I find many things can be inspirations for writing and workshop exercises from great works of art to beautiful music – but I did not expect a game played at a New Year’s Eve party to be such a fantastic inspiration for an exercise that can get reluctant readers and writers doing those very things.

Before the clock struck twelve on New Years Eve our lovely hosts got us playing a game known as “Put it back” where teams write celebrity or well known names (i.e cartoon characters, computer game characters, figures from history etc) on pieces of paper and place them, folded, into a hat. Teams then elect a member to pick a name from the hat and to describe the person on the piece of paper without saying their name. Each team gets a minute to try and guess as many names as possible from their elected team member’s, often strange, descriptions.the process then repeats each round has a different challenge as follows….

Round 1 – The elected member must describe the person using as many words as they like but, obviously, never using the actual name of the person.

Round 2 – The elected member can use only three words to describe the person – (never the actual name ! I’m sure you get the idea)

Round 3 – The elected member can use only one word.

Round 4 – The elected member can use only actions.

I tried this game for the first time last week on a a great project I’m working on where the focus is on ‘The Impact of Creativity on Boy’s Learning’. The teachers and I quickly found that the boys were happy to write names down on scraps of paper to put into the hat and to read the names when it was their time to describe/enact for their team. If they needed help we would provide it via a whisper, so that their team couldn’t hear!

By the end of the session the boys did not want to leave and were eager to continue the game. Given the boys enthusiasm, we thought we should repeat the exercise and push the amount of reading and writing that they do during the game. This week we brought in pictures of celebrities and cartoon characters etc as well as some faces that they might not know, such as famous explorers, painters and scientists.

At the start of the game we went through all of the images as a group and filled in any gaps in their knowledge, asking them how they would describe each image in the game, as we did this we suggested (we never made it compulsory) that they note down what they say in order to help them during the game. All of the boys took notes in some shape or form, some elected to draw symbols to help them if they were unable to spell the words they needed.

It was great to see how much writing could be generated through this simple game. There is the potential to hang a lot of ‘learning’ off of it as well – the images could be characters from a book they are reading, or faces from history! All of the boys used their notes and had great fun competing in their teams. I will definitely use this exercise in future workshops and think I may try to add a forth round where they must mold the person out of dough. If you give this exercise a try in your classroom or workshop let me know how it goes.

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