Tag Archives: middle school games

7th Grade Handshake

Context: Informant is a student in Colorado. The informant along with their peers are in 7th grade. The handshake is often used as a greeting, but also a sort of game to play in between passing periods and during recess. The school includes Kindergarten-8th graders.

Handshake: Two videos of the handshake has been attached to this post. Both videos show the handshake from a first person perspective, performing the handshake with a friend. Although the friend changes between the two videos, the handshake remains the same.

Background Information: The informant says they learned the handshake from their peer in 7th grade. The peer says they learned the handshake from their sibling in 8th grade. The informant states that the 7th graders found out that the 8th graders had been doing this handshake, and have henceforth learned and performed it for themselves. The informant has also stated that knowing the handshake, and being able to successfully perform the handshake, makes the individual ‘cool’ in the eyes of their 7th-grade peers.

Thoughts: It’s always interesting to see how children perform folklore. I think it is normal for kids to try to emulate the kids older than them, as well. In an effort to be more ‘grown-up’, they are trying to emulate the older kids. Furthermore, by acting like an 8th grader, a kid is therefore ‘cool’. 7th grade is an interesting transitional period. They are about to be 8th-graders, which will make them the oldest grade at their school. At the same time, the rest of the school being younger means that they are still at a ‘children’s’ school. After 8th grade, they will be freshmen in high school, where the roles will be reversed. It is a crucial moment for these kids to begin their transition into adulthood. They recognize this, but are unable to truly become adults. Therefore, they have tried to define themselves as ‘mature’ through the only means they know how- childish ones. By playing into the game of the 8th grader’s handshake, they are defining themselves as adults in truly childish ways.

Mafia – School Yard Game

Informant: The informant is my sibling, a Mexican American boy who is 14 years old and currently an 8th grader at a charter school in Los Angeles California. 

Context: The following transcript is a conversation of his explanation of his version of “Mafia” – a schoolyard game that he has been playing for as long as he can remember. Usually, this game is played in large groups of students either inside of a classroom or outside in a schoolyard to pass by time/to enjoy oneself. 


Me: Hey, so what game did you play again? 
J: Mafia! 
Me: When did you play this game? 
J: I played it one day when we couldn’t go to the park for P.E (physical education). 
Me: And….How exactly do you play that game? 
J: I don’t exactly remember, but I do remember that it was really fun. Okay, so what we had to do was that there were different roles in the game. There was the narrator, who had the most power in the game and made the decision of how the game would play out. 
Me: Wait, so you’re telling me this person chooses the other roles as well? 
J: Yeah! Okay, so our teacher Mr. Y would tell us to sit down, with our heads down and our thumbs up. As we were like that, he would tell us closely to listen up and start with the roles with the following line: “Okay! I will be starting with our mafia student, as the mafia, you are out there looking to steal money from the people and eliminate them. If you feel that I tap your shoulder, then that means that you are mafia.” Again, this would also be similar with the sheriffs, but you know instead of sheriffs getting up anything they would just have to guess who the mafia was and “arrest them.” (informant air quotes as he says this). The last two roles are one doctor and one civilian. The doctor saves civilians, but they also run the risk of saving someone who is from the mafia because they don’t know their identity. Civilians have it easy because they don’t need to stand up. They just sit there and enjoy themselves either to get killed or be saved. 
Me: Wait, so how of each number was there
J: Uhm well it all depended on the size of this class and really it all depends on who the narrator is. 
Me: Did you win! Where are you mafia, sheriff, doctor, citizen? 
J: NOOO!! I lost!!! I was the first one to get eliminated (hysterically laughs) Overall, even if I lost, I really enjoyed the game. 


I think is an interesting game to play at such a young age. One would think that this type of game would not be allowed because it involved violence and death. However, it’s interesting to see how violence, and what used to be censors is not so present in our lives because it is seen as means of entertainment. I think the game’s fostering of mistrust among players is what is so particularly appealing to students from all ages (even our little ones) because there is huge degree of uncertainty and suspense to who you can trust and vice versa. In addition, because this game is so competitive it allows for kids to be unashamedly competitive and sneaky against your own friends. Overall, it teaches students the lesson of loyalty, survival and sucess.

Bo Bo Ski Rotten


The informant, Katie, is a childhood friend of the interviewer. They grew up next door to each other and have been friends for sixteen years.


Katie discusses a childhood game that her and the interviewer used to play with their friends on the playground in Elementary and Middle School. 


“We would all sit in a circle at recess, usually a huge group of us. Each person would put their left hand under the person sitting next to them’s right hand, so if we were sitting next to each other I’d put my left hand under your right hand. Then with the right hand, you put your right hand over the other person’s left hand. We all sing a song and on each beat you take your right hand and swing it around to hit, or more so clap, the person next to you’s hand left hand. For example, when person A’s hand is hit by person Z, then person A must hit the person B’s hand, then person B must hit person C, and so on and so forth, going on in a continuous circle. It’s basically hot potato, but you are passing a hit, instead of a potato. 

The song goes like this [verse one]: Bo bo ski rotten totten / I- I say boys are rotten / Itty bitty rotten totten / Bo bo ski rotten totten / Bo bo ski rotten totten

Then the tempo speeds up and you go really fast.

 Verse two goes: Mickey mouse had a house / Donald Duck messed it up / Who will pay the consequences.

Then it speeds up even more.

Verse three goes: Y O U spells you and you are out.

You do not want to get your hand hit on the word ‘out’, otherwise you will be out of the game. So you can try and move your hand really fast to not get out. If the person who was supposed to hit you, hits their own hand instead, because you moved yours off of there’s fast enough, than that person is out instead of you. It’s a really fun, competitive game. We played it a lot at girl scouts too. In middle school, if boys ever played with us we would change the line “boys are rotten” to “fish are rotten” so that the boys would think we were cool and didn’t hate them.”


This game was really fun, I remember playing it a lot. It is interesting how much folklore happens on the school playground. This is just one example of many hand / song game combos we would play. I’m not sure how we originally learned about it. I assume, we learned it from some girl on the playground, who learned it from someone else, who learned it from someone else, ect. When I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles for college I found myself one night talking with my LA friends about this game. They knew the general premise, but had different words for the song that I can no longer remember. This was fascinating to me as it shows how folklore is so malleable and can adapt and change with every person who tells it.

MASH – A Game to Predict Your Future


E: MASH is- is a game, um, where it stands- it stands for mansion, apartment,

S: (simultaneously with ‘E’) shack, and house

E: and then there were different categories.  And how I played it you could always customize your categories, but it was usually always something along the lines of the pet you’re gonna have, the car you’re gonna have, your job, your husband, or wife, blah blah blah blah

S: Who’s gonna be your husband, or wife.

E: How many kids you have, that was a popular one. And then you would, um…

S: Salary!

E: You played with salary? That’s terrifying

Q: That’s a little too high stakes!

S: We were really hardcore middle schoolers man

E: And then you would write it all down.  And then you would, um, you would say start and go and you would draw lines until you said stop and that would be the amount of times the person would just go down the list counting and crossing things out, and then whatever was left was, uh, your prediction for your future life.



This piece was collecting while hanging out with friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about the games from our childhoods or school days.  Some of us even played them again now as college students, including but not limited to MASH as described above.  After this exchange, we proceeded to play a few rounds of MASH choosing the following categories: husband/wife, occupation, husband’s/wife’s occupation, salary, husband’s/wife’s salary, car, number of children, place, and pet.  The person whose future was being predicted chose three things to place in each category and the others in the room chose the last, usually an unfavorable choice, for a total of four items.  We also restricted the husband/wife options to those who were in the room at the time.  The counting number was determined by me drawing lines until the person said stop, then I counted through the categories back-to-back, crossing out the one I landed on each time.  Once I finished the categories, I counted through MASH at the top and then we read out the person’s future to the room.

The two informants were both females, and a majority of those who chose to play were female as well, but the person whose future was predicted was male.  The two informants grew up in different places and we have age differences of a few years between each of us.  ‘S’ in the exchange above grew up in Michigan and primarily played this game during middle school.  ‘E’ in the exchange above grew up in California, and mentioned how she would play the game with her friends at “every sleepover ever.”  There was a general consensus that primarily it was girls that would play MASH.



I played MASH quite a bit as well while going to middle school in Virginia.  It was mainly just a fun way to pass the time at that age.  The fact that it was so widespread and so popular for a period of time may be because it is an easy pen and paper activity that is simple to learn, customize, and pass on, but I believe there is another reason why it was so popular, especially during middle school years.  At its core, MASH is a game about predicting the future, and this practice existed long before the game existed.  People have a desire to predict the future so that they have more control over it and can decrease their anxiety about what may come.  Especially for middle schoolers, when most children are now going through puberty and beginning a transition into adolescence and eventually adulthood, there can be great uncertainty about the future.   MASH, then, becomes an unconscious way to plan out and/or predict the future in a completely low risk, zero consequence, and even humorous environment.  There may be even a hint of belief in its prediction power for some, indicated by how you would primarily put choices you wanted under each category.  Furthermore, the particular anxieties can be extrapolated from the categories chosen.  These categories may be completely trivial and entertaining (e.g. Type of Pet) or they can reveal desires regarding social class (e.g. Salary, MASH) and gender roles, particularly for females (e.g. Number of Children, Occupation).  Even the common addition of an undesirable choice to each of the categories, when it is known that there is a possibility it may be picked, indicates an awareness that the future may not always be in their favor.  On the surface, MASH may seem like just a funny way to pass the time and be entertained due to the improbable nature of the results, but all things considered, it seems to be a way for middle-school age children to overcome their anxieties about the future in a time where they are going through a number of changes, both physical and psychological.


Additional Informant Data:

The informant data for the interlocuter denoted by ‘E’ is included in the section above the item.  The same data for the other informant is included below.

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age: 26; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew