Randomly distribute one card from a deck of playing cards to every person, instructing them not to look at it.
Announce that the entire exercise will be conducted in silence, ie no verbal forms of communication.
Ask each person to place their card on their forehead so that it is visible to the rest of the group.
Challenge your group to form as many ‘blackjacks’ as possible so that every person is involved.
Explain that for the purposes of this exercise, blackjacks are a hand of cards which add up to 19, 20 or 21.
Regular blackjack rules apply – Aces may be valued as 1 or 11, and all picture cards are worth 10 points.
Allow ample time for planning and discussion.
Invite group to reflect on their process at the end.
How To Play Narrative
A deck of playing cards has got to be one of the most versatile props in the world. Armed with a deck, you could keep your group occupied for hours. Here’s a wonderfully powerful group initiative.
Your first step is to randomly and secretly distribute a set of playing cards, one per person.
Importantly, announce that as each person receives a card that they should not look at it. Ordinarily, by the time everyone gets a card, at least one person confesses to having looked – so ask this person to perform a quick swap of cards with another person.
With card in hand, invite everyone to place it on their forehead so that it is visible to everyone else in the group. The only card an individual is not entitled to see is their own.
Now, challenge your group to achieve this task – to form as many ‘blackjack’ groups as is necessary to involve every person in the group. This means every group will have a total of 19, 20 or 21 points.
As with most Blackjack games, explain that Aces are valued at 1 or 11 points, and all picture or Royalty cards are valued at 10 points. naturally, the face value of all other cards indicates their value.
At this point, it’s time to stand back and observe as your group works to solve the problem.
Allow plenty of time for discussion and trial-and-error.
Note, it is not uncommon for many groups to involve 80% of the group in a successful blackjack grouping within the first minute or two. The hard part is absorbing everyone else.
Observe who makes it into a group, and who doesn’t. How easy was it for those who quickly formed a group to disband for the greater good of the group?
These are just two of many useful, teachable moments you could invite your group to reflect upon at the conclusion.
Practical Leadership Tips
While called Blackjack, it is clearly not necessary for every group to strictly achieve blackjack, ie 21 points. This would be very difficult to achieve. Ordinarily, when playing the real game, a score of 19 or 20 can suffice to beat the dealer.
Even small groups, of say, 15 people should be able to solve this problem (just be sure to distribute at least 1 or 2 Aces in the group.)
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
As with many group initiatives, this activity will compel your group to cooperate with one another in order to be successful. On top of not being able to verbally communicate with one another, they will need to explore alternative forms of communication, planning, and decision-making that are not only effective but also respectful. Questions such as the following (in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab) may help your group reflect on a number of critical behavioural norms:
What forms of communication did your group use? Were they effective? How do you know?
When you lost your ability to speak, what else inadvertently was lost?
What sorts of social cues did you pick up on (or miss) that sent you a signal? How did you respond?
How easy was it to be heard or acknowledged?
Was there an interaction in which one or more people expressed compassion or empathy?
Was there an occasion when extending empathy would have been useful?
There is no doubt that the time it takes to fully solve this group initiative may provoke feelings of frustration in some members of your group. To this end, this exercise could be a valuable activity to focus on and explore strategies for building resilience, not to mention, leadership.
Joker Round: Include one or both Jokers in the distribution of cards which can be played as ‘wild’ cards, ie can be any value.
Minus Round: Challenge your group to form as many groups as possible (involving every individual) whereby the combination of cards equates to 0, 1 or 2. In this case, the calculations can involve addition and subtraction, eg 5 + 7 – King = 2.
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Useful Framing Ideas
A deck of playing cards are one of the most versatile props in the universe, there are just so many variations of play. One of the more popular card games would have to be Blackjack, and this is exactly what we are about to play, but with a twist…
In the real game of Blackjack, you have no control over the cards you are dealt, nor the aggregate value of your hand. Until today…
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 creative problem-solving exercise:
How easily did you form your Blackjack groups?
What were the biggest challenges?
What happened once you found a group?
Did you observe anyone feeling left out? Why?
Did you make any moves for the greater good of the group? How did that feel if you were involved?
Did your group successfully solve the problem? Why or why not?
The inspiration for Blackjack was sourced from the following publication: