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Hot Potato

Hot potato is a party game that involves passing a beanbag, potato or similar object between players while music plays. When the music stops, the person holding the object loses. This can easily be integrated into a language lesson as a way to pick a student to answer a question. Although it is suggested for more primary-aged learners, it can add some wackiness to a teen or adult lesson during what could be an otherwise dull feedback stage.

The origin of this game is not known. However, in nineteenth century England a similar game was played with a candle, with the aim being not to have the candle when the flame dies. Of course, with children it is much safer to play with an object such as a potato!

how do you play hot potato
How do you play hot potato? First you need a potato, or similar object.


1: Have students sit in a circle.

2: Give one student the potato (or your selected item) to begin passing around the circle. While students are passing the item, play some music or set a timer.

3: Stop the music or wait until the timer stops. Students should stop passing the potato.

4: Whoever has the potato has to answer a question about the topic of the day. It could be “what’s this?” with a flashcard, a question using the target structure e.g. “what have you done today?” or about the content of the lesson e.g. “what did you learn today?”

5: The game can then repeat until the teacher has no further questions.


1: Students could ask questions while passing the potato. In this case they should ask a question, then pass the potato. The receiver answers the question, asks a new question and passes the potato. Whoever has the potato at the end of the game loses.

2: You could pass around multiple potatoes, or even have potatoes going in opposite directions. A student who gets both potatoes is out. This may lead to co-operation by students agreeing to hand over the potatoes at the same time.

3: Students may not wish to be the one with the potato. They may therefore try to refuse the potato resulting in potatoes being dropped. In this case you may wish to decide that this results in that person losing the game automatically.

4: If you use a timer, it is better not to let students see when the timer will run out. If they do, they may try to hold on to the potato for a long time and pass it with just a few seconds left. This is not only against the spirit of the game, but also slows the pace reducing the excitement. A sound that plays at the end of the timer will, conversely, increase the excitement.

Example Questions:

What’s this? (with flashcards)

Target structures (e.g. present perfect – what have you done today? Which other countries have you been to?)

Target vocabulary (e.g. colours – what’s your favourite colour? What colour is Dan’s jacket?)

About a text (e.g. what was the character’s name? Who was the enemy?)

About the lesson (e.g. what did you learn today?)

photo credit: marcoverch Kartoffel vor weißem Hintergrund via photopin (license)

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