Here is a puzzle activity that I have done a number of times, and it is always well received. The purpose of the activity is, among other possibilities, to explore how students work in a group.

1.  Get three different children’s puzzles (preferably all have similar colors and are odd shaped, i.e. no corners.  I use Cinderella, Tommy the Rugrat, and Dr. Suess’ Horton the Elephant from Mattel’s “My Size Puzzle” series).  Let’s call them #1, #2, and #3.

2.  Take a few pieces from puzzle #1 and put them in #2.  Take a few pieces from #2 and put them in #1.  Then divide #3 in half and distribute the pieces between puzzles #1 & #2.  Now you have #1 in its box with a couple of pieces from #2 and half of #3.  Puzzle #2 is also in its box with a few pieces from #1 and half of puzzle #3.  Puzzle #3’s box is set aside and not used.

3.  Introduce the activity with the group all together.  Ask questions like the following: “What is a puzzle?” (A problem, a game, something you have to think about, etc.)  “What are some strategies you use to assemble a puzzle?”  (Identify the edge pieces, look at the box to see what it is supposed to look like, group pieces that look alike, etc.)   Continue this introductory discussion as long as needed.  You’ll easily be able to adapt this introduction to your needs.  At this point, avoid processing.  This comes later.

4.  Divide the group up into two groups and give each group a puzzle (#1 or #2).  Tell them the task is “to assemble their puzzles.”  You can introduce an element of competition if you like by saying there is a prize for the team that completes the “task” first.  Obviously, each box has pieces of the other puzzle so each group bears some responsibility for the completion of the other group’s puzzle.  Together, both groups must complete the third puzzle – for which they do not have a picture/box to follow.  Because these are children’s puzzles (48 pieces), putting them together is not a difficult task.

5.  After all three puzzles are completed, the group gathers in a circle around the puzzles and processes the activity.  Some topics that will likely come out during the processing are:

–The puzzles didn’t have easily identifiable, straight edges.

 –Each group had pieces of the other group’s puzzle. (How did they respond to this?  Did they hoard the pieces or exchange them freely?)

–What roles did members of the group take on?

 –How did the groups approach the third “mystery” puzzle?  Did they assume it was the other group’s responsibility?  Did they work together or in a parallel way on the third puzzle?

6.  Obviously, the intent here is to use puzzles as a metaphor for group interactions, teamwork & cooperation, and general problem solving.

–Martin Stack, Associate Dean of Students, Alma College, MI

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