In this exercise, whether it’s twos or threes, when Nate’s ready he can come and join you guys. Is that it is called 1-2-3-4, and that just simply means you are going to clench your fist in the middle of your group and bounce it up and down four times.
So it will look like, 1-2-3-4, but on four is that you need to extend a certain number of fingers on your hand. So for example it might look like 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4. So anything from one to five. So not zero, anything one to five.
Your object in your group randomly and without pattern is to make a sum of seven, but the kicker is that you might have just seen that everyone else do like a three and a three and you go “oh man I will do a one next time if they do the same threes.” Each time you throw out a number of fingers it needs to be different.
So you can’t talk, however, each time you extend a certain number of fingers it will be a different number each time. Okay. So as quick example if we can make a group of three here so it is on four. You are bouncing together. Are you ready? Go.
(1-2-3-4) Okay you got six. (1-2-3-4) Five, great.
Call out the numbers as you say. It really gets you into it.
Okay, you got the idea. Give it a go.
(If you don’t make seven?) You just keep going.
Oh you got it on your first try. Alright now you object is how many times you get it in 30 seconds.
How To Play Narrative
Break into groups of two people, facing each other. Each person extends one of their hands (it doesn’t matter which one) in a clenched fist about tummy height in front of the others.
Ask your groups to shake their fists up and down at the same time as they chant “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR” together, where on “…FOUR,” everyone extends any number of fingers from none to five (thumbs count as fingers here.) It’s critical that everyone extends their fingers simultaneously, without a lag.
Announce that the aim is for the group to achieve exactly seven extended fingers. The rub of course, is that no talking is permitted between the players at any time.
You simply move from one round of “…ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR,” extend and count the fingers (bother, sixteen,) straight into the next round, and so on.
Invite each group to tally the number of times they can achieve seven fingers within 60 seconds.
Practical Leadership Tips
It never ceases to amaze me how often screams of delight will issue forth from a group when the magic eleven appears. Imagine if they solved something really important!
Beware introducing this exercise to young students, say in grades two to four. These kids can often manage the basic sums, but it’s their propensity to count with their fingers that spoils the fun.
As each small group will progress at their own pace, it’s often easier to write the next number (you want them to produce) on a whiteboard or somewhere obvious to direct the energies of the mathematically inclined.
You could integrate 1-2-3-4 into a well-designed SEL program to focus on the ability of your group to work together towards a common goal. Enjoying a few minutes of fun would also promote personal and collective well-being.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Setting Personal & Group Goals
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of patience when the desired mathematical outcome takes a long time to achieve.
You could also explore strategies to help teams to persist in their efforts, eg play five quick rounds and then take a short break before resuming another five quick rounds. Focus on their continued efforts (resilience) and less on the results they may or may not achieve.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which 1-2-3-4 could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Trio: Vary the number of people in a small group. For example, with three people, aim to produce 11 fingers.
Both Hands: Vary the number of hands each person can use, eg using two hands, permitting up to ten fingers to be extended, ask each group to achieve a sum of 23.
New Numbers: Vary the number a group aims to achieve. Start with eleven, then seven, then twelve, etc.
New Round, New Number: With each new round, an individual is required to extend a different number of fingers, ie to prevent the sneaky practice of knowing what to expect on each other’s hands, thereby manipulating a result.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Using the breakout room facility, allocate every member of your group into smaller teams of 2 or 3 people. In advance, instruct participants to display their extended fingers in front of their camera so everyone in their team can see and count them. Give each group 30 to 60 seconds to record how many times they can achieve a count of 11.
If you have a small group, instruct each person to use only one hand to display their extended fingers in front of their camera to achieve a pre-determined number, eg 17. Play multiple rounds until the count is reached.
Instruct each person to use the extended fingers of only one hand for a series of short rounds. For each round, count the number of people who extend the same number of fingers. The number with the highest tally wins.
Use little slips of paper with the number 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 written on them. Individuals select one of these five slips of paper to display in front of their camera for each round.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Mention mathematics, and most people will tell you that they’re no good at it, or that they forgot most of it when they left school. And while very few of us are rocket scientists, most of us are pretty comfortable when it comes to adding simple numbers together. If this describes your mathematical prowess, then you have everything you need for this next exercise…
I learned this next exercise from a class of second-graders. I had as much fun watching these little guys play as they did playing it, because of their propensity to use their fingers to count the numbers. Let’s see if this is the way you count too…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun energiser game:
What did you think as soon as you realised that this game involved mathematics? Was this a good or bad thing?
How did your group respond when you achieved the desired sum? Did it take long?
What else did you notice during the game?
What impact do you think the little voice in our head has on our life? Explain.
The inspiration for 1-2-3-4, and many more fun energisers for small groups, was sourced in the following publications: