Gather your group together, close enough so everyone can hear one another.
Each person’s task is to identify the ‘key’ which unlocks the secret to a game.
Announce that you will point variously at different people, and your group is challenged to predict whether they are dead or alive.
To start, point to one person, and then question your group as to whether they are dead or not.
Here’s the key: If you say “IS (enter name) DEAD OR ALIVE?” the answer is always “DEAD” but if you ask the question any other way the answer is always “ALIVE.”
Clearly, each attempt is a 50/50 proposition, so the goal is to predict the outcome many times in a row.
As each person makes an attempt to uncover the key, congratulate those who get it, and encourage those who do not.
Continue to offer more and more obvious clues until everyone has identified the key.
How To Play Narrative
This game is just one of many dozens of What’s The Key? type puzzles that invites your group to discover a ‘secret key,’ but is never quite as easy or as obvious as it appears. As they say ‘truth is obvious to those who know it.’
Gather your group in one of many ways – sitting, standing or even walking together. If everyone can hear each other, you’re good to go.
Then, explain that each person’s task is to identify the ‘key’ which unlocks the secret to a game, which in this case, involves ‘eliminating’ people from your group.
Announce to your group that you will point variously at different people, and your group is challenged to predict whether they are dead or alive.
To get started, point to one person, wait a moment, and then question your group as to whether they are dead or not.
Here’s the key: If you say “IS (enter name) DEAD OR ALIVE?” the answer is always “DEAD,” but if you ask the question any other way the answer is always “ALIVE.”
So, to get it right, an individual or the group must listen carefully to what you say immediately after you point at someone. Clearly, each attempt is a 50/50 proposition, so the goal is to predict the outcome many times in a row.
Provide gradual clues to allow those who have not got it to get it. For example, I may point to the same person more than once, but change the question to bring back the dead.
To maintain interest, remind your group that everyone will know the answer within, say, ten minutes.
As each person has a go, congratulate those who get it, and encourage those who do not. That is, if a person has not accurately predicted if a person is dead or alive, encourage them to keep trying.
Expect lots of confused looks in the beginning, but sooner or later, one or two people will catch on to what’s going on. At this point, start to offer more and more obvious clues, such as emphasising one question over the other.
Continue until everyone has unlocked the key.
Be sure to review the Leadership Tips described below to present this exercise thoughtfully.
Practical Leadership Tips
This is an ideal game to play to occupy your group as you move from one place to another, around a camp fire, travelling in a bus or on a hike.
As a lateral-thinking exercise, this game is ideal for sparking a little creative thinking in your group. People have to look beyond what is obvious, and discover another truth. As you can imagine, the connections one can draw from the experience of looking for the ‘key’ to the real world are many. For example, I like to connect the fact that while the ‘key’ is very subtle, it impacts significantly on the solution, in much the same way that subtle glances and mannerisms in a training group or classroom can often have a significant impact on people’s learning.
Please note, the point of lateral-thinking types of activities should not be to frustrate your group beyond enjoyment. They are designed to be fun, but don’t play for more than 10 or 15 minutes. Gradually introduce more and more obvious clues so that, eventually, everyone gets the ‘key.’
Ask your group to resist the urge to share the ‘key’ with others once they work it out. Assure everyone that they will ALL know the solution within, say, ten minutes, and it’s more powerful to discover the solution on their own, than have someone tell them the answer. Besides, whispering the answer to a neighbour only reinforces the fact that they couldn’t do it without help, and getting it will not change their lives.
That said, be aware that some people will reel at the very thought of trying to solve this sort of puzzle, because it involves ‘lateral-thinking.’ Often, these folk have had very negative experiences in the past with this sort of exercise, ie when the puzzle is worked on for hours, or perhaps the solution is never revealed. So, be prepared that some people will immediately ‘check-out’ of this exercise. To this end, note my comments below…
Be very careful in your language. Note two important factors in the presentation I describe above:
– The task is to identify what the ‘key’ is. This exercise has nothing to do with who you point at – rather, it seeks to sharpen listening skills and heighten awareness of subtlety.
– Everyone is aware that they will know the answer very soon. This is critical to maintain interest, lest some people (often those who never ‘get’ these sorts of puzzles) lose interest very quickly.
Do not present more than one or two of these types of puzzles in a row – seldom do the people who didn’t get it the first time, get it the second time.
You could integrate Dead or Alive? as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships in your group.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Controlling One’s Emotions
Identifying & Managing Stress
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Seeking and/or Offering Support
Build Positive Relationships
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
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 solving a lateral thinking problem as a team.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully play the game speaks to the benefits of being mindful insofar as it demands attention to subtlety or things that at first glance appear hidden. For example, mindful practices raise awareness of the constant chatter in the background (of our minds) that is subtly influencing our thoughts and actions.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Dead Or Alive? could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Alternative Keys: Utter a different set of words such as “OK, WHO JUST DIED?” and progress alphabetically through the first names of your group (eg Andrea is the first to be eliminated, and then Avril, Ben, etc.) Or, only eliminating those people who are wearing a black garment of clothing, etc.
Clever Elimination: Take a look at Bang, You’re Dead which features another clever way to nominate the ‘dead’ person.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
The game is played very similarly online. First, invite everyone to switch on their webcams and select the Gallery View of video thumbnails to see everyone. Then proceed as above.
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Useful Framing Ideas
It is said that ‘truth is obvious to those who know it.’ That is, to say, unless you know what’s going on, you feel as if you are the dumbest person in the room. In a few moments, I’m going to present an exercise, the solution of which will be obvious to some of you, but not to others. It is highly likely that if you fall into this latter category, you will quickly switch off, and start telling yourself that you’re not smart. If this sounds like you, hang in there, cos you WILL know the solution very soon…
This next game was presented by one of my youth leaders on a summer camp once, and while it involved some dark humour, it immediately piqued my interest. It didn’t take me too long to work out, so let’s see how long it will take you…
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, lateral-thinking game:
How fast did you work out what was going on?
How did it feel to be one of the last to ‘get it?’
When was the last time you felt like this? Was there a positive outcome?
What might this exercise teach us about diversity and inclusion?
The inspiration for Dead Or Alive?, and many more fun lateral-thinking exercises, was sourced from the following publication (now out of print:)