Spaceman: An alternative to hangman

‘Spaceman’ is an alternative to hangman. It uses easy to draw shapes, it follows the same rules and it is easily identifiable by its name.

I imagine that if you are reading this you are probably already familiar with how hangman is played. If not, please follow this link for a brief introduction to the game.

The general aim is for students to find a mystery word (represented by dashes) by guessing which letters make up that word. If students guess a letter which is not part of that word, the first part of a stick figure is drawn on the board. A quick YouTube search will show several demonstrations of the game in this format.

However, hangman is potentially a problematic game.

This organization notes that there are 58 countries in the world that use hanging as a form of capital punishment.

Do you teach in one of those 58 countries?
If not, do you teach students from one of those 58 countries?
Are you a teacher from one of those 58 countries?
Is drawing an image of capital punishment/death (regardless of how abstract) appropriate?
What different reactions could students possibly exhibit in response to that image?

If you have answered those questions and you are interested in playing hangman in a different format, there are alternatives. The alternative versions do seem to involve some peril, but there is no reason why the game should. The game can be played with any simple to draw image or with no image at all. So, the other day when I was thinking about creating a PowerPoint version of hangman, I was also thinking about the kind of image I could use.


I eventually settled on the image of a spaceship. It is just a collection of ovals, circles and half-circles. I decided to call this version ‘Spaceman’ because the game would be easily identifiable. If I wanted to explain the activity to a colleague, all I would have to say is:

Spaceman? Oh, It’s like hangman but I draw a spaceship instead.

This is the original design, which was doodled by my wife, and it became the inspiration for the PowerPoint template.

Download the Spaceman PowerPoint.


Click on the image or follow the link to download the PowerPoint template.

The template has a panel of letters on the left-hand side of the screen. These are to keep track of the letters that have already been chosen. The green boxes at the bottom of the slide contain the mystery letters/word. Up to 18 letters can be used.

The following video demonstrates how to use the template:

Watch this video tutorial for information on how to use the template.
The video runtime is 3 minutes and 17 seconds.

Using the template

  • Download and open the ‘Spaceman’ PowerPoint.
  • Copy (Ctrl+C) and paste (Ctrl+V) the first slide. This will be the slide you will edit.
  • Enter each letter of your word, phrase or sentence into the green boxes at the bottom of the screen.
  • Type the answer into the notes section. The answer will remain visible to you in the presentation view but your students won’t see it. This will serve as a prompt to remind you of the answer.
  • Select all the unused boxes by pressing and holding Ctrl while you left-click on all the remaining boxes.
  • Press DEL or Backspace to remove all the unused boxes.
  • Left-click in the workspace and drag the mouse around all the used boxes to select them all.
  • Left-click on the selected letters to move them.
  • Left-click on a blank area in the workspace to deselect the letters.
  • Go to the slideshow ribbon.
  • Start the presentation from the current slide (Shift+F5)
  • Start the game by asking the students to choose a letter.
  • Left-click on the letter in the panel on the left-hand side of the screen.
  • Left-click on the correct green box if the letter appears in the answer.
  • With every correct guess, a new letter is revealed.
  • If the letter doesn’t appear in the answer, click on the build button.
  • With every incorrect guess, a new part of the spaceship is built. Click the build button nine times to complete the spaceship.
  • On the 10th click, the alien beams onto the spaceship and flies away. That signals that the students can no longer keep guessing.
  • Finally, reveal the remaining letters if there are any.

Playing ‘Spaceman’ on the board

The idea for ‘Spaceman’ came from a scrap of paper, so you don’t need to play the PowerPoint version. All you need is a blackboard and chalk or a whiteboard and a marker.

The game is played in exactly the same way.

Watch the video demonstration below for more information.

Watch this video demonstration for information on how play ‘Spaceman’ on the whiteboard.
The video runtime is 4 minutes and 38 seconds.


You can make the game more challenging by increasing the penalty. For example, for each incorrect answer, two parts of the spaceship gets built.

You can also make the game more demanding by asking the students to form words and sentences rather than just shouting out letters.

  • Instead of saying the letter ‘E’ the student has to say a word that begins with that letter.

‘E’ is for eat.’

  • You may also ask the student to make a sentence with the word.

‘What did you eat yesterday?’

  • How many parts of the spaceship you reveal is determined by how much English the student speaks.
    • If the student only says ‘E’ and they are incorrect, three parts of the spaceship is revealed.
    • If the student says ‘E is for eat’ and they are incorrect, two parts of the spaceship is revealed.
    • If the student says ‘E is for eat. What did you eat yesterday?’ and they are incorrect, only one part of the spaceship is revealed.

Another variation comes Everybody Hangman where individual students/groups/teams have to guess their own mystery word.

  • Each student/team writes a mystery word on a piece of paper.
  • Check the spelling of the words and allow the students to keep their papers. They may need them as prompts.
  • If you have four teams: A, B, C and D, team A will try and guess team B, C or D word. Team A does not need to guess all three words. Just one. The same applies to all the other teams. They try to guess one word from the three other teams.
  • Divide the board so each team has space for their mystery word and you have space to draw a spaceship.
  • Ask student/team A to guess a letter. If they choose ‘E’ and that letter appears in any of the mystery words one member from each team should write that letter into their mystery word.
  • For every incorrect guess, where the letter doesn’t appear in any team’s word, part of the spaceship is built. How many stages or steps to draw the spaceship is determined by the teacher.
  • Ask student/team B to guess a letter. If they choose ‘S’ and that letter appears in any of the mystery words one member from each team should write that letter into their mystery word.
  • Repeat until one of the teams is able to guess one of the words or until the spaceship has been drawn.

Do you have any suggestions for playing Spaceman?

Please leave a comment if you have any ideas you would like to share or if you have any questions about the template.

Alternatively you can send me a message on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Thanks for reading and take care!

You may also like to read:

If you are interested in vocabulary games, try the following two articles:


I first saw this activity on a Japanese TV show called QSama, where two English words were shown on the screen and the contestants had to guess the connecting word. Vocabulary is easier to learn when it is relevant and when you can make associations or mental links to it. Word links is a great activity to build these connections.

Word Dominos - Featured Image

Dominoes is another activity that is an old favorite in the ESL classroom that allows students to practice in small groups.  Word Dominoes was an article I wrote to share my thoughts on how to run the activity and some advice on how you can create your own custom domino sets.

Spaceman was designed with Microsoft PowerPoint 2016. Animations and sounds may differ when opened in other presentation software.

Microsoft® Office® is a copyrighted product of the Microsoft® corporation. All media that accompanies Spaceman is for educational purposes only.

The template and images in this post are free to download but they are intended for educational purposes only.

8 thoughts on “Spaceman: An alternative to hangman

  1. Pingback: Teacher Zara Blog
    1. Hi Eva, It is possible to add extra letters by copying some of the letter boxes on the left-hand side but you will have to delete two of the green boxes to make space for them and add a new background box.
      I hope that helps.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s