Create your own set of ‘Alphabet Equation’ cards, or download from the Resources tab.
Place the cards face up on the floor or table, and ask your group to gather around them.
Instruct your group to solve the ‘equations’ displayed on the cards by guessing the common phrase or expression to which the capitalised letters belong.
When an equation is solved, move the card to the side.
Continue until all ‘equations’ have been solved.
Video Transcript for Alphabet Equations presented by Mark Collard
I call this one an alphabet equation. Do not be concerned if you’re not into math or mathematics. It’s mostly about common phrases or terms.
Your object is; if you want to come a little bit closer, you might be able to even guess what some of these are.
But does anyone happen to know, if you just look at these first few that are on the ground… Your object is to identify what is the term by which each of these letters, the initial of a word, might be telling you in a phrase. Anyone happen to know what some of these might be?
Anyone see the…
(First one ninety degrees in a right angle?).
Nicely played. Yes, fantastic!
So ninety degrees in a right angle. So that one is done. I think there’s twelve or so in the set.. Maybe there’s more, maybe there’s about twenty. Put those to the side those you’ve got and keep working on the others. So each of the letters is an initial. The first letter of a series of words. And the object is to identify what the whole alphabet equation is.
Anyone else happen to hazard a guess for any of the others, while we’ve still got them out?
(Eight planets in the Solar System?)
Ah, play… nice play. Excellent.
Once upon a time that used to be a nine. But of course now we’ve discovered that Pluto is no longer a planet. What it is? It’s a moon or something? Or something, it’s not a planet anyway for whatever reason. So… Eight planets in the Solar System.
Truth is always obvious to those who know it. So once you go “ah of course that’s what it is,” but at first glance it may not be something that is obvious to you when you first see it.
Here’s another one that often many people can get quickly. Anyone?
(Twenty-nine days in February in a leap year?)
Yes, twenty-nine days in February in a leap year. Fantastic, so there’s three already down you probably got seventeen more to go here.
(What’s your name)
See if you can find it.
(I can’t get any of these, I haven’t got a single one yet)
How To Play Narrative
Used as an activity in its own right, or designed as a fantastic arrival activity, present this exercise much like you would Wordles or Acronyms.
In this case, your group needs to identify what the capitalised letters in each of a series of ‘equations’ represents. For example 26 = L of the A represents 26 Letters of the Alphabet.
Using this as an arrival activity, I often assemble my group in front of the cards and invite them to figure out as many of the equations as they can.
Here’s a glimpse of a small number of Alphabet Equations, the whole set of which you can easily download from the Resources tab. Can you work them out?
12 = S of the Z
54 = C in a P with J
88 = PK
13 = S on the AF
32 = DF at which WF
If you need to, take a peek at Leadership Tips for the answers.
Practical Leadership Tips
This is a brilliant exercise when used as an ‘arrival’ activity. As soon as you have a quorum, make an ‘unofficial’ start by asking people to bunch on in, introduce yourself briefly and pull out the cards. Within a few minutes, having flipped a dozen or so cards, you will not only have fostered engagement and some laughter (encourage ‘creative’ answers), but you will have successfully kicked off your program.
Encourage your group to earn ‘bonus’ points when they offer their own suggestions for any of the equations. Not only is this enormously fun, but it encourages an atmosphere of creativity in which people are more willing to make a contribution.
My personal set of Alphabet Equations are printed onto business-card sized cards for one very important reason – people are compelled to move closer in to see the cards, which subtly breaks down barriers.
Some people love cognitive-leaning exercises, while others, not so much. To this end, be sure to introduce this exercise as part of a well-balanced program, where most people get the chance to shine.
If you’d like to create your own set of equations, look no further than a newspaper or magazine – they are filled with lots of handy expressions and phrases that will be more than fit for purpose.
These are the solutions to the five equations shared earlier:
12 Signs of the Zodiac
54 Cards in a Pack with Jokers
88 Piano Keys
13 Stripes on the American Flag
32 Degrees which Water Freezes
You could integrate Alphabet Equations into a well-designed SEL program to inspire your group’s curiosity, develop their problem-solving skills and expand their collective wisdom.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Recognising Strengths, Prejudices & Biases
Understanding & Expressing Gratitude
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 interacting with others and exercising our cognitive skills.
In a small way, you could explore the topic of resilience. There are some people in every group that take one look at a word puzzle and switch off. Or, perhaps after a couple of attempts give up and tune out. Consider framing your group’s experience (in advance or at the end) to discuss the presence and value of resilient practices.
Questions such as the following could be valuable to explore:
In what ways did you have to be resilient during this game?
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being extremely resilient,) what score of resilience would you give yourself? Why?
What do we learn from being resilient?
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Alphabet Equations could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Team Event: Divide into small groups, and supply each with a set of 10 equation cards face down. One card is turned over at a time, and as soon as the equation is solved, the group can turn over the next card. I recommend that the group stays with a card for no longer than two minutes, at which point they can put that card to the side (to keep working on it,) and then turn over a fresh card.
Poster Equations: Stick a series of alphabet equation cards on the walls of your room (or hall, trees, etc), and invite your group – either as individuals or small groups – to brood over the cards in any order they choose. Great for mixing and building energy, and for really large groups.
Create Your Own: Give a set of blank cards to your small groups, and ask them to invent their own set of Alphabet Equations. Then, invite them to challenge other small groups to solve the puzzles.
Relevant Equations: Integrate a number of equations which relate directly to your lesson or class. For example, 2 = SM on a LE represents 2 Spotters Minimum on a Low Element, or 8,700 = K for an AM means 8,700 Kilojoules for an Average Male.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
If you have printed the cards in advance, simply present one card at a time in front of your video camera for all to see and invite suggestions.
Or, prepare a series of slides with one or more Alphabet Equations on a slide, and progress as normal.
If competition is your thing, divide your group into smaller teams of 2 to 6 people and allocate them (randomly?) to their own breakout room. Supply each ‘room’ with a sheet of multiple Alphabet Equations and challenge the teams to solve all of the puzzles as quickly as possible (without the aid of a search engine!)
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Useful Framing Ideas
It is reported that when we read, our eyes do not actually comprehend every single letter in a word or sentence. Our brains use our eyes to look for patterns, and in effect that’s all letters and words are on a printed page, patterns. It is possible that if you removed all of the vowels from a sentence, then most people could still understand what is written. For example [… hold up sheet of paper with this message ‘YLLW S TH CLR F MY CR’…] can you tell me what this says? That’s right, Yellow is the colour of my car. I’m now going to really ramp up the challenge, whereby I will only give you the first letter of certain words…
What I’m about to show you is a set of abbreviated phrases or expressions. They are not acronyms, but do reflect the basic features of an acronym whereby you will be challenged to unlock the secret behind a series of letters…
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 team puzzle:
What did you observe yourself feeling during this exercise?
How did you manage these feelings?
What was it like to be the first or the last to solve these equations?
What process did you or the group adopt to help solve these equations?
Fun ‘Arrival-Get-To-Know-You’ Session
What You Need:
10+ people, 40 mins, set of Alphabet Equation cards (Print+Play)