Here’s the exercise. Again, it’s something I’ve already prepared in advance. This is something that I worked with just last week with another group. It’s just a regular A10 tin can. It’s been around forever.
And the first task, again I’m going to assume we’ve actually done this, is that I would pass it around the group, and I invite the group to actually consider what would be one or more things they would love to see this group ‘be.’
And I mean “be” in the true sense of its word, that it’s we’re human “beings”, not human “doings”. What would you actually be?
So for example, we would be risk takers, we would be positive, we would be accepting, we would be friendly, we would be comfortable, we would be understanding, teachable, and so on. We would be honest, we would be having fun.
For this particular group last year, it was a group of students, these are the things that they developed in their conversation about this is how we would like to be, in terms achieving our goals, whatever that might be.
So assume that we’ve actually done that, just for purposes of time.
Here’s the next task which I invite you to now do, is that we’re now going to uphold this conversation. We’re actually going to uphold it both literally and also in the sense of how you work together as a group, is that by passing this tin can around again, your object is to keep it off the ground and have it fall as few times as possible, because the only point of contact you have with the tin can now is with your feet.
And when I say feet I do mean shoes and socks, but I certainly don’t mean hands, shins, or anything else other than could be considered to be a foot, shoe, or a sock.
So to repeat, the object is to have this tin can passed around the group. You can use your feet. And the object is to have it fall to the ground as few times as possible. This is obviously a fall, but so would if it touched inside the nook of your little foot there, or your hand or anything like that.
It’s pretty simple. I’m not asking you a great deal at this point, but did most people get a sense of what I’m asking? Okay, what’s your name?
Zoe, would you mind starting?
Your can. Okay.
(people performing Tin Can Pass)
Nice. So it’s about as few falls as possible.
(people passing tin can)
That looks like a fall. I think we had more than a foot touch it there. Two now. Keep it going. That’s clear.
(people moving tin can pass)
Back to where it started. Excellent. Alright, great. How many falls?
Just two. Okay, great. Do we sense that we could probably do that in less than two? Awesome. I’m going to actually step that up, because I think that’s a gimme.
So now I’m going to take it to the next level, is that, I don’t actually have it with me today, but ordinarily I’d place a lid on this so that you couldn’t use it as a shoe.
So resist the temptation. You could still use this end, you just can’t put your shoe inside it. So it’s the same task, but this time it’s still as few falls as possible.
So Zoe, would you like to still start with it? You can’t do it like that anymore, so do what you need to do to start.
You can use the end, you just can’t put your foot inside it.
(people passing tin can)
And stop it there. Okay, good job. Excellent. Good job. Just roughly how many drops did we have?
Might have been three? Okay, Great. And that included putting a shoe inside. That’s cool. And we’ll keep going. Again, I want to move us forward here, but what did you note? How might you connect the things that, if you had, written onto this tin can are related to what you just did?
Anyone got some ideas? Again I know you’re having to imagine what you’d wrote on here, but you can see it.
(people respond to question…)
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, so it might be I might invite a group… think back to what you wrote on the can and then describe to the group whether you saw it happen or it didn’t happen. It might be that “maintain an open mind”.
It might be that yes, the group did actually have an open mind for three different solutions to how the problem could be solved, as an example. Great. Excellent.
And then I can then directly relate that conversation to other parts of my curriculum, other parts of the life of this group. How might this appear on the football field or whatever other form of curriculum that you might be working with?
Well, having an open mind mean…. offering suggestions to the captain, or if you’ve got an idea or maybe someone else has an idea but they have a lesser voice than you, encourage them to speak up or maybe show to the group hears that person. That might be a way in which that occurs.
And of course it also invites the group to consider… actually, we weren’t having much fun. It might be that’s what I wrote. We didn’t really have much fun. Why was that? Why was that that we didn’t have much fun? Again it opens up that permission to have that conversation.
And literally speaking, who was upholding the standards? Anytime they dropped, we can say okay, in the life of this group, metaphorically speaking, when do we drop the can? When do we drop this can? That might be in the world of safety, emotional safety for example.
In terms of bullying, and I’m sure most of your schools have bullying campaigns, that’s a huge tin can that we drop all the time. How might we actually manage that better? Note that I’m using an exercise, an activity, to engage the conversation to then move the group forward.
Just for further ideas, this could go on for two hours. Two cans, both going different directions, swapping, coming back. I already talked about the tin can lid. And then to the ultimate level, like you could put things inside, that bias its weight and all that sort of stuff.
My favourite is same thing but only one foot per person. So when you’re physically involved in the possession or passing of the can, you can only have one foot touching it.
And it’s like how is that possible? The group works it out. There’s never been a group that hasn’t been able to work out how do you make that happen, because they work out at some point, well it’s one person but we could have ten feet on it involving ten people. Yes, of course you can. And then that opens up a whole new world of how we solve problems.
My favourite, all-time favourite is one foot, tin lid, and have something on top here like a glass of water filled to the brim within a centimetre of the top, and the object is to have it passed all the way around the group without it falling.
Now there’s often a lot of wet legs in the process, with ready access to the water, but do you think there will be a level of performance within this group? The ability to manage themselves is pretty high, it’s pretty dynamic.
It’s not something you bring them to on the first day of class. There’s stuff that you would need to prepare to get to that level.
How To Play Narrative
Sitting in a circle, preferably on the floor (but in seats will work okay,) introduce a large A-10 tin can to your group – you know, the type often found in dining halls and restaurants which store large quantities of preserved fruit or coffee, etc.
For the purposes of this activity, one end of the can should have its lid completely removed.
Explain to your group that their task is to pass this tin can around the group, but … using only their feet (shoes and socks included.) Indeed, their goal is to pass the can around the circle with as few falls as possible.
Describe a ‘fall’ as anytime the can comes into contact with anything other than a shoe or foot, eg the floor, an ankle, a hand, etc.
Pass the can to someone close to you (so as to not give anything away,) and let them at it.
The passing will be typically awkward in the beginning, but someone will quickly discover that the can can be positioned like a shoe over the top of a foot (belonging to every second person) to secure it firmly as it is passed. At this point, zero falls will likely be recorded, and the group will be feeling rather proud of itself.
Now, introduce the second tin can (which has remained hidden to this point,) to be passed simultaneously as the first tin can but in the opposite direction. Naturally, it will take some further problem-solving to have the two cans pass each other successfully. Allow the group time to discuss different ways to solve the problem and achieve their desired goal.
From here, you have many options to choose from.
If this task has been a challenging one for your group, take a few moments to review what has happened. Or, if the group is prepared for more, try something new described in the Variations tab.
Practical Leadership Tips
If the tins are newly procured from the kitchen, check that there are no sharp edges from having removed the lids.
Note that the goal I set was to pass the can in as ‘few falls as possible’ – not, without any falls. In this way, there is always room for improvement, and the goal will always match the ability of the group.
Observe how many feet the group will choose to have in physical contact with the can at any point in time. Often, it will only be those belonging to the two people directly involved in the passing. Note that, depending on the parameters of your framing, many more feet are entitled to touch the can, yet the group will (often) assume that only those directly involved are allowed. A wonderful opportunity to explore the consequences of making assumptions.
Given that most people will be sitting on the floor (perhaps in a seat) and lifting both legs into the air to grasp and pass a tin can, it is wise to check that no one is wearing a kilt, dress or short skirt before introducing this exercise.
Beware the discussion about what is meant by ‘passing’ the tin can. Does it mean, for example, that each person must have control of the can during a pass, or is it enough that each person ‘touches’ the can? You decide. The conclusion is less important than the manner in which the conversation is conducted and the decision is reached.
You could integrate Tin Can Pass 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:
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
This exercise is ideal for helping your group to explore, discuss and develop a simple behavioural framework that can be easily recalled and applied to govern their social interactions. In advance, invite each group member to write a positive strength or characteristic onto the outside of the can. Before commencing the initiative, develop the metaphor that keeping the tin can off the ground is akin to “upholding their commitments” to those attributes listed on the can, ie if the group works hard to achieve these attributes, they will be successful. Take a look at the Framing Ideas tab to learn a suggested introduction.
Facilitated as such, this technique is particularly powerful because it invites your group to create their own behavioural agreement. Remember, your primary role is to create this framework in advance and then to review it periodically when it’s useful for your group to reflect on their behaviours and interactions.
Consider using this exercise as a prelude to a discussion about goal-setting. I saw this technique used very successfully with a group of second graders who completed this tin can pass every morning (soon after their class started) before their teacher assisted them to set a goal for their day at school. Each day the class would get a little closer to their goal of not dropping the tin can, and every day they would apply the lessons they learned from working together to their individual goals. Very powerful.
Connected to the existence of a behavioural framework is, of course, the invitation for your group to take responsibility for their actions, ie they go hand in hand. In a sense, the Tin Can Pass can be facilitated as a goal-setting tool as much as a device to govern their behaviours.
Put A Lid On It: Add a plastic lid to the can so that a foot can no longer be placed inside the can. Or, if you can’t source one, simply instruct the group to pass the can(s) without placing their feet inside.
One Foot: When an individual is involved in the passing of the can, they are only permitted to use one foot. Again, as noted in the Leadership Tips tab, the group will hear this as ‘only two feet can touch the can’ which, of course, is another assumption that will limit the group’s problem-solving ability. For example, five different people could all use one of their feet to assist in the passing of the can.
Balancing Act: Add an object to the top of the tin can, such as a soft toy or a plastic cup, with the added challenge of passing the can without dropping the object. In this instance, explain that no one or nothing can be used to secure or touch the object to prevent it from falling.
Ultimate Challenge: Passing the can around the group while balancing a cup of water, within 10mm (½”) of the brim, on top at all times. From experience, you are well-advised to attempt this on a surface that can be easily mopped up afterwards.
Alternative Objects: Don’t have an A-10 tin can hanging around? Consider passing other types of objects, such as a beachball, basketball, small cardboard box, lego-brick structure, an empty plastic milk bottle, etc.
Passing Puzzle: Take a look at The Passing Game to explore another, more mentally-challenging group initiative.
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Useful Framing Ideas
This next activity will not only challenge you as a group, but it will also invite you to consider what’s important about the way you folks work together. To begin, I would like to pass this tin can around the group, one person at a time, and ask each of you to write a word or phrase that captures something about how you would like the group to work together as a team… [suggestions may include to communicate effectively, take risks, have fun, respect one another, etc]. As you write something, please explain to the group why you chose that word or phrase, and the impact you would like it to have on the group. [allow time for writing and sharing] Now, let’s put these team qualities and attributes into action. Your next task is to pass the tin can around the group again, but this time, only your feet can touch the can. In both a practical and metaphorical sense, this exercise will challenge you to ‘uphold’ the qualities you have just shared with one another…
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 group initiative:
What was the reaction of the group when the tin fell?
Whose responsibility was it to keep the tin off the ground? Why?
What actions or strategies did your group employ to keep the tin from falling?
In what ways did the exercise of this task reflect the values of your group? How?
How can your group create a culture of positive and healthy relationships?
The inspiration for Tin Can Pass was sourced from Jim Schoel many years ago, with thanks. As far as I’m aware, this activity has never been published in a book.