Equal Ground Game: Word Challenge

I owe 100% of the credit for this game to Ashley Rondini at Franklin & Marshall College.

The Game: Word Challenge

Potential Topics: Social Justice, Attribution Error, Levels of Analysis, Methods and Measurement, Bias and Hidden Assumptions

Materials: Envelopes, letters for each team (listed at the bottom of this entry), timer
Prep Time
: 5 minutes (mostly cutting squares and putting them into envelopes
Play Time: 5 minutes
Class Size: 6-100
Debrief Time: As long as you like, this one just keeps opening up the more you look at it. I bridged directly into my lesson. So… 15 minutes debrief and then to lecture.

How to Play:

Step 1. Put students into groups of at least two. The game packet is designed for at least 4 teams,  but I’ve played with 3 before and it works fine. Pass out one envelope filled with letters to each team. If you have more than four teams, just create duplicate envelopes. Read the instructions aloud:

“Each team will be given an envelope containing 12 letters. The goal of this activity is for you to form as many words as possible with the letters inside of your envelope. You will have 5 minutes to form your words. All words must be at least 3 letters long. You may not use the same letter twice in one word. No proper nouns (names of people, places, brand names, etc.) The team that creates the most words wins. As always, hard work, perseverance, and commitment to the task will greatly impact your experience of the competition!”

Step 2. Get a timer and tell them to START!

Tips: Make certain the teams are huddled closely and focusing on their own letters. Encourage them to create systems of organization, to fully engage, to work as a team. This keeps them focused on their own teams and not other teams.

Step 3. Tell them to stop and to count up their total words and call on each team to report that number aloud as you write them on the board. (Don’t worry about checking to see if they are real)

Step 4. The scores will be VASTLY different. There will be lots of giggling and chitchat across the room….Now ask them: According to the scores…which team won? What are some potential explanations as to why the scores differ so much? What do the numbers actually reveal?

The Reveal: The secret of the game is that even though every team has the same number of letters, the kinds of letters they have in order to make their words are very very different. One team in particular is stuck with an incredibly challenging set (QZXY etc)…other teams are blessed with letters like S, R, T, L…etc.

What’s the POINT?: What I LOVE about this game, is that it is intensely PORTABLE! I was taught this game as a critical thinking exercise in considering social justice issues in the classroom. The point for the facilitator is that while numbers appear to reveal things like intelligence, focus, and dedication, … there are very clear structural constraints that are really driving the variation. This is a great time to talk about the attribution error (we attribute our struggles to structural constraints, but often attribute failure in others to some innate component of who they are).

HOWEVER, I taught this last week as a IR Levels of Analysis exercise in which students offered all sorts of hypotheses to explain the variation..some were systemic, some individual, and some organizational. As a third cut, my colleague Dr. David Ciuk, used it as a methods and research question. If you play with more than 4 teams, and duplicate letter sets, you actually can compare outcomes and talk about what measurement is and the problems with taking numbers at face value.

Pros: Fast, and builds to great conversations immediately following. Students get it, and it gets them active and inquisitive

Cons: Teams are often loud and can spoil the punchline but figuring out that the letters are different among teams. Fear not though… just let them introduce that explanation and ask for others too! The point is to get several explanations on the board and then to explore them together.

Final Words: feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions! I do not know the origins of the game itself. If someone does know I’m happy to update and attribute authorship. I personally loved making 8 teams (two sets of envelopes) for my 30 student class. Let me know how it works for you!

Letters List: 

Team 1:  I  S  R  P  E L A N  T D H  C

Team 2: F  C  U  P  M  B  G  O  I  L  N  D

Team 3: T C U P  M  B  G  E  I  L  K  W

Team 4: Y O K B V X Z F I  W  J  Q