Prepare a set of alphabet cards, modelled on the letter tiles of the commercial board game Scrabble.
Randomly distribute one (or two) cards to each person in your group.
Present a series of activities which invite your group to interact, share and solve problems.
For example, form a:
– Straight line according to the alphabetic order of the cards;
– Small groups of vowels and consonants;
– Small groups which spell a four, five or six letter word, repeating this challenge several times;
– Short phrase or sentence using the words created by your group.
Invite people to share on regular occasions in their small groups.
Try a variation to continue to challenge your group.
How To Play Narrative
Your first step is to source a set of alphabet cards, or better still, make your own. Model your set on the number of tiles a regular Scrabble game gives each letter.
Don’t have a Scrabble set handy? Then take a look at Leadership Tips tab for more information and/or download a ready-to-play set from the Resources tab.
Gather your group, and randomly distribute one alphabet card to each person. If you have less than thirty people, you may choose to distribute two cards per person.
From here, you have many, many options. These range from simply inviting people to mix and mingle to working together to solve a complex problem. Think of these cards as simply a tool to invite lots of random mixing.
Here are a few of my favourites in a sequence that has worked for me many times.
Ask your group to:
Form one straight line according to the alphabetic order of the cards. Clearly, this is not a four-letter word, but it gives everyone an idea of what letters are available (and will mix people randomly.) Optionally, fold this line in the middle (so the two ends meet, etc) to form random pairs.
Use the cards to randomly divide into smaller groups, eg A-K and L-Z, or vowels and consonants.
Form small groups of letters that are pronounced with the same sound, eg B-T-P and W-U.
Form a four-letter word. Challenge your group to involve every person in the formation of a word. Repeat this process several times, each time with different partners.
Form a three-letter word, then (after a few minutes) a five-letter word, and finally a six-letter word, adding that with each new round, everyone should seek new group members to complete a word.
Invite three or more ‘words’ (small groups of people) to combine their letters and invent a short sentence or phrase that uses all of the letters, as much as possible. The stunted, half-cocked sentences which develop are often hilarious.
Perhaps with each word or challenge achieved, invite each small group to share their response to a question you have posed (see Ice-Breaker Question Exchange for dozens of great questions to ask.)
Take a look at the Variations tab to explore many more ways to play, particularly if you wish to further challenge your group.
Practical Leadership Tips
If possible, seek out the larger playing card version of the commercial board game Scrabble. These are much larger and easier to use (and see) than their ivory-tiled cousins.
It’s up to you if you allow proper nouns and place names, acronyms, etc, as if you were really playing Scrabble. Technically, the beauty of this exercise lies in the endless array of opportunities to invite your group to interact, so anything goes. But, in the context of more serious pursuits, feel free to set some linguistic parameters.
If you don’t have access to a set of Scrabble cards or tiles, and you plan to create your own, click here to view a tally of each letter. If you want to know the points or face value of each Scrabble letter, click here. Or, take the easy route and download the ready-to-play set of Scrabble letter cards from the Resources tab.
With certain audiences, beware asking for four-letter words, if you know what I mean.
If possible, resist the temptation to present just one exercise. Introduce a series of activities, starting slow and easy and then gradually ramp up the challenge to provide ample opportunities for your group to interact and share.
Naturally, this activity works just as well with languages other than English.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of interaction and cooperating with others. In a small way, you could argue that the effort required to successfully form a series of four-letter words speaks to the benefits of having developed a variety of social-emotional learning skills and healthy behavioural norms.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Four-Letter Word could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Values 1: If you are using Scrabble cards which feature the points value of each letter, invite individuals to find one or more people who share the same value, or a different value, or a small group whose values add up to ten, etc.
Values 2: Ask your group to form letters, phrases and sentences which accord with a theme, such as the values of their organisation, or important teamwork principles.
Alphabet Crossword Challenge: Provide your group with the full 26 letter alphabet, you know, A to Z. Their mission is to use every letter to form a series of words in a crossword format similar to Scrabble. That is, a particular letter can be used twice by two words, in the across and down directions. Tough, but doable (click here to view one possible solution). For really large groups, break into smaller groups, each with their own alphabet.
Take a look at Poker Face and substitute the use of playing cards with Scrabble cards to explore the overt and covert ways we value and devalue others.
Take a look at Crossword Debrief and Starts With to add to your repertoire of engaging reflection strategies using the letters of the alphabet.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Did you compete in a Spelling Bee competition when you were younger? There are some seriously smart young people out there. If this does not sound like you, don’t worry. Although we are going to play with the letters of the alphabet, our focus will be firmly directed on having fun…
Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase ‘living with the cards you’ve been dealt.’ Which is just an analogy for living your life the best you can, no matter the circumstances you find yourself in. This next exercise will help us explore this concept first hand…
Sadly, when people think of the phrase four-letter word our minds go to a particular place, but on this occasion I want this to be a pleasant experience…
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 highly interactive team puzzle:
What did you notice during the exercise?
What feelings did you experience? Were these emotions connected to the letter or value of the card you were holding? How?
How did you calculate value during the game?
How do we calculate the value of others in society? Is this okay?
The inspiration for Four-Letter Word, and many other highly interactive group games, was sourced in the following publication: