While teaching second graders folklore, we wanted to begin with a fun activity to get them excited. To teach them about the different ways to communicate folklore–oral, written, or mediated–we decided to play the game “telephone” to show how oral transference can be vulnerable to alterations. When we asked if anyone knew the game, the whole classroom did. We were prepared to explain the rules and it was not necessary.
Research the origin of this party game and you find the old title “Chinese Whispers”. This name is popularly heard in the UK, for unknown reasons. It follows the same rules: one person whispers a phrase or story to another and then that person passes it along until the last person reveals the story they heard with the humorous accumulation of changes.
The name “Chinese Whispers” formed in the United Kingdom in the mid 20th century. Apparently it had used to be called “Russian Scandal” and got switched for unidentified reasons. A theory is that the addition of “Chinese” was meant as an insult to the Chinese race and implied that this particular race did not know what they were talking about most of the time. But this is not a cemented theory due to the lack of known political conflict between the Chinese and United Kingdom.
It is interesting that all the children in the classroom knew of this game. It serves a good purpose though in the maturation of children. It teaches the reality of gossip. This is a big lesson that needs to be learned and the youthful, entertaining game does just the trick. Folklore is said to carry some purpose, whether explaining a phenomenon or providing an easy way to teach lessons; and Telephone fits this category.
When doing the game, the message got one hundred percent changed and modified. But, when we used this outcome to explain the struggles with oral word instead of written, it reached the kids so much easier. There was no need for trust, they saw it for themselves. And, that is the point for child folklore.