In advance, stretch and lay four long ropes on the ground to form a square-like shape.
Ask your group to stand inside the rope square.
Challenge your group to pass to the outside of the rope square as quickly as possible.
To complete the task, every person must jump any one of the four ropes while it is being rotated (without touching it) before stepping outside of the square.
Any member of the group is permitted to hold and rotate one or more ropes at any time.
The time starts when the first rope is lifted off the ground and stops when everyone is standing on the outside of the square and all ropes are on the ground.
Set your group a target time to achieve, or invite them to set one for themselves.
Allow ample time for your group to plan, discuss and undertake multiple attempts to problem-solve the exercise.
Invite your group to reflect on their process at the end.
How To Play Narrative
If you are unfamiliar with the original version of this skipping rope initiative, check out Turnstyles. It’s one of my all-time fave problem-solving exercises, especially useful when presented outside on a cool or cold day because it will definitely raise the heartbeats of your group.
First, grab a bunch of long ropes. You need four to create the box-like shape for this exercise, and if they are of a similar length, all the better (but this is not critical.) If you have a lot of options, choose those that can be rotated like a skipping rope, ie sturdy, but somewhat lightweight and pliable.
Lay the ropes on the ground to form a square, and then invite your group to stand inside the ropes.
Announce that you plan to record how long it takes every person in the group to step outside of the square, and with a view towards continuous improvement, your group will have multiple attempts to achieve a nominal world’s record.
Now, before they get too excited and think that they just need to step over the ropes, explain that every person is required, first, to skip one of the ropes (while it is being rotated) before stepping outside of the square.
To qualify, a rope must be rotated by two people holding its ends and a rope-turner need not have skipped the rope before twirling it. With four ropes lying on the ground, it is entirely possible for there to be multiple options for escape.
And that’s it.
When you have dispensed with their obligatory questions, tell your group that they can start to problem-solve now. They should alert you when they are ready to record their first attempt.
Typically, I announce that an officially timed attempt starts when the first rope is lifted off the ground, or you could use a stopwatch and say “GO.” Allow multiple attempts over the course of 15 to 20 minutes, noting the most efficient record.
There are many, many ways in which I have watched groups solve this problem. Sometimes, all four ropes are used, sometimes only one or two. On occasions, the same people do all of the twirling, when other times, this role is generously shared across many.
As with most group initiatives, there is no right or wrong way to accomplish the task. The key is the journey your group takes to continuously improve and refine its process.
In conclusion, look for opportunities to invite your group to reflect on its decision-making processes, demonstration of leadership and the ways in which it accommodated the needs of different people. Check out the Reflection Tips tab for more.
Practical Leadership Tips
This exercise clearly involves short bursts of physical activity and skipping/jumping. Note, that these two skills do not necessarily come easy to some people, so consider your sequence carefully before presenting this exercise. At a minimum, consider a lead-in activity such as Skipping Rope or Turnstyles in advance.
The length of ropes you require will depend on the number of people in your group, eg four ropes of 10 metres each will create a square in which more than 50 people will fit comfortably.
Apparently, there is a correct rotation of a skipping rope that assists people to jump it successfully. For most people, it requires the rope to rotate from the top of the arc towards them. If you’re not sure, just ask your group.
You could integrate Hot Box as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
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
Given the pace at which this activity can be undertaken, the presence or absence of effective leadership – not to mention positive and supportive behavioural norms – will largely determine its overall success. Not that this exercise needs one person to lead it forward, but it will serve your group well if you can help it explore the many forms of leadership that can or should be exhibited.
For example, the decision of a group member to interrupt the group discussion to hear the idea of someone who appears to have been overlooked. Or, the subtle check-in between one person and another when one of them is observed as being disengaged in the group’s process. As always, focus on the function of leadership, and not just the title.
As one of the primary full value behavioural tenets, Hot Box is ideal for exploring what it takes to set and achieve goals. The task can be completed in any timeframe, but when viewed through the lens of continuous improvement, your group will be challenged to regularly set quicker times over and over again. Invite your group to reflect on the following goal-setting outcomes:
Cooperation v competition – can these co-exist to achieve a good result?
Brainstorming & planning – did your group get the balance right?
Success & failure – regardless of the outcome, did the group succeed or fail?
Accepting help – how easy is it to accept and offer help?
Defining a clear and common objective – was everybody working off the same page?
Risk-taking – did the group balance the risks of certain strategies with the rewards?
Hot Triangle: As above, with three ropes only.
Consecutive Rotations: For every rope that is turned, one new person must jump each consecutive rotation of the rope. If a rope rotates fully without a new person jumping inside it, the whole group starts over. Watch the Turnstyles video tutorial to see this in action (with just one rope.)
Take a look at Turnstyles to learn the original version of this skipping rope initiative. Consider presenting it as an ideal warm-up exercise to prepare your group for Hot Box.
Take a look at the Boxed In variation of the Spider’s Web to explore a similar multi-walled enclosure through which your group must pass to escape.
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Useful Framing Ideas
How many of you learned to skip rope when you were young? Was it something you enjoyed or were good at? It is highly likely that looking at this set of ropes right now brings back many of these memories. The difference today is that we’re working as a group and you only have to jump once…
There are many escape movies, too many to mention here, but making an escape is one of the all-time classic features of an adventure. And escaping is exactly what you need to do in this, your next adventure…
The world’s record for the number of jumps of a rope in one minute is 332 times. Hard to believe isn’t it, but it’s true. The rope turns so fast, they have to replay the video to count the number of turns. Thankfully, this will not be necessary for this next exercise…
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 leading this fast-paced team challenge:
What were your initial thoughts about this exercise? Too easy or hard?
What were the most challenging parts of this task for you? Your group?
In what ways were different needs accommodated during the exercise?
What helped your group continuously improve?
Can you apply a lesson learned from this task to help make your group more productive/successful?
The inspiration for Hot Box was sourced from Karl Rohnke who was the first person to demonstrate it to me in a Project Adventure workshop many years ago. If you know which of his many books it is published, please let me know so I can appropriately reference it.