take turns describing ways they are the same or different. From the child’s perspective, this tends to feel less like a game and more like a drill, so I usually combine it with another game or activity to help the children forget that they are learning.

Guess Who is available in a number of different varieties, including classic, stand-up, mix-and-match, and travel size; there are also Disney and Star Wars editions.

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