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by Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell on Nov 28, 2017

Pañuelito: Add a culturally authentic game to your Spanish classroom

It’s no secret: young children love games.  (And really, don’t most of us?)  It can be challenging, though, to find a game for the early Spanish language classroom that is fun, useful, and authentic.  Pañuelito fits that bill perfectly.

How to play the game

Pañuelito, also often called el juego del pañuelo, is  historically common in several Spanish-speaking countries.  Traditionally, the game is played with numbers.  Here’s how that goes:

  1. A group of children is divided into two equal groups.
  2. Within each team, each child is assigned a number, beginning with 1.
  3. Someone stands in a place equidistant from the two teams, holding a handkerchief.
  4. The person in the middle calls out a number
  5. The child on each team that was assigned that number races to grab the handkerchief before the child from the other team can reach it.
  6. The child who grabs the handkerchief first races back to her original position.  If she arrives there, she wins the point.  However, if the child who didn’t get the handkerchief can catch her first, then he wins the point, and she loses.

Language targets in the game

You can enjoy playing with any vocabulary, not just numbers. Try assigning students colors, food words, and more. You need a minimum of four players and two category words in order to play, and you can play with as many players as you like.

We incorporated Pañuelito into Calico Spanish Stories Level C.  That level is titled “I Live Here.” In it, Rita la rana verde (the green frog) has a fun day playing around her house with her family and a few friends, including Goyo from Level B and a rather high-maintenance ratón named Raúl.  At one point, they go to the sala in her house and end up playing this fun game.

In Level C, we suggest using the following vocabulary as categories to support the level’s learning targets:

  • rojo, gris, verde
  • feliz, triste, aburrido, cansado
  • cocina, sala, baño, cuarto
  • grande, pequeño, listo, inteligente

But what about showing comprehension?

You may have noticed that this game uses vocabulary devoid of any context.  That’s pretty much not okay.  However, it’s super easy to ask children to show they know what their category actually means:

  • Give them something of the color to hold up when it’s their turn to run.
  • Ask them to show a number of fingers that matches their number.
  • Require a gesture showing the word or phrase’s meaning before a point can be earned: the child pretends to cook for cocina, or pretends to wash hands for baño, sleep for cuarto, or use a remote control for sala.


Still can’t visualize how this game happens?  Here’s an example.

Aaron holds the pañuelo in the middle.  Two students are on each team, and one is assigned feliz and the other is assigned triste.

Each team stands about six feet away from Aaron.  Aaron calls out, “¡Feliz!” and each child assigned feliz begins to run for the pañuelo.  Theo from Team 1 reaches Aaron first and grabs the pañuelo and begins to run back to his place on Team 1.

Mariah from Team 2 races to try to catch him but doesn’t catch him in time.  He makes it back before Mariah can catch him, then shows a happy face to show he knows what feliz means.  So,Theo gets the point for Team 1.

Mariah goes back to her place on Team 2 to try again on another turn.

If you want something more to print out, here is a PDF of our instructions directly from the Stories Level C Teacher’s Guide.


One more thing before we go: the only things the Pañuelo game and this song have in common are the words pañuelito and that they’re both part of Stories Level C, but here’s our song for you anyway:


Kindergarten Spanish Lesson plans
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is a homeschool mom of three bilingual children. She’s also a Spanish teacher and the COO and chief storyteller for Calico Spanish.

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