The Squares Game

Posted on November 21, 2007 by Amy Tolmie
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A simple exercise for 3 or more students that highlights cooperation, listening and other group skills. It's often used as an exercise for a small group of students as a way of helping them think about the importance of cooperation in a group setting. For example, a group that is starting to meet weekly an anger management programme.

The game consists of a square piece of card that has been cut into 4 smaller shapes. For example, you could cut a long rectangle piece down one side of the square and cut the remaining piece diagonally, making two triangles. One of the triangles could then be cut in half making two smaller triangles. Now you have four very different shapes that together can be made back into a square.

You will need to repeat this exercise for each player using a different coloured card. In the case of four players you will end up with four sets of four shapes, each set being a different colour. Deal out four random pieces to each player so that they have a mix of shapes and colours. Their challenge is to each reassemble a complete square. However there are strict rules about how this must be done. First, there is no communication, vocal or otherwise, allowed between players. Secondly, each player can give a piece away to another player, but they cannot ask or grab a piece from another player. Time the group to see how long they take to complete the task.

What happens is often interesting. Students will find it hard not to communicate but if you ensure the rules are kept, you will find that some are left unable to complete their square because a vital piece is being held by another player, who may not have even noticed. It may take some time for everyone to finish reassembling their square. Once the challenge is completed, note the time and ask students to talk briefly about how they found the experience. Frustrating? Fun?

Now repeat the exercise again with the same players. The second time, players will often begin to think about how they can help others and the task will be completed much quicker. Try it a third, and even a fourth, time and you'll find the group moves from trying to complete the squares as individuals to completing all the squares as a group. The length of time taken will have dramatically reduced. Following the final round, you can spend some time exploring what made the task work more effectively and apply the principles to the wider task of the group.

The game can be made progressively more difficult for older students.If all the squares are the same colour, it will be much harder to complete. Also, the squares can be cut into more than four pieces. You will soon find the level of difficulty that works best for a particular age range of students.