17 Follow The Leader Games


We’ve all played ‘Follow The Leader’ at some point of our lives. It’s a classic game that is played all around the world.

But did you know there are at least 17 variations of ‘follow the leader’.

I’ve been a teacher for the last ten years, and I have used the simple concept of following others in many different ways. My all-time favorite follow the leader games include:

  1. Copy Cats
  2. Copy Cats Pairs
  3. Copy Cats Freeze
  4. Pied Piper Games
  5. Follow The Leader Freeze
  6. Follow The Leader Mystery
  7. Follow What I Say, Not What I Do
  8. Stepping Stones Lava Follow The Leader
  9. Follow Ladder
  10. Mirror Image
  11. Mirror Balances
  12. Mirror Sequences
  13. Copy The Face
  14. Copy The Sound
  15. Copy The Rhythm
  16. Follow The Leader Band
  17. Train Track

To get into this list, the game just basically has to involve one child or lots of children following someone else in some sort of way. Also…it has to be absolutely fantastic to make the cut!

Children enjoy imitating visuals, movements, sounds, voices – anything that they experience. There is some research that suggests that these kind of interactions develop positive behavior (amongst other things). (Source)

Some of the following are whole group games, some are pairs games, and some can be a mixture of the two.

1. Copy Cats

This is a great game for eye contact, and the children all enjoy looking at the person who is ‘it’ and trying to copy their movements. It’s also good for spatial awareness, as well as being an excellent movement game.

One child is ‘it’, and everyone else is the copy-cat.

It is a good idea to have a more skilful child as ‘it’ first, or even have an adult play that role to start with. It is always a good idea to get off to a good start (in anything!).

The person that is ‘it’ is going to move around whatever space you have in a certain way. The others are going to copy the movement.

They don’t need to follow the direction that the person who is ‘it’ is going – they just need to move in the same way.

So, for example, the person who is ‘it’ jumps like a frog. Everyone copies. Then they tip-toe sideways, and the rest copy.

Vary the moves. Some simple ideas are:

i) Move like different animals – e.g. a bird, a snake, a kangaroo

ii) Do simple jumps, hops, skips etc

iii) Move really fast/slow, high/low

For many more spectacular eye contact games, then check this out.

2. Copy Cats Freeze

Now it’s time to ‘up the ante’ slightly. Here’s the harder version.

This game is basically the same as the version above, but this time there is a ‘trick move’. The ‘trick move’ could be ‘hop on one leg’, for example.

Start the game again, with all the copy cats following the person who is ‘it’.

However, whenever that person starts hopping on one leg they have to freeze!

If you start copying, you are out. You could possibly sit down for a moment, but probably not for too long.

Another variation of this game is that when the person that is ‘it’ does the ‘trick move’, the others have to do something different. So, it might be when ‘it’ starts jumping, everyone has to do anything apart from jumping (hopping, skipping etc).

3. Copy Cats Pairs

This pairs game is pretty much the same as the group version of ‘Copy Cats.’

Pair up with someone, and one of you is the ‘leader’ first. The leader moves in different ways – fast, slow, high, low, like animals and all that kind of thing – with the other person following.

Shout ‘switch’ after a couple of minutes, and they swap roles.

Same as with the group game, this can be extended in different ways, such as:

i) Have a ‘trick move’ where they freeze

ii) Have a ‘trick move’ where they have to do their own different move

4. Pied Piper Game

This is probably the simplest ‘follow the leader’ game, and is great for even very young children.

One child (or maybe the adult to start with) is at the front. The rest are going to follow behind the first, all trying to keep a reasonable gap in between each other.

The person at the front can move however they like, and the others are going to follow.

Some good moves are:

i) Long or short footsteps

ii) Travelling low, or reaching up high

iii) Going fast/slow

iv) Moving like animals

You can move in a straight line, or you can loop round all over the place.

5. Follow The Leader Freeze

This is a bit like the Pied Piper game, with a bit of a vibe of ‘What’s the Time, Mr. Wolf?’ added to spice up the mix.

One child is at the front. They are going to walk in any direction, and the other children are going to follow in a line behind them.

They can walk normally, or they can mix up the movements same as before (to make it slightly harder).

Every so often, the person at the front is going to spin round. They could also say something like, ‘Who’s there!?’

Everyone is going to freeze.

If the person at the front sees you moving, then you have to go to the back of the line.

If you are just walking in a line, then you will be frozen in a normal standing position.

However, if the leader is moving in different ways, then the children will be frozen in much more challenging and comical positions!

The leader can really get them moving in the most elaborate ways possible, before spinning round and getting them to hold that freeze.

6. Follow The Leader Mystery

This game is just a little bit trickier. It’s a bit like ‘Wink Murder’ (or ‘Blink Murder’), but is also a simple ‘follow the leader’ game at the same time.

Pick one child to be the ‘detective’. This child is going to close their eyes.

Then silently select one child to be the ‘leader’. Pointing at them is probably the best way of doing this.

Just before the ‘detective’ opens their eyes, the children are going to start playing the original ‘Copy Cats’ game from before.

The ‘leader’ moves in a certain way, and the children all copy, moving around the space in different directions. You don’t follow the leader in a line in this activity, as that would give the game away.

Now it’s time for the ‘detective’ to open their eyes.

They are going to try to guess who is the ‘leader’. They have at least three guesses, and maybe more with younger children. Alternatively, you could just keep going until they guess correctly.

This is another fantastic game for eye contact.

7. Follow What I Say, Not What I Do

This is a very funny game, and a great listening activity.

It’s a bit trickier, and I would probably not play this with children under the age of 5.

Basically, whoever is ‘it’ (either child or adult) is going to give instructions on how to move, but then move themselves in a different way. The other children are going to follow what they say, not what they do.

As an example, the ‘leader’ says, ‘jump’, but then hops backwards. The children have to jump themselves (not hop backwards).

There are tricks the leader can do to make it harder such as:

i) Do several movements and instructions in a row that are ‘correct’, then throw in a wrong one

ii) Have only a subtle difference between the movement and the instruction. For example, say ‘Jump backwards’, and yourself jump forwards.

For many more brilliant listening games like this, then check this article out.

8. Stepping Stones Lava Follow The Leader

How exciting would it be to combine ‘follow the leader’ and ‘the ground is lava’ into one game? I’ll tell you – unbelievably exciting.

For this you need some rubber spots all over the place. These are the stepping stones over the lava.

The children are going to gather in a socially distanced line, with the person who is ‘it’ at the front.

The leader is going to begin stepping over the lava on the rubber spots, and they are going to move in different ways as they do it. The rest are going to try to follow.

So, the leader might:

i) Jump sideways

ii) Do big giant steps

iii) Try stepping backwards

iv) Step low or high

9. Follow Ladder

All you need is some kind of rope ladder for this game. Put it on the ground, and the children are going to try to move or jump along it.

Have one child to be the designated ‘leader’ to start with. They are going to move in a certain way along the ladder, and the others are going to follow them. They might:

  • Hop
  • Jump
  • Go sideways or backwards
  • Go on all fours

10. Mirror Image

This is a brilliant game for eye contact and teamwork. It also introduces symmetry in an active and fun way. (For the best hands-on symmetry activities, check this article that I wrote out).

The children sit in pairs. One is the ‘leader’ and the other is going to copy.

Basically the leader does some kind of movement, and the other child is going to copy. Some good movements might be:

  • Put your arm up and wave (the other child copies)
  • Jump, hop, squat
  • Clapping
  • Patting their knees
  • Moving their head from side to side

Children normally naturally do it like a mirror. So, for example, if one child waves their left arm, the other waves their right (just like a real mirror.)

11. Mirror Balances

This is kind of like a fun yoga game.

The children all stand in pairs facing each other.

One child in each pair is going to be the ‘leader’ to start with, and the other is going to copy.

The ‘leader’ will do some kind of pose. The other child will copy it.

Some good poses to try include:

i) Stand on one leg

ii) Put your arms out like a tree

iii) Stretch up tall

iv) Go down small

You could be as imaginative as you want with these poses. The ‘leader’ has a few goes, and then the two children swap roles.

12. Mirror Sequence

The idea of this game is similar to the mirror poses above.

The children face each other in pairs. One child is going to do two actions, and then the other will copy. Both are going to say ‘1, 2’ as they do them.

For example, the ‘leader’ might go, ‘1’ (reach up), ‘2’ (clap). The other child is going to copy the sequence, saying, ‘1, 2’ and copying the actions.

You can extend to three actions, and possibly more if they are doing OK.

Simple actions to model and try out include:

i) Jump

ii) Hop

iii) Clap

iv) Pat a part of your body

v) Pull a facial expression of some sort

13. Copy The Face

This is a great game to play in pairs, but you could also play it with one child at the front and everyone copying.

Anyway, basically you have one child who is the leader (either in the pair or of the group).

That child is going to make some kind of facial expression. It could be happy, angry, or sad, for example. The others try to copy.

Have a few goes, and then swap leader.

To make it even easier, the adult could lead, and the children try to copy.

14. Copy The Sound

All children love experimenting with sounds, and this game is an excellent early phonics activity.

There are different ways of doing it.

Probably the easiest is to sit in a circle. The first child in the circle (or the adult) makes a noise of some sort. For example, it could be going ‘woooo!’ like a ghost.

The next child is going to copy. Then the next child copies them, and they pass the noise all the way around the circle.

Other great noises to make could be:

  1. Animal noises – such as a monkey, cow, lion, or mouse
  2. Sound effects – words like ‘bang’, ‘pop’, ‘whizz’ etc
  3. Phonic sounds – things like ‘eee’, ‘ooo’, ‘shhh!’ etc

15. Copy The Rhythm

Here’s another fantastic early phonics activity, that has this element of ‘follow the leader’ as part of the game.

Sit in a circle.

It is a good idea to pick a theme for this game. It could be vehicles, or superheroes, as simple examples.

Let’s take the example of vehicles. The first child is going to say a vehicle, and clap the syllables of the word at the same time. All the other children are going to copy.

So, they might go, ‘lor-ry!’ (with two claps).

Everyone else copies, clapping at the same time.

Then the next child goes. They might say, ‘am-bu-lance’ (with three claps.)

Once again everyone copies.

There are lots of variations of this copy the leader game. You could:

  • Hit instruments
  • Use rhythm sticks to hit the words
  • Hit simple sentences or phrases for older children

For lots more beautiful rhythm and syllables games, then take a look at this.

16. Follow The Leader Band

This is a brilliant ‘follow the leader’ game with some music thrown in.

Have a selection of a few instruments to choose from.

Pick one child to be the ‘leader’. They are going to go at the front of a group of children.

The leader will select one instrument. They are going to go around the space hitting the instrument.

The other children are going to follow, and they are going to move in a way that suits the sound.

For example, if the leader is playing a drum, then they might stamp like angry giants. If they play a triangle, then they might be creeping on their tiptoes.

Any instrument the leader could play quietly, loudly, fast, or slow. It could be combination of a couple of those ways, for example slow and loud.

The other children are always going to try to move in a way that suits that particular sound.  

Have a few goes at being at the front, and then swap leaders.

17. Train Track

Mark out a pretend ‘train track’. It could be a 20m circle of cones for example.

Have a line of children in a group. These are the ‘carriages’ waiting at the station.

Pick one child to be the leader. They are going to be the ‘train’.

The ‘train’ sets out to do one lap of the ‘track’ all by themselves.

When they get round once, they go to where the others are waiting at the station. The first carriage in the line is going to hold them round the waist (like in a conga), and then off they will go for another lap together.

When they finish that one, they go back to the station, pick up the next carriage, and off they go again.

In the end, there will be a huge chain of children going around the track. A fantastic activity for all train lovers.

Martin Williams

Hi, I'm Martin Williams, creator of the Early Impact Learning blog. I'm a preschool and early years teacher of ten years experience, and I also run practical training courses for nurseries and schools.

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