In advance, locate or identify a variety of hidden ‘treasured items’ within a defined area for your group to uncover, eg note the year marked on a commemorative statue.
Based on this list of treasured items, develop a list of cryptic or navigational clues or a map that will guide your teams to the location of each item, eg “Travel north-west for 100 metres and look up” or “What is the address of the upside-down building?”
Note, the description of your clues will be guided by your preference to develop a list of treasures which can be located randomly (at any time in any order) or in a prescribed sequence which every team follows.
Form small teams of approximately 3 to 6 people.
Copy your list or map of treasures and distribute it to every small team.
Challenge each team to locate and identify a response to every item on the list within a set time limit, eg 1 hour.
Answer any questions and describe any boundaries, if necessary.
When ready, announce the time has started.
All teams must return before the allotted time expires.
Award points for each correctly identified treasure on the list.
The team with the most points wins.
How To Play Narrative
Your first task is to locate or identify a variety of hidden ‘treasured items’ in and around a defined area for your group to uncover.
Note, that ‘to locate’ in the context of a Treasure Hunt is intended to mean that your group will simply note its existence or appearance (and record their answer to prove they found it.) Whereas, in the case of a Scavenger Hunt (a wholly different exercise,) the primary purpose of the event is to find and collect a series of items.
The sky’s the limit, but some common examples of treasure lists could include locating and noting the following items:
The graffiti etched into the side of a building
The year marked on a commemorative plaque
Number of white pickets in a fence
Type of tree, shrub or flower
Colour of an object, eg sign
Exact geographic coordinates of an object
Spelling mistakes (on any public sign)
Phone number displayed on a vehicle, sign, window, etc
Brand of an object
Description of the scene carved into the stained glass window
Opening hours of an establishment
Clearly, a treasure hunt of this type will require a lot of preparation in advance.
Then, upon locating or identifying these items, you will need to develop a series of clues or a map that will guide your teams to their location.
Your clues can be as obvious as “LOOK AT SIGN ABOVE DOOR,” to the more navigational, cryptic-style clues which will take some working out, eg “GO FIRST ON SECOND FOR A THIRD” which may indicate a turn on Second Street and travelling for a third of a kilometre to commence the hunt.
Note, cryptic clues are more fun but will take a lot more effort on your part to develop accurately, lest you confuse or lead your group astray.
Armed with a list of clues or ‘treasures’ to find, you have three further tasks to complete:
Determine the format of the hunt
Produce the treasure map and/or list
Form your teams
First, decide if your group will move about the designated area of your hunt with or without a pattern, ie there are two popular formats:
Without pattern – each team is permitted to engage with each treasure (on the list or map) in whatever order they choose, in which case you will need to provide specific address coordinates; or
With pattern – every team is given the same set of navigational hints (like compass bearings or cryptic clues) to guide them in a prescribed sequence to find each treasure. In this case, you may consider starting each team in a different spot on the map (or navigational sequence) to prevent ‘follow-the-leader’ strategies.
To illustrate the difference, consider that one of the treasures is to count the number of white picket fence posts belonging to the home of 13 Asana Street. Each team will be required to physically visit this house to count them but how they get there will depend on your chosen format. Without a pattern means that each team will be provided with a specific address on the map (in advance) to visit this treasure (at any time.) Whereas ‘with a pattern’ means that you will provide a series of clues that will guide them to be standing outside 13 Asana Street (at some point in the hunt) without ever providing the actual address.
Either way, you will need to create a map or list which communicates all of the expected items to be found.
In regards to the size of your small teams, there is no magic number. In my experience, groups of about 2 to 6 people work well, but you know your group better than I do. Just don’t make them too small or large. You may also choose to form these teams randomly, or specifically allocate certain people to each team.
Once you have formed teams, distributed the treasure list or map and answered any questions, confirm the time you want everyone to return and announce “GO.”
Scoring can be as simple as awarding one point per item found or response recorded or endowing certain harder-to-find items with more points than easier-to-find items.
The team with the most points wins.
Naturally, as a team-based event, there is always value in inviting your group (once all teams have re-gathered) to reflect on what happened and, perhaps, what was learned during the hunt.
Practical Leadership Tips
Depending on the age and abilities of your group, you may wish to arm each team with a map that clearly marks the boundaries of the search area.
Check and double-check that all of your clues are correct and unambiguous before you distribute your list. Nothing worse than discovering that one of your clues was wrong or could be interpreted in a different way (thus causing some teams to get lost.)
Also, check that your group does not need to enter any private grounds or areas as part fo their hunt. The last thing you want to deal with is trespassing issues.
The number of treasures to be discovered or found within a certain timeframe will always vary based on the location of such treasures, the abilities of your group and the difficulty of your clues. That said, I have found that uncovering ten items within an hour has been a good fit for most treasure hunts.
You could integrate Treasure Hunt as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
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 enjoying a fun team-based challenge.
In some respects, you could argue that the focus required to interact and solve problems as a small team may speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could use these less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see. For example, you could invite your group to reflect on the types of leadership and initiative that were demonstrated during the activity and relate this to a set of observed impacts on others.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Treasure Hunt could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
No-Holds-Barred: Distribute a list of treasured items without any form of guidance or specific locality to find them. In this case, you will need to provide strong guidance as to the perimeters of how far afield your teams can wander to curb over-enthusiast endeavours.
Mystery Clues: Provide a series of progressive navigational clues which lead each team to a series of specific spots. When they arrive, they will have to look for a mystery clue which will provide further instructions to (a) uncover a specific treasure and (b) directions to the next treasure.
Digital Treasures: Issue each team with a digital camera, and ask them to record the ‘treasure’ on film, so to speak, to prove that they found each item. If combined with a series of QR codes, this can also provide a digital means of directions to guide each team towards the next treasure.
Take a look at Scavenger Hunt to enjoy a team-based exercise that actually brings home a bounty of treasures.
Take a look also at Online Scavenger Hunt to inspire you to consider a virtual version of your treasure hunt.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
With the advent of Google Maps and Street View, it is possible to design and deliver a Treasure Hunt that is suitable for virtual settings. Naturally, the location and identification of everything on your treasure list or map must be possible through a simple internet map search.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Reading a map is one of those skills that some people just have and others do not. It is clearly a learned skill, but it is equally clear that some people pick up these skills quicker than others. In a few moments, we are about to break into small teams, so let’s hope you have at least one or two members who possess navigational skills to help you be successful…
Much like a crossword, your team is about to be presented with a series of cryptic clues which will guide you on a march throughout our neighbourhood. Along the way, you will be asked to take notice of certain features or treasures…
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-based event:
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being very high, how much fun did you have during this event?
How well did your team work together during the hunt?
What challenges did you encounter as the hunt progressed?
How did you tackle or solve these challenges?
What elements of teamwork were the most useful in this activity?
What were your most significant memories of your experience?
What did you learn about others (or yourself) during this exercise?
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently next time?
The inspiration for Treasure Hunt and many other large group games was sourced in the following publication: