Distribute one set of alphabet letters/cards (26) to each small team of 4 to 8 people.
Initially, challenge each team to lay these letters on the ground/floor to construct a large-scale computer keyboard, ie from memory.
Allow each team ample time to discuss and solve the task.
When ready, ask each team to move to an area approx 10 metres away from their keyboard.
Announce that you will soon provide each team with a ten-letter word to be ‘typed’ using their keyboard.
Challenge each team to ‘type’ this word as accurately and as fast as possible.
To govern fair play, explain that to successfully type the word, each team:
– Must remain behind the designated line at all times;
– One person at a time (in rotation) is permitted to move to the keyboard and ‘type’ the word by touching one of the letters; and
– The letters must be touched in the correct sequence.
Play several rounds, inviting each team to continuously improve their time.
To further challenge your group, try a variation.
How To Play Narrative
Scrabble was one of my favourite games growing up so there was never any doubt that a game like Keyboard was going to feature prominently in my repertoire.
Your first task is to acquire a set of 26 letters reflecting the alphabet. You’ll need one set for every small group you intend to involve in this group initiative.
For practical purposes, aim to use very large letters because it makes them easier to see. To get started, take a look at the Resources tab to download a ready-to-play set of letters.
Divide your larger group into smaller groups or teams of 4 to 8 people, and supply one set of the alphabet letters to each team.
The challenge is pretty simple to describe, yet can be quite difficult to achieve. Instruct each group to reconstruct from memory the exact configuration of a computer keyboard. You know, the Q W E R T Y layout of the letters of the keyboard, for all 26 of the letters of the English alphabet.
Almost everyone uses a keyboard every day, yet very few of us ever consciously think about the particular layout of the letters when we have to stop and think about it. Therein lies the challenge.
Allow your group ample time to discuss and re-arrange their letters until they reach consensus on one final and agreed particular layout. Lay the letters on a table or the ground, it doesn’t matter.
This task, in and of itself, can challenge most groups. However, if you have the time, challenge your group to solve this next problem.
Identify an area about 10 metres away from each keyboard and ask each team to move to this area. If necessary, lay a rope on the ground to indicate the area each team must stand behind.
Announce a particular ten-letter word – LUMBERJACK – and challenge each group to develop a method to ‘type’ this word on their keyboard as accurately and as quickly as possible.
Explain that to ‘type’ a letter, all one must do is touch this letter, in sequence, on their constructed keyboard. And to govern fair play, describe the following three further parameters:
Each team must remain behind the designated line at all times;
Only one person is entitled to move to the keyboard at a time to ‘type’ one letter at a time; and
All letters must be touched in sequence.
Allow each team multiple rounds over the course of say, 10 to 20 minutes, to continuously improve their performance, ie time recorded to spell the word.
Given the opportunities for collaboration, problem-solving and creativity, save some time at the end of the exercise to invite your group to reflect on what happened and what could be learned from their efforts.
Practical Leadership Tips
Note, there are many types of keyboard layouts depending on their use, cultural imperative and language. To prevent arguments, be sure to establish in advance exactly which keyboard layout will be used.
In case you’re wondering, it’s not critically important that each team correctly positions each letter on the keyboard, although this is useful. There is more value to be found on focusing your attention on the process each team uses to agree on such placement.
If you or your group love playing and working with letters and words, take a look at Crowdwords: Doing A Lot with A Little, by Matthew Broda and Trevor Dunlap for dozens more activities of this nature.
You could integrate Keyboard as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to understand the perspectives of and empathise with others including those from diverse backgrounds.
Specifically, this activity offers 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
At first glance, this seems such a simple task, but most groups quickly discover it is more complex than it looks. In advance, frame this initiative as an opportunity to explore what effective leadership looks like and means. For example, invite your group to reflect on how the many – and often varied – perspectives can be or are accommodated during the exercise and how did it manage conflicting ideas or solutions? Help your group to understand that leadership is a function and not necessarily a title, ie the loudest voice does not mean leadership. How did leadership show up during the exercise? What did it look like, sound like and feel like?
As described in the Leadership Tips tab, your group is challenged to achieve one very clear goal – to accurately configure the letters of a keyboard. Most often this goal is explicit and offered to a group as an instruction from you, the facilitator. However, are there other unspoken or implicit goals also at play? For example, is your group also aiming to achieve an equal role and voice for all of its members? Do they want to complete this task quickly, accurately, equitably, etc? You may want to explore what makes a goal effective in advance of the activity, eg SMART Goals.
Any Which Way: Before spelling out a series of words, instruct each group to alter the orientation of each letter so that no two consecutive letters face the same direction.
Start Anew: Further ramp up the challenge, invite each group to move to the keyboard belonging to another group before they make their first attempt to ‘type’ a letter.
Letter Key Punch: Randomly distribute the letters within a roped-circle on the ground. Challenge a group to spell the ten-letter word as quickly as possible, allowing only one person inside the circle at any point in time. See the original Key Punch group initiative for more details.
Alpha Debrief: Take a look at Crossword Debrief to adopt an engaging and colourful technique to reflect on this group initiative.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
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Difficult decision-making task that seeks consensus.
Challenging group initiative to test critical thinking.
In advance of briefing this exercise, ask every one of your remote participants to cover or turn their computer keyboards upside-down. For obvious reasons, it is essential that your group does not know anything about the challenge in advance nor be able to view their computer/phone keyboard at any time during the exercise. Admittedly, you’ll have to trust your group on this one. If you can’t, don’t bother playing this exercise online. If your trust is well placed, use Jamboard, a free Google Chrome app, to create a ‘board’ featuring all 26 letters jumbled on the screen. Acting as your group’s conduit, invite participants to verbally instruct you to manipulate the letters on the screen (on their behalf) until the group achieves a consensus.
In advance, create two boards – one with the jumbled 26 letters, and one that is entirely blank. Configure the boards to share Edit permissions with your group to permit all participants to manipulate the letters. Share the board URL with your team (ensure the first board is blank) and then ask everyone to hide their keyboards. Staring at a blank screen, now is the time to describe the challenge and invite your group to switch to the second board (look for frames in top centre of screen.)
Useful Framing Ideas
How good is your memory? For example, what clothing did you wear yesterday? What about last Thursday? Tough isn’t it? Many of us just coast through life on auto-pilot, not really noticing the little inconsequential details as we plod along. Our next exercise highlights this phenomenon and will cause you to jog your memories of an all-too-familiar object, one that we rarely bother to notice…
Can you touch type? I wish I could. I can punch out a large number of words in a short space in time using just four fingers and my thumbs, but I often have to look at my fingers, so it’s a long way short of touch-typing. The skill of touch-typing leverages the time-saving abilities of muscle memory in our fingers to help keyboard users focus on the screen and not on our fingers. This next exercise will invite you to direct a great deal more attention to this task than normal…
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 terrific team-building exercise:
How closely did your keyboard reflect the actual placement of the keys?
Why was it so difficult to recall the actual placement of the 26 keys?
How many different opinions did you discover about the configuration of the letters?
How did your group navigate these different opinions?
How did your group make its decisions? Describe the actual process used.
What helped your group successfully construct your keyboard?
What might this exercise have to say about our memories? Can they be trusted?
Can you provide an example where your memory failed you?
The inspiration for Keyboard was sourced from a workshop participant (their name has been forgotten) many years ago who was kind enough to pass this fabulous team-building idea along. Some of the variations are gratefully acknowledged as being sourced from Crowdwords: Doing A Lot With A Little by Matthew Broda and Trevor Dunlap.