Top 6 Problem Solving and Processing Activities for Building Community in the Classroom


Top 6 Problem Solving and Processing Activities for Building Community in the Classroom

In Part 1 we explored some of the best early sequence activity options for the classroom. Refer back to the first sections in that document on activity sequencing and flow, group contracts and simple processing activities and approaches. In most cases it is important to build towards the activities we will cover in Part 2 by:

  • Giving participants experience learning about themselves and each other in the context of more simple activities as described in Part 1 (Sequencing)
  • Setting up or framing the following activities with lessons and experiences covered in the Stage Setting part of the sequence.
  • Practicing some of the simple processing strategies with lower level activities such as the stage setting activities listed in Part 1. Focus primarily on:
    • Helping participants begin to pay attention to their own challenges, reactions and comfort zones
    • The diversity in the group with respect to comfort zones, needs, expectations, skills and challenges
  • Have your group contract available. Use it as you process these activities and add things to it as new situations arise. This is meant to be a living document and an anchor point for groups

You will notice also that some of the activities here are advanced versions of stage setting activities covered in Part 1. Most of the activities included in this document have a range of applications, and can be set up in many ways to accomplish a many goals.

Here is a link to a series of articles on the Manito-wish Leadership blog on some of the best and most adaptable activities that all educators and facilitators should know. Two of these, with basic rules, are included in this document as well. The articles below go into more depth about how to expand on and adapt these basic activities. You can find those articles here:

Refer to the sections at the bottom of this document, and in the first part of Part 1, for additional processing strategies and activities to help guide a group’s learning process as they work through the Problem Solving Activities here.

Feel free to email us or call the numbers listed at the very bottom of this document if you need any help or additional information. Thank you. Problem Solving Activities

Problem Solving Activity #1: Blind Polygon

Materials Needed: A rope, piece of webbing, etc. large enough to form a circle that the group can stand around comfortably with each participant holding on the rope with both hands

Space Requirements: An area big enough form a circle with the rope or webbing as described

Activity Level: Moderate

Activity Description: The group (with eyes closed) uses the rope or webbing to form a number of shapes given to them by the facilitator.

Set up process: Assemble the group in a circle and give them the webbing or rope. Note: For webbing or rope, it is best to use a “water knot” or other similar secure knot for connecting ends of the role. Contact us for details. Talk about integrity and trust in groups with regards to closing your eyes during and activity like this. Refer to group contract as needed.

Running the Activity: Have the group close their eyes and listen to instructions. Repeat the task with a statement like this: “With your eyes closed your group is going to make a number of different shapes with the rope. We are going to start simple and get more complex. Remember that your hands can move along the rope but everyone must keep both hands on the rope at all times. Is there any questions?” Rope shapes ideas: Square, equilateral triangle, Right triangle, Diamond, Heart, Cube, etc.

Activity Variations/additions:

  • Have each person get a partner. Decide:
    • Which person will be “blind” and attached to the rope and
    • Which person will be the sighted, whispering advisor (this “advisor” cannot touch the rope or the person they are advising)
    • Set up the activity as before with the sighted advisor helping, but only able to advise and whisper to the person they are helping

Post Activity Processing: Discuss challenges and realities of working with others who are handicapped. There can be confusion, miscommunication, difficulties of communication, etc. In addition:

  • How were decisions made?
  • Who made them (refer to the comfort zone line up activity in Part 1 for more information on this)?
  • What assumptions were made?
  • Did the sighted advisors talk to one another? Why or why not?

Problem Solving Activity #2: Group Juggle—part 3

Materials Needed: Several balls or other soft “throwable” items per group, Stop watch or phone with stopwatch app

Space Requirements: Enough room so that groups of 6-10 participants can form a circle with elbow or arm’s length distance between participants

Activity Level: Moderate

Activity Description: This a next step in the Group Juggle Challenge process now set up as a problem solving challenge. Make sure you do the other two variations first before attempting this version.

Original Version: The small groups of 6-10 stands in a circle facing towards the center with approximately arm’s length distance between them. One member of the group is given an object and that person tosses the object when ready to another participant. The object makes its way from person to person in the group establishing a pattern until everyone has had the object and it ends up in the hands of the first person that started. Prior to throwing the object, everyone says the name of the person they are throwing the object to. Everyone throws the object goes to the same person in the group each round. Add multiple additional objects and start each from different places in the sequence.

Running the Activity: Remind the group about what they have done, discussed, changed in their process so far. Refer them to the group contract as needed.

  • Have the group listen carefully to the following rules:
    • This is a timed version of this activity
    • The rules are as follows: “The objects need to touch each person’s hands in the group as before. They also need to make their way back to the hands of the person that started them. You also need (as before) to say the name of the person you are throwing the object to. You have one minute to plan.”
    • Give the group 1 minute of planning time and then let them know the activity is starting on the count of 3
    • Set that as a record time and give the group an additional planning time (Note: if questions are asked during planning time, I typically refer the group to the rules statement. I may even have that printed out)
    • At some point I may tell them there is a “world record,” to see how this affects certain competitive group members. Note: A typical record is usually under a second, as the group can move around and have the person who started the objects stand in the middle with each person touching all objects, etc. prior to start of the timer. There are other solutions.
  • There are many creative solutions. The group is finished and has their record when THEY say they are. I always ask, “are you done?” “Is this a group decision or just one louder voice?”

Post Activity Processing: I typically refer back to the activity on group interaction styles, lessons from the line up activity, etc. (see Part 1) as way of re-introducing the idea and challenges of group diversity. The biggest issues in the activity tend to revolve around odd or new ideas and solutions being dismissed by more “practical” group members. As a facilitator I take note of these instances and ask the group about them afterwards.

Problem Solving Activity #3: Quote Card Shuffle

(Here is a link to Manito-wish Leadership blog article on activities you can do with quotes and quotations. You can find it here)

Materials Needed: Several quotes that apply to groups, personal challenges and situations. These quotes could be from famous people or really anyone (I have several great quotes from friends that I use a lot). Be creative here. Each quote should be written out on several note cards with single words on a card, two or three words on a single card, punctuation and capitalization and name of the Author all included. This should be done in a way there is only one way to order the cards to re-create each quote.

Space Requirements: Any space with table tops or floor space large enough to lay out cards in order and have all participants be a part.

Activity Level: Moderate

Activity Description: Small groups of 6 to 10 are given stacks of cards that can be re-ordered (they should be shuffled in the beginning) to form a quotation.

Set up process: Divide groups and hand out stacks of cards to each group.

Running the Activity: Let the group know that each stack of cards has parts of a quotation that the group needs to put in order.

Activity Variations/additions:

  • Each person is handed a card (or two cards depending on the number of cards and the number of participants). They need to keep physical contact with that card or cards during the ordering process. They cannot pass them off to anyone else.
  • The process needs to be completed silently
  • Have the group define the quote as:
    • It applies with regards to group challenges, the group contract, etc.
    • As it applies to the group itself and its challenges.
  • Have the group put a presentation together on their respective quotation that will be delivered to the whole group
  • Choose quotes from historical or literary figures currently being studied, short sections from books, poems or other literature, or use this activity as a fun review of information from various classroom content areas.

Post Activity Processing: Usually the quotes chosen can based on application on group challenges, the chosen theme, themes or concepts in the curriculum, etc. Look back at questions suggested with other activities above or refer to the processing section below.

Processing/Debriefing/Transfer Activities

Processing Activity #1: 1 Minute Interview/Listening

Materials Needed: None

Space Requirements: Enough space for the group to work in partners, either sitting or standing, with some separation from other partnerships

Activity Level: Low/high emotional risk

Activity Description: Each partnership has 1 minute each for one person at a time to talk on a given topic. The other partner needs to remain silent, receptive and open—just listening and without feedback of any kind.

Set up process: See above

Running the Activity: See above.

Activity Variations/additions:

  • Start with shorter amount of time per partner (especially when doing this for the first time)
  • Start with each partner having a pre-planned list of questions to ask their partner
  • Ask partners to restate (without comment) the main themes that the person who spoke covered
  • Have each partnership present main themes of discussion for both partners to the group

Post Activity Processing: The challenge of this activity is to just listen and be present for the person talking. A discussion on why that is difficult and the things that go through the listeners mind may be a good follow up for the right group.

Processing Activity #2: Transfer Vehicle

Materials Needed: Large sheets of paper, markers

Space Requirements: Table and/or floor space for small groups to work with large paper and markers

Activity Level: Basic

Activity Description: Each group will design a vehicle (car, rocket ship, airplane, magic carpet, etc.) on a piece of paper with markers that applies to the activity completed, series of activities completed or any other project or experience. The vehicle should include pictures or descriptions or:

  • What you are taking with you?
  • What are you leaving behind?
  • Your “exhaust”?
  • Your “fuel” or what is propelling you forward?

Set up process: Divide into smaller group of 4 to 6 participants (larger groups can work also). Give each group paper and markers and instructions based on the description above.

Running the Activity:

  • Front load the group with ideas, examples, etc. to give them prompts on what they need to design, draw and consider
  • Give the group time to do their work
  • Each group presents what their work for the whole group

Post Activity Processing: Consider additions to the Group Contract if necessary. Display the vehicles as reminders for future work.

Processing Activity #3: Group Model

Materials Needed: Modelling clay, “playdoh” or other similar material

Space Requirements: table space of covered, clean floor space appropriate for building clay models.

Activity Level: Basic

Activity Description: Partners or groups of 3 will build a model of the group and group process during the last activity. This activity usually works best as a post Problem Solving Activity process that answer the “What” question (see below)

Set up process: Divide the group into smaller teams as described above. Give each group materials and specific instruction. Let them know that the whole group will see the model and that they (as a small team) will introduce and describe their model.

Running the Activity: See above

Activity Variations/additions: The idea of model building can be used in a number of ways—even as a problem solving activity in itself. Other materials can also be used. The model can be a description of any aspect of the group process or even of the group itself.

Post Activity Processing: Consider additions to the Group Contract if necessary

Formulating Processing Questions

There are lots of ways to focus on questions for assisting participants in making sense of and transferring lessons from an experience. This can often be a challenge through for beginning facilitators. Here is a simple, time tested method for developing a sequence of questions after an activity. The sequence follows this format:

  1. What? (What happened? What did you see or notice?)
  2. So what? (What does it mean? Why is it important? How does it relate to_____? Why do you think_____happened?)
  3. Now what? (What would you do differently? What would you change about_____? How could you take that lesson to other situations?)

When asking questions in debriefs or posing questions for small groups to discuss or answer, it is always best to be as specific as possible and avoid general open ended questions, especially in the beginning (such as “how do you feel?” or “how did it go?”). This is an invitation for pat answers. Think about specific examples from activities. It may be valuable to even take notes on observations and specific things you saw take place. Use some of the techniques suggested in Part 1 (especially the anonymous sharing technique) and some of the processing activities listed in the activities section. For many groups, the more specific and concrete you can get, the better off you will be.

Experience has also shown that having participants work, at least initially in chosen partner groups or other small groups prior to a large group share tends to be the most effective and productive methods.

Designing other Activities and Linking Activities to Curriculum

Neuroscience has argued for some time that long term memory storage requires what they call “spaced repetitions of input” (Kandel 2006, Willis 2013) and that multiple strategies for learning such as moving and talking, active reflection, art and writing not only increase learner’s interest, but also create multiple pathways for learning. These are things that John Dewey began writing about as early as 1916 and they seem to be validated with everything we learn about how our brains work, how we learn and how we can change. These ideas have become the foundation of the experiential and adventure education field and our experience as practitioners is that the more we can create opportunities for application, reflection and synthesizing for learners the better off we are as educators. It also just makes for a more engaged and harmonious learning environment and provides opportunity for lessons and reflection around self-awareness, discovery, social and emotional wellness, conflict resolution and healthy communities. Every one of these things also has direct application in many areas of the standard curriculum.

As an example, imagine if you could design a set of activities that took a key focus of a piece of literature that you were using in your classroom or a major theme in your Studies or Psychology class. Imagine the level of interest if students were using math and physics to consider the forces on equipment used on a challenge course or zip line before or during a time when they were actually using equipment like that.

All of this is possible and we love to help give you specific ideas for this kind of programming. Here are some blog post links exploring the design of Escape Room type outdoor adventure activities that incorporate natural history, cultural exploration, problem solving and outdoor skills into exciting and engaging adventure experiences.

Here is an additional resource that gives you a range of unique ideas for challenge activity development using art, theater, music, cooking and many other similar things.

Additional Resources

There are a host of great books, web site and resources in addition to this document that we would be happy to recommend. Contact us directly at 715-385-2312 for information on workshops, resources and additional assistance.