Language Arts Warm-Ups: Mystery Box

How could a simple box with a hole for your hand have anything to do with improving vocabulary and communication?                                                                              

The answer to that question is the reason for this post. 🙂

I have had a mystery box in my home/school for over 30 years, no kidding! I can’t take credit for the idea of using a mystery box to aid in language development, and it has been so long since I first heard about it, that I also can’t give credit to whom it is rightly due.

What I can do, is share with you how I have used it over the years.

Benefits of using a Mystery Box:

  • Enhances the sense of touch
  • Helps build precise vocabulary
  • Strengthens thinking skills/use of analogies

Due to its versatility, I have used my mystery box with ages 2 and up.  I hope when you are done reading this post, you will be inspired to find a box in your home that’s just waiting to be upgraded to your home’s mystery box. 🙂


  • For toddlers, place objects in the box that have different tactile properties like soft, rough, smooth, hard, bumpy, squishy,etc. and ask them to reach in and pull out something “hard”, “soft”, and so on. One variation on this would be to have them reach in and touch an item and say a tactile word description, maybe even guess the object and pull it out to see if they were right. Another variation would be to have a duplicate set of the items in front of them, and you point to one of them and ask them to find its twin in the box.
  • For grammar stage students, the process is similar, except you are expecting more words from them as they describe what they can feel with their hands. They can guess what it is, or if they are certain they know what it is they are touching, they can keep giving clues for you or a sibling to guess. The variation on this, is to let the person who listened to the description put their hand in to select the object that was described.
  • For grammar stage and up, put familiar objects in the mystery box and let everyone have a turn selecting an item by touch and then describe it in detail to another person/group, including how it is used. (I have used this many times as a fun way to review sewing tools/items/terms.)
  • For grammar stage students, you can record the word clues/descriptions they give and then use them later for copy work and eventually for dictation.
  • For grammar stage and up, give everyone the same object (though they could be different sizes) in their own “mystery bag” and have them write down all they can about it and what they think it is. Then before looking in the bag, they compare and discuss the descriptions with the other participants.
  • For grammar stage and up, establish together what properties can be discovered just through the sense of touch: Texture, Size, Material, Geometric shape/2-D or 3-D, Weight. Then you could build a vocabulary word bank for each of these properties as you go along. This helps guide their analysis. If they run out of descriptions, you can direct their attention to the chart and point out which properties they have/haven’t mentioned.

I’m sure you will find even more uses for this prosaic learning tool.

Happy Teaching!


( I made mine from a shoe box that I covered with fabric. For the hole, I used the sleeve from an old sweater, but I have used part of a sock before. It’s helpful to have something that keeps one from easily seeing down into the box.)

One thought on “Language Arts Warm-Ups: Mystery Box

  1. Pingback: Letter Recognition Activities | Learning Home

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