This is possibly the hardest one even though it has the least number of pieces in it.
This challenge again will invite one or more of you, I would suggest not doing it on your own, this is a group big enough where you can actually enlist the support of other people, but starting with these three cards and the activity will continue to build, your object is to identify one word that you can use, mix or mingle these letters to create.
Immediately you could probably think of what that first word is going to be. Sometimes there’s two answers, but in each case it will always be a word. So in each case you’re trying to find one word with each of the mixing and mingling of the cards.
As soon as you’ve got the word whatever that one word is, great, let me know, I’ll come over and bring you a new letter. So then you’ll have four letters. Your objective is exactly the same, is to identify what that one word is. So you’re looking to find and create one word each time.
And then I’ll bring out five letters. And then I’ll bring six letters. And then there’ll be seven letters. It won’t go any further than seven. But most people get stuck on six and often on seven. We’ll see what happens.
So to repeat, starting with three cards your objective is to find one word and with each successful level I’ve introduced a new card.
(people playing One Word)
Okay, so in this…
(You want to think of what the words are going to be in the future.)
If you move the cards each time.
(How many can you make out of the three?)
That’s actually not even one of the objectives but on this occasion you’ve found at least three or two or three different words, which is cool. Each time though you’ve found one word. Great. Excellent.
So now I introduce your next card. The next card is an R. So again your objective is the same, to find one word that you can use these letters for. Sometimes you end up with one solution or as you did last time several solutions.
(people playing One Word)
Now you can feel comfortable with just one, you can look for another one, but at some point I am going to introduce the fifth one because you did complete one word.
(people playing One Word)
Okay… When you had one already, so are you ready for your next one?
(people playing One Word.)
Nice. Okay, happy with this?
So we’ve achieved one word with our six characters. Excellent. Last one. So your objective is still the same, to create one word with these seven letters.
(people playing One Word)
How To Play Narrative
This is a classic exercise which will no doubt result in frustrating your group, but more importantly, highlight the importance of listening carefully and challenging assumptions.
First, download the One Word set of letters from the Resources tab, or simply write the following letters on a set of seven index cards:
E D N R O W O
While there are ample variations, I have found this approach to be the most powerful…
To begin, show only these three letters – E D N – and ask your group to use all of the letters to spell one word. There are two possible solutions (if you except proper nouns) – END and DEN.
Great, add another letter – R – and you get REND and NERD.
You get the idea now. Keep adding one letter with each round, and invite your group to use all of the letters to form one word:
Add O – you get DRONE and (apparently) REDON (smallest unit of DNA capable of recombination – but it’s unlikely most people will know this word.)
Add W – you get DOWNER and WONDER.
Finally, add the seventh letter – O.
It’s almost guaranteed the wheels of your group will fall off at this point. Your group will struggle to construct one word using all seven letters. In fact, it’s impossible, because of the assumption they are most likely making at this point about their task.
Normally after several minutes, I start to provide some clues, such as emphasising the fact the group is trying to spell ONE WORD with all of the letters.
Beware, you may be accused of tricking your group when the solution is identified. But, this is where your facilitation skills are needed.
Help your group to understand that the purpose of the exercise was not to trick them, but to explore the risks of making assumptions. Carefully examine the process of how the assumption was developed, and what steps they could have taken to avoid this pitfall.
With time, allow your conversation to morph naturally into an open discussion about the types of assumptions your group makes every day, and the impact of these decisions.
Practical Leadership Tips
Rather than just spill the letter cards onto the floor or table in front of your group, take the time to place them, because this will eliminate the risk of the letters randomly falling into the pattern of correctly spelled words (especially in the beginning.)
Naturally, your language and the words you use are critical to the presentation of this exercise. Return to my instructions to remind yourself of the exact phrases I use.
I picked up this idea initially from Chris Cavert and his FUNdoing blog. It’s now become one of my most favourite activities to explore the risks of making assumptions.
You could integrate One Word as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Recognising Strengths, Prejudices & Biases
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Use Planning & Organisational Skills
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Seeking and/or Offering Support
Build Positive Relationships
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
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 to one’s wellbeing of working with others to solve a challenging cognitive problem.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to successfully solve the problem may speak to the benefits of being resilient in the face of difficult circumstances. Often, it is only when the group discovers that they have made an assumption that the problem and solution become clearer. To this end, it could be helpful to invite your group to reflect on the fact it was their assumptions that caused most of their frustration.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which One Word could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
All At Once: Provide all seven letters at the same time.
Just One Word: Add four more letters T U J S (in this order) and challenge your group to use all of the letters to spell just one word, ie JUST ONE WORD.
Only One Word: As above, add four new letters Y N O L (in this order) to spell only one word, ie ONLY ONE WORD.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Take a look at Jamboard, a clever software that forms part of Google’s suite of free apps in the Chrome browser. It will allow you (and your group) to manipulate data you create on one screen with all other active participants in real-time via a unique URL you share them. In advance, create the seven letters on your Jamboard screen (perhaps using virtual sticky notes.) Then, share your particular URL to allow the members of your online gathering to move the letters as if they were laying on a table.
You can also use padlet to achieve the same real-time virtual manipulation of the seven letters.
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Useful Framing Ideas
We all know that making assumptions are not good for us, but we do it all the time anyway. It’s very hard not to, isn’t it? Here’s an exercise that highlights the dangers of making assumptions, and more than likely, you won’t see it coming…
I want you to listen very carefully to this next problem…
If you’re good at scrabble, you’ll enjoy this next little game, but your ability to spell will only get you so far. To solve the ultimate form of this problem-solving exercise will require good listening skills 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 intriguing word puzzle:
What did you discover in this exercise?
How did you initially interpret the instructions or task?
With what you know now, what question could you have asked?
What did your group do to invite and explore multiple viewpoints?
What was the cost of making the assumption that all seven letters formed a single word?
Describe a time when you made an assumption, and the costs associated with this decision?
The inspiration for One Word, and many more playful group initiatives, was sourced initially from Chris Cavert. You can also find it in the following publication: