Hot potato is a fun circle game, that helps children develop a range of skills such as turn-taking, cooperation, and teamwork.
As an early education teacher for the last 12 years, I’ve played Hot Potato many times, and I’ve also tried numerous variations of the game.
Varying the original game keeps it exciting and fresh.
Also, there are many games that are similar to Hot Potato or use similar skills. These are all games that children instinctively seem to love. (Source)
In this article, I’m going to go through all the very best variations of Hot Potato, and also describe a full range of games that are similar to it.
This gives you a fantastic assortment of fun circle games, that build teamwork, and a range of social skills.
1. Hot Potato Original
Here’s the original Hot Potato game, just so you definitely know what I’m talking about.
The way I play it is that the children that are playing sit in a circle.
Have one raw potato (cleaned with skin on). Put some child-friendly music on.
The children start passing the potato around the circle.
At any given moment stop the music, and whoever is holding the potato is ‘out’. I get them to sit out of the circle and then start again.
In the end, you will have one champion. It’s as simple as that!
You could get the children to stand up to start with, and sit down when they are ‘out’.
I have also heard people playing without a potato. They use something else to signify the potato – like a beanbag, or a ball. That is fine too.
However, I have always used a real potato, and the children seem to find that quite comical and engaging.
2. Pass The Imaginary Potato
Here’s the pretend version!
Imagine the potato is super hot, but it’s also invisible!
Pass it around with lots of wincing, blowing on your hands, and general panic as you touch it!
Then when the music stops, whoever is ‘holding’ the invisible potato is out the same as before.
You could also do the more positive version, where the person holding it is the champion! That is a way of trying out all of these games.
3. Pass A Range Of Different Imaginary Objects
This is a classic circle game that can be played by children of all ages.
I normally get everyone to stand up for this one, as it encourages a wider range of movements.
There is no music in this game – the main emphasis is passing around a range of invisible objects.
You could start simply by passing a pretend ball around the circle. Then try throwing it to the person next to you, or bouncing it.
Other pretend objects you can pass round the circle include:
- A heavy brick (lots of heaving and straining)
- A feather (that flutters slowly)
- A bird that flies from one person to the person next (followed in its flight by the eyes of everyone in the circle)
- A lead weight
- A red hot coal
4. Potato Speed Challenge
You need a few potatoes for this, and also a timer.
A time limit of about thirty seconds works well for this game.
Basically, one person in the circle has all the potatoes to start with. The person next to them will have something like a basket to collect them in at the end.
Ready, steady, go!
Start the timer, and the players pass the potatoes around the circle. Each potato needs to do one revolution of the circle, and get collected by the last person (sitting next to the first person in the circle) and put in a basket.
How many can you do in thirty seconds?
5. Speed Challenge Race
This is the same idea as the above speed challenge, only in this you have two or more circles working as a team in a race against each other.
Try to make the teams of equal size to make it as fair as possible.
6. Hot Potato Forfeit
This is a fun way of eliminating the need to be ‘out’ in the Hot Potato game.
In this version of the game, when the music stops, you perform some kind of ‘forfeit’.
The forfeits could be things like:
- Sing a song
- Do some star jumps
- Pull a funny face
Or whatever else you can think of, and that the players will all be happy with. This shouldn’t be a stressful game, so think of something they are all capable of, and that won’t be anxious about performing.
This makes the game really fun and great for team bonding.
7. Pretend It Is Super Super Hot!
This is a simple idea. Just pretend the potato is unbelievably hot! Do lots of wincing and panicking as the potato is passed around.
8. One Potato, One Carrot
This is a simple listening game idea. You have no music in this – just one potato and one carrot.
The idea is that the children pass the potato one way around the circle, and they pass the carrot the opposite way.
At any given moment say ‘Change!’
The potato and the carrot will now swap directions and go back the other way.
You could use some kind of musical instrument instead of saying change. For example, shake a tambourine to initiate swapping directions.
9. Three Potatoes, Three Carrots
This is stepping up the difficulty just slightly.
Just have three of each now, and pass all the potatoes in one direction, and all the carrots in the opposite direction.
Then say ‘change’, and they all swap directions.
10. Three Potatoes, Three Carrots, Three Instruments
This is the harder version of this potato and carrot game.
Keep the three potatoes and carrots that you had earlier, but now you add three instruments into the mix. Some examples of instruments and the instructions they might mean could be:
Drum – When you hear this change direction
Tambourine – Ignore this and carry on!
Triangle – If you have a carrot or potato, stand up and go and sit in an empty space (that will have been vacated by someone else holding a carrot or potato). Then keep going!
Have a go of passing the potatoes one way, and the carrots the other, and then try to carry out the instructions when you hear the instruments.
10. Potatoes With Numbers On
There are all sorts of math versions of Hot Potato, so let’s take a look at a few of those.
A really simple one is a fun number recognition game.
Write some numbers on the potatoes with a permanent marker. For example, if you have five potatoes, then write the numbers 1 to 5.
If you were working on recognizing other numbers – for example, teens – then write those on instead.
Play Hot Potato as you would normally, with the players passing around the potatoes. The difference is that when you stop the music you shout out a number, for example, ‘3!’
Whoever is holding the number ‘3’ is the champion!
11. Order The Potato Numbers
Here’s another nice and easy way of playing Hot Potato with potatoes with numbers on. You will need to have a sequence of number potatoes in order – for example, potatoes with the numbers 1 to 5 on them.
Play Hot Potato as you would normally, with the music on and the players passing around the potatoes.
When the music stops, the person with the potato with a ‘1’ on it will say, ‘One!’
The person holding the ‘2’ will say, ‘Two!’
And so on through the numbers. This is a fun way to practice ordering numbers.
You can make this trickier by:
-Putting multiples of ten on each potato, e.g. 10, 20, 30
-Counting in 2s, e.g. 2, 4, 6, 8, etc
12. Potatoes With Words/Letters On
You can also apply the Hot Potato game to literacy and phonics.
You could, for example, put letters on each potato. Then when the children pass around each potato, they will say the sound.
You could also:
-Put sight words on each potato for the children to read before passing to the next person
-Put words or letters that you are targeting
-Write a short sentence on each potato. This could be ‘a secret message.’
13.Throw a balloon around circle
Of course, you can play many variations of Hot Potato with objects other than a potato.
Balloons are great for these simple circle games.
One very easy game is to have at least one balloon, or possibly several more if you have a large circle of children.
Throw the balloon to the person sitting next to you. They catch it and throw it to the next person.
If you play it with music, then stop the music at any given point, and the players holding the balloons are the champions.
14. Throw Balloon and Say Name
This is a fun icebreaker and a good way of learning everyone’s name if the children are just becoming acquainted.
Sit in a circle with one balloon.
The first child says the name of the person next to them and throws the balloon to them.
That player catches it and says, ‘Thank you.’
Continue around the circle!
This is also a good way of practicing saying ‘thank you.’
15. Count and Throw
This is another simple balloon game with an element of rote counting.
Have one balloon for the circle, and no music is required.
The first person throws the balloon to the person next to them and says, ‘One.’
The next person catches it, and then throws it to the next person while saying, ‘Two.’
It’s as simple as that! Keep going, throwing, and counting.
If you are working on more difficult types of counting, for example, counting in multiples of a number (for example 2, 5, or 10) then have a go of that instead.
16. Pass Balloons On Paper Plates
For this game, everyone needs one paper plate each.
Have one balloon (or you could use more if you have a large circle of players).
One player starts with a balloon balanced on their plate. They pass the balloon onto the plate of the person next to them.
Continue like this around the circle!
17. Paper Plate Whack!
The paper plates from the last game can also be used like rackets.
One player hits the balloon to the person next to them. That person tries to hit the balloon to the next player, and so on.
18. Pass The Parcel
This is a very obvious game that is similar to Hot Potato, but I thought I’d better include it.
You almost certainly will know how to play this, but just for the record:
The players sit in a circle. Have some kind of present that has been wrapped up multiple times. It is good to use two different types of wrapping paper, and then you can wrap the present in alternating layers of paper.
Play some music, and the players pass round the parcel.
When the music stops, the person holding the parcel takes off the top layer of wrapping paper.
Then start the music and the passing again.
In the end, one lucky will unearth the present which will be theirs!
19. Move In A Different Way Across The Circle
This is another classic circle game, that has an element of turn-taking.
The central idea of the game is different ways of moving.
Everyone stands in a circle. Make sure you have several free spaces in the circle for people to move into.
Someone goes first. They choose a particular way of moving (for example, pretending to swim). They ‘swim’ across the circle to a free space.
Then someone else goes, choosing another way of moving.
Good ideas for movements include:
- Balancing on a tight-rope
- Crawling like a baby
- Rowing a canoe
- Walking like a velociraptor
20. Pass The Facial Expression
Here is a classic circle game that involves passing not an object, but in this case a facial expression around the circle.
This is a good game for eye contact, and also for cooperation and teamwork skills.
The easiest way to play it is ‘pass the smile.’
The first child will smile at the player next to them. That person ‘passes’ the smile to the next person, and so on – pass the smile around the circle.
You can also try passing the scowl, passing the angry face, the shocked face, and whatever type of face you can think of.
21. Pass The Noise Around The Circle
This is a great passing circle game that is excellent for early phonics, and also just a great team-builder.
Everyone sits in a circle, and the adult is going to be the leader.
The adult is going to make a noise to the person next to them. That person will copy the noise and make it to the person next to them. Carry on like that, passing the noise around the circle.
A good noise to try might be going ‘wooooo’ like a ghost.
Or it could be roaring like a tiger.
Some other suggestions might be:
- Animal noises, such as cows, pigs, lions, birds or wolves
- Making sound effects, such as ‘bang’, ‘pop’, ‘whizz’
- Making character noises, such as a cackling witch, a roaring giant, or a laughing princess
- Making common sounds from everyday life like a siren, and alarm clock, a telephone ringing, and so on and so on.
22. Pass The Ball With Feet
This is a challenging but really funny circle passing game.
Have one large ball, and you could even have a few balls if you have a larger number of players in the circle.
Everyone sits in a circle, and one person tries to pick up a ball with their feet. The technique is to sit down, pick up the ball with your feet, and then lean back to get the ball into the air.
Try to ‘pass’ the ball’ into the feet of the person next to you.
Younger children can use their hands a bit to help, but older ones can only use their feet. Good luck!