Clearly designate a large, open (empty) space in which your group will soon interact.
Forms into small groups of two people (pairs.)
For each pair, nominate the tallest person as the robot, and their partner will be the controller.
The task of the controller is to guide the robot safely around the designated area, by using one of four distinct taps on the back or shoulder of the robot:
– One tap between shoulder blades = walk forward;
– One tap on the left shoulder = turn 90 degrees to left;
– One tap on right shoulder = turn 90 degrees to right; and
– Two quick taps between shoulder blades = stop walking.
The primary goal of the controller is to prevent their robot from bumping into any obstacles, including other people.
After 30 to 60 seconds, ask each partnership to switch roles.
After one or two rounds, ask each person to find a new partner to repeat the exercise, or consider playing a variation.
How To Play Narrative
Gather your group in the midst of a large, open playing space – indoors or outdoors, it won’t matter.
Ask your group to form into groups of two people, and adopt a random strategy (such as those described in Getting Into Pairs) to nominate who will be the ‘robot’ and the ‘controller.’ For example, ask the tallest person in the pair to become the controller, while their partner assumes the role of a robot.
Explain that the task of the controller is to guide their robot throughout the designated open space as safely as possible, without bumping into any obstacles (or other people, for that matter.)
At their disposal, the controller is entitled to use one of four distinct taps on the back or shoulder of the robot to communicate their route:
One tap between shoulder blades = walk forward;
One tap on the left shoulder = turn 90 degrees to the left;
One tap on right shoulder = turn 90 degrees to the right; and
Two quick taps between shoulder blades = stop walking.
Once all questions have been answered, invite each pair to have a go.
After 30 to 60 seconds, invite the partners to switch roles.
After a couple of rounds, invite everyone to find a new partner to repeat the exercise, or try something new from the Variations tab.
Practical Leadership Tips
If necessary, you may need to remind your group that when you mentioned ‘tap’ you were referring to the motion of a gentle tap of one’s finger tips, and not a whole-handed wallop!
For fun, if the robot should ever find themselves in a position where they cannot move, or it is unsafe to move, ask them to raise their hands high in the air and yelp “WHOOP, WHOOP, WHOOP” over and over. Thanks to Jim Cain for this innovation.
In the context of developing collaborative relationships, trust and empathy, invite each pair to have a brief discussion about what is and isn’t working to help them continue to have fun and keep safe.
You could integrate Robot Walk 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:
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
Any time one or more people have their eyes closed in an activity is a time to focus your group’s attention on safety. In the context of this activity, physical safety is obvious but equally important is the emotional and mental safety of your participants. Consider your lead-up activities before launching into Robot Walk as much as the dominant cultural norms of your group (see below.) When you start to see people leading their partners into the path of other participants, or into walls (yes, this has occurred) perhaps causing harm is a good time to stop the exercise and process the impact of these decisions on the group. For example, what is the impact on the development of trust in the group when you witness one group member causing harm to another? Many safety issues strike at the heart of the behavioural norms of the group (see below.)
This fun group initiative will invite your group to interact and engage with each other in a manner that would necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions to explore a variety of full value behaviours such as:
How did the group/pairs demonstrate your ability to care for self and others?
Generally speaking, how did you and your partner make decisions?
What types of leadership were demonstrated during the exercise? Were they effective?
Was adaptability a key component of your success? What’s an example?
What changed as the activity progressed?
What skills do you think you needed to rely on to be successful?
Blind Robot Walk: Invite the robot to keep their eyes closed at all times.
Group Robot Walk 1: Form into groups of three or four people. One person volunteers to be the robot controlled by their (two or three) partners.
Group Robot Walk 2: Following on from above, reverse the roles of your three or four member groups and ask one volunteer to control two or three robots! Expect mayhem to occur.
Verbal Communication: Rather than tapping the back and shoulders of their partner, ask everyone to issue verbal commands (with no physical contact permitted at any time.)
Take a look at Pairs Compass Walk to enjoy another fun, yet powerful trust-building exercise for pairs.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever wanted to have your very own robot? Wouldn’t it be fun to issue commands all day, and have them do all the work? Let’s see how much fun this could really be…
In the early days of robotics, electrical engineers installed little buttons in various places on the robot to make it perform certain tasks. Most tasks were quite rudimentary, such as walk forward and turn left or right. In this next exercise, we’ll get to re-live these scientific experiments…
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 trust-building exercise:
Describe how it felt to be controlled by another person. Was this good or bad?
At what times did you struggle to comply with the commands? Why?
What strategies helped you to be successful?
How might these observations help us to work effectively in teams?
The inspiration for Robot Walk, and many more fun group games, was sourced from the following publication: