Mafia Hacks for Level 1

If you haven’t played Mafia with your classes yet, don’t wait any longer! The kiddos love Mafia because it’s really fun. This teacher loves Mafia because they get SO MUCH input, they’re totally engaged, you can adjust your language for your kiddos, personalize it and it takes ZERO prep. What’s not to love!?!?  And we have as much fun playing Mafia in level 1 as level 4. It’s my go-to game after they’ve finished a Celebration of Knowledge, when the internet/ electricity craps out, they’re out of control excited because it’s homecoming week and they’ve had a pep rally and they’re too hyped up to focus, or when randomly 16 kids are absent and you need a plan B. Enter Mafia.

Here’s Martina Bex’s awesome Mafia Explanation . .. I’ve simplified Martina’s version and made a few changes make it work for my Spanish 1 kiddos right at the beginning of the year. We’ve been in school only about 9 weeks….they don’t have too much language yet, but by being deliberate and repetitive with my language, my kiddos are able to play, understand and love Mafia.

Game set up:

-Project this: Level 1 Mafia in Spanish  If you teach a language other than Spanish, I’d be ever-so-grateful if you translate it and share it with me, so we can share it with others! Let’s spread the love!

Merci to Lizzie Goodwin, here’s the French Version

Obrigado to Sarah Heist, here’s the Portuguese Version.

Danke to Kristine Barnes, here’s the German Version.

-Have everyone move their chairs in a circle.

-Print this page(Spanish) for you to take notes during the game. Here’s the French Teacher Notetaker,  and here is the Portuguese Teacher Notetaker and here is the German Teacher Notetaker.

-Prepare playing cards. Any old deck of playing cards will do. For a large class, sort out 3 Aces, 2 Kings and enough number cards so everyone will get a card. For Medium or Small classes pick out 2 Aces and 1 King and enough number cards for each student. Shuffle up the cards, put them face down, and walk inside the circle, allowing each student to pick a card.  Tell students that their card is their secret identity. They can look at it, but they can’t show it to anyone else.  Explain the identities (Slide 1 of power point) I’ve found that it’s best to explain to students that ANY Ace is a Mafia, ANY King is the Police… for you seasoned Mafia player, you’ll notice the Doctor is missing. It seemed to unnecessarily complicate the game so I removed it.

-Teach the game. Tell them that you’ll give them instructions in Spanish and they’ll have to follow the directions. Show slide 2 with the instructions you’ll give them. The first time we play, I explain the game in English: When I say, “La clase se duerme”, all students will close their eyes…then I’ll say “La mafia se despierta”…the mafia will look at me and I’ll say “La mafia ataca a una victima”. Silently the Mafia will agree on a victim and will signal to me who the victim is. Then I’ll say “La mafia se duerme”. Then, “La policía se despierta”. The police will look at me, then decide on someone who looks suspicious that they would like to investigate. Silently they’ll signal to me who should be questioned first.Then I’ll say, “La policía se duerme”  Then I’ll say, “La clase se despierta”, then I’ll tell you who was atacked and we’ll begin questioning to figure out who should be sent to jail. During the questioning, you can tell the truth or lie! While you’re explaining the game, point to the Spanish as you say the instructions on slide 2.

To play:

-Tell your kiddos to close their eyes. Give them a second to get settled into it and then say “Mafia, se despierta” and the first time or two you play, make sure that’s comprehensible- you might need to remind them what it means if that’s a new structure! On the Teacher Note sheet, jot down the student who open their eyes- those are your mafia! Then tell them (but make sure to project your voice all around the circle so the kids whose eyes are closed don’t know who you’re talking to!) “La mafia ataca a una víctima”. They will point out a victim to you and write that name on the 1st victim line (since it’s the 1st round).  Thank them, then instruct “La mafia se duerme… y la policía se despierta” Jot down your policía names and continue “La policía investiga…¿Quién es sospechoso?” They will silently choose a suspicious looking classmate. Jot her down as the first víctima. Then say, “Gracias policía. La policía se duerme…y la clase se despierta.”
Now the storytelling (and fun!) begins…you can give them as much language as they can comprehend. Later in the year I embellish the ridiculous attack stories, but at the beginning I keep it pretty simple. Advance to slide 3 of the slideshow to aid their comprehension.

“La clase se despierta. La clase está muy feliz porque hoy es viernes. Los estudiantes van a la escuela, a la clase de español. Pero clase…¡un estudiante no va a la escuela! En la noche, hubo un ataque. (Class responds “Dun dun duuuuunnnn” ) La mafia atacó a… (I like to describe the person before I tell the name…using any information we’ve learned about the student during Card Talk or Special Person Interviews.) Clase,  pobre Sam va al hospital. (Class makes an ambulance noise and the victim exits the circle and sits in a chair outside of the circle. He is no longer playing the game, but gets to watch and he will still stay engaged because he gets to watch when everyone else closes their eyes.)

A side note: In the real mafia game, the mafia kills their victims. I can’t do that. I can’t even play about losing a student. I’ve lost 3 precious ones over the years; we don’t go there…My mafia attacks and my victims go to the hospital where they recover at the end of the game. And we all live happily ever after.

Then I continue with the story and interrogation. Remember it’s Spanish 1, and I’m all about loading them up with lots and lots of Comprehensible Input, so I’m the one doing all the talking:

Sra. Chase: La polía quiere investigar a Emma. Emma, ¿eres inocente o eres culpable? (Point to the slide and it’s translations as you go.)
Emma: Inocente
Sra. Chase: Clase, mira a Emma. ¿Está nerviosa? ¿Emma parece (point and pause on the word) culpable (point and pause)?

Clase:  sí / no

Sra. Chase: Clase, ¿quién cree que Emma es inocente? (You know the drill…point and pause) ¿Quién cree que Emma es culpable? Muy interesante. Emma…¿quieres acusar a otra persona? (point and pause some more!)
Emma: ¡Sí! ¡Drew!

Annnnnd repeat! I love this formula because they get tons of language, tons of repetitions and they really don’t have any pressure to output. (Now when I play with my 4’s, I totally interrogate them: Where were you yesterday at 3:00 pm? Do you have any witnesses? Did you attack Elizabeth? Would you attack Elizabeth? What is Elizabeth stole your boyfriend? Then would you attack her? Why not? Oh, she’s your friend? Really? What’s her mom’s name?….you get the idea, but with my level 1 babies, we keep it simple and stress-free!)
For each round we do 3 interrogations (and if one of the accused is actually the Mafia, I’ll tell them “Hay tres personas sospechosas…y ¡¡una persona es culpable!!)

Then we have to send someone to prison. The trial sounds like this:
Again I’ll ask (while pointing and pausing at slide 4) “¿Quién es culpable? ¿Quién cree que Emma es culpable? ¿Quién cree que Drew es culpable? ¿Quién cree que Emma es culpable? Señala (motion the word) a la persona culpable. ¡A votar! ¿Quién cree que Emma es culpable  ¿Quién cree que Drew es culpable? ¿Quién cree que Alison es culpable? Students vote and the student with most votes is sent to prison while the class makes siren noises and they walk off holding their hands as if they’re handcuffed. The convicted student exits the circle and sits in a chair  in prison, which is conveniently located next to the hospital. Then I’ll tell them if they’ve convicted the right person.
“Clase es un día muy feliz porque hay un criminal en la prisión. Drew es mafia y ahora está en la prisión.” OR “Hoy es un día muy triste porque hay una chica inocente en la prision. Emma no es mafia. ¡La mafia va a atacar otra vez!”

That wraps up round 1, then we carry on to round 2. Everyone closes their eyes, the mafia selects another victim, the police pick someone to investigate and so on…

Play as many rounds as you have time for. I like to play for at least 30 minutes and get in a few rounds…
At the end of the game, if all the mafia are in prison, everyone else wins! They bring me their stamp sheet and get a stamp!
If at least 1 mafia is still in the circle, even if some mafia have been convicted, the mafia wins and they bring me their stamp sheets for an extra credit stamp.

Before I played for the first time, it was hard for me to wrap my head around all of this… so I made a little video of my little darlings playing so you can watch an entire round. These are Spanish 1 kiddos, 9 weeks into Spanish 1. This is the first day they’ve played mafia, but I didn’t start filming until our 2nd or 3rd round.

Mafia Video

Point and pause, that’s the secret here. I’m using this sweet pointer here but you can use anything! In fact, if you’d like to support Señ  you can click on one of my amazon links and buy anything. Seriously, anything you were going to buy anyway, if you click through one of my links to Amazon, I still get credit, regardless of what you buy! You get your shopping done and I get a tiny commission from Amazon. It doesn’t cost you anything and it motivates me to keep writing. Win-win!  Gracias, amigos. 


    • There are 2-3 mafias and you only send 1 person to prison each round… so you keep playing if one mafia is in prison. The other mafias in the circle play as normal. Does that clear it up?


      • But, what do you do if the police is sent to hospital during round one? Do you continue to play without one? Or, do you announce that the person in the hospital is the police and let the townspeople vote on who they think is suspicious?


      • Well, I usually have 2 police, so since only one person goes to jail each round, we’d still have a police officer in the game. If both get sent during different rounds, I’ll just narrate in Spanish “oh no! The mafia attacked all the police! Now you guys will have to accuse. Who do you think looks guilty?!”


    • Merci!! Feel free to change the font to fix the accent issue! I’ll link it to the blog post.. I so appreciate your work! We were just playing Mafia as well!!


  1. Thank you for this explanation, it’s the clearest I’ve seen of how to play Mafia in a CI classroom. I’ve been keen to try this for ages, and although I’m still teaching remotely from home at the moment, I want to try it this week. I hope it’ll work online…we’ll see! Can I ask, have you ever played this online?
    Many thanks for this brilliant description of what to do, it makes sense to me now 🙂


    • Thanks so much for your note! I haven’t tried it online, but I’ve heard that it’s possible and fun! Let me know how it works!!

      Also, if you translate the Google Slide into Latin (I’m guessing you’re a Latin teacher, forgive me if I’m wrong!) I’d love to share it on my site for other Latin teachers!

      Take care!


  2. Just coming back to say that my very first Mafia session last week, online, in my Year 7 (6th grade) German class, having never played it ever before, was a real success! The hour flew by, the children were really engaged, and they loved it – I think (it’s always hard to be totally sure online, but I didn’t lose anyway halfway through the lesson, which usually happens!)…I did a scheduled-send email to let them know which roles they had, and used a small whiteboard to draw a lot of the details to reinforce the meaning of what I was saying; the scene was a birthday party of one of the students so it was all personal to them.
    Thank you again for your great explanantion here; I just can’t wait to play it in real life with them, in September 🙂 ….


    • SO AWESOME!!! Thank you for reporting back- I haven’t been brave enough to try it online but we’ll try it if we’re online in the fall!!


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