In the College Success Skills courses I teach, I’ve been using an activity with students that taps into their creativity, gives them some practice in group collaboration, and helps them hone their listening skills. Moreover, they think it’s fun!

1. I give each student a paper clip and ask each person to jot down anything he or she can think of that the paper clip could be used for. (I have also used a styrofoam cup for this activity.)

2. After two or three minutes, I ask the students to get into groups of three or four. Ideally, all groups should have the same number of students, but it still works if that is not possible. It also helps if the groups are positioned far enough away from each other, so that they can’t hear each other’s ideas. Each group’s task for the next five or ten minutes is to put their ideas together and generate as many more possible uses for a paper clip as they can. One of the students in each group needs to record the ideas.

3. Then a spokesperson for each group names three of the uses for a paper clip that their group generated.  After each group has named three uses, then, starting with the first group, each group names three more, and it goes on. If a group repeats an idea that has already been mentioned, that group cannot continue to participate in the activity. This is the part of the activity where listening becomes very important as well as keeping track of what is being said by other groups. You can continue this activity until groups either run out of ideas or are eliminated. If there are time constraints, I just indicate when it is the last round.

4. After the activity, the students and I discuss the “hidden” learning in what seems like a game. Many of them are surprised by how much fun it was and how many more ideas they thought of when they started working with other students — some groups have generated up to forty ideas. This creates a good opportunity for me to mention some of the advantages of being in a study group. Students also become more aware of when they are not focused and listening carefully. Again, this becomes an opportunity to talk about the importance of being fully present and involved in whatever one is doing, whether it is a lecture class, a tennis match, or a conversation. Lastly, there is usually a lot of laughter during this activity — some of the ideas are extremely creative — and students see that they can actually have fun and feel energized in a study skills class!

Nancy Flint, Instructor, Student Support Services Program, Skagit Valley College, WA

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