The telephone sentence activity is great to use with a memory unit in psychology. This lesson can also be used in the same class as the “I am going on a picnic” activity. The worksheet is used to help evaluate the accuracy of final sentences and to identify the number of chunks. The worksheet helps to reinforce the concepts and it aids the students in better understanding the material.
This clip from Madagascar is a great introduction to the telephone sentence activity.

Instruct the students to do the best they can to remembering the sentence accurately. Despite your best efforts, the sentences will be drastically different and often times very funny. Tell you studnets “PLEASE do not make any changes on your own. Just do your best.” (High school students at times can be a little immature and foolish adding their own comments, however with a little detective work, you can find the person who changed the sentence.)
This is an enjoyable activity. A teacher can focus an entire period on the activity, using all the sentences, or could select one or two sentences to illustrate the concepts.

  1. To introduce / reinforce the concept of chunking.
  2. To provide concrete examples of the limitations of short-term memory.


  1. Give the first student the typed sentence. Allow the student 1-2 minutes to study the words, then take the sentence back.
  2. The student will then begin the telephone chain by sharing the sentence with the next student.
  3. Each student will pass on the sentence to the next student.
  4. The last student will write their sentence on the board.
  5. Students copy the sentence from the board onto the worksheet.
  6. Analyze the sentence to see where the breakdowns occurred. Go back the chain to see where the sentence changed.
  7. List the % of correct words and the number of chunks in the final sentence.

* In larger classes, you can share the same sentence and divide the class into 2 groups. Often, I will separate the class into boys and girls to encourage a little friendly competition.
Word % – The number of correct words from the original sentence divided by the total words in the sentence.
# of Chunks – When looking at the final sentence, we try to determine how many “chunks” are within the sentence.
For example: With the sentence, “Mr. Margarit teaches supply and demand using gadgets and widgets in economics.” (12 words)
Girl final sentence: (Mr. Martin) (uses wedge hammers) (to teach economics.) 1 word correct out of  0.083% correct words / 3 chunks
Boy final sentence: (Mr. Marger) (went to Vegas) (and bought wickets)  0% correct words / 3 chunks
With the boys sentence, one boy had to walk a distance to tell the next students. During this time, he lost a good deal of the sentence.
Below is the worksheet, I share with the students.
Psychology Memory and Thought: Limitations of Short-term Memory (ESSAY TOPIC)
Telephone sentences – Copy the final sentence, underline the words that are correct, record the percentage correct.
Pentalty sentences for intentionally changing the sentence (100 LONG sentences after school)
Word %  / Chunks
Why did you mess up soooooo bad?
1. Short-term memory can only store 7 itmes (+/- 2) and each sentence has more that 7 words in them.
2. Short-term memory only lasts for 20 seconds and it often took mone tha 20 seconds between hearing the sentence and repeating the sentence.
3. Selective Attention or the cocktail party effect. There are some many discussions going on in the room as this activity is completed that it may be difficult to focus on the person telling you the sentence.  Many times, it often took more than 20 seconds between hearing the sentence and repeating the sentence.
The last sentence was much easier to remember because of chunking – the process of grouping pieces of information for easier handling.
Final Sentence Breakdown 3 Chunks
Telephone sentences
“Community service is like peeing your pants in a dark suit. It leaves a warm feeling inside and no one knows.” From a student council member (19 words)
“Mr. Margarit teaches supply and demand using gadgets and widgets in economics.” (12 words)
“Mr. Plummer lies on a bed of nails while Doc smashes him with a hammer to illustrate a lesson in physics.” (21 words)
“When Yogi and Boo Boo steal a pic i nic basket, Ranger Smith becomes very angry and yells.” (16 words / 18 words with pic i nic) Video Clip of Yogi

“Poor old Charlie Brown gets rained on, baseballs hit at him, and the footballs pulled away from him. Rats” (19 word)
“Fred and Barney are members of the Water Buffalo club. They bowl on Wednesdays.” (14 words) Video Clip of the Water Buffalo Club Convention (3:02)
The following sentence should be the most accurately because there are 3 chunks, possibly 2 if you combine “pours” and “snores.”
“When it rains it pours. When a bear hibernates he snores.” (11 words)
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