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Phonetic phrenzy

Explore phonetics and Q-codes in teams in this covert communication challenge.
Plan a session with this activity

You will need

  • Scissors
  • Scrap paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Elastic bands
Game cards (Phonetic phrenzy)
PDF – 143.6KB

Different methods of communication allow us to pass messages or have discussions where not everybody will be able to understand them. This activity looks into the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and Q-codes and gives everybody the opportunity to practise what they have learnt by matching up the correct answers.

Before you begin

  • Print and cut out the IPA and Q-code cards from the ‘Game cards’ sheet. Keep these in separate piles. Print an extra set of each as an answer sheet.
  • Shuffle each pile and wrap an elastic band around each one.

Configure your codes

  1. Explain what the IPA and Q-codes are to the group. If anyone has any questions, use information at the beginning of this activity to help. There are starter activities included here, to get everyone used to these forms of communication.
  1. When everyone’s having a go at these, set up four activity bases in different parts of the room. At each base, have one of the sets of cards prepared earlier. Have the Q-code cards adjacent to one another, and the same with the IPA cards. Remove the elastic bands and spread the cards out in the base area, face-down.
  1. Split the group into two teams. Have one team on the Q-code side of the room, and the other on the IPA side of them room. Each team should stand between the base with their symbols/codes and the base with their answers.
  2. Explain to the teams that each team-member should take turns to quickly run to their two bases and collect one card from each. That person should decide whether the two cards match.

Start de-coding

  1. Start the game. Team members who think they’ve found a matching pair should keep hold of the cards and return to their team. Team members who don’t think they’ve found a matching pair should return the cards to where they found them, face-down. Continue until all the cards on both sides have been matched up.
  2. The person leading the activity should come over to see how many correct pairs each team managed to find. This should be noted down, but not shared with the other team.
  3. The teams should then swap sides. Those who collected IPA pairs should now collect Q-code pairs, and vice versa. Run stage 1 again, then see how many correct pairs the teams got.
  4. See which team got the most correct answers for the IPA, for Q-codes and altogether.


Different methods of communication allow us to pass messages or have discussions that somebody else won’t be able to understand. We’ve looked at the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and Q-codes, which are two good examples and everybody’s had the chance to try them out and test their knowledge. Which method was the easiest to master? Has looking at phonetics changed the way you think about word sounds? Why might using Q-codes over a radio transmission be more efficient and reliable than speaking? Think about what you and the person receiving you might have in common, and what differences you might have!



Supervise young people appropriately when they’re using scissors. Store all sharp objects securely, out of the reach of young people

Active games

The game area should be free of hazards. Explain the rules of the game clearly and have a clear way to communicate that the game must stop when needed.

All activities must be safely managed. Do a risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Always get approval for the activity and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.