INTRODUCTION: My college serves a number of small communities that were supported mainly by the logging and mining industries, both of which are now failing. Many displaced workers are coming to our college to learn the skills necessary to find other employment. This phenomenon has created a resurgence of non-traditional students in the program I coordinate.

The aspect I find most challenging with these non-traditional students is persuading them not to over-commit themselves during their first semester. Non-traditional students already have many roles, such as, wife/husband, mother/father, daughter/son, employee, and friend; and adding the role of full-time college student to that list can be overwhelming. Because they want to return to work as soon as possible, many of them want to take in excess of 18-20 credits per semester. A full-time student schedule is difficult for anyone, let alone a non-traditional student with many other roles.

Previously, I had attempted to tell these students that time management is important and that finding time to add the role of college student is difficult, but not impossible to accomplish. This “preaching” strategy failed horribly, and I have struggled to find an alternative way to DEMONSTRATE the importance of role recognition and time management. I developed this game to show how the addition of the role of student affects their whole lives. It worked very well, and I could see this project being adapted for use in freshman orientations, advisement sessions, student success courses, and time management seminars. This activity takes approximately 30 minutes.


  • To help students recognize their current roles and time invested in each
  • To help students add their new role of student wisely by choosing a reasonable schedule of courses


  • Two sheets of paper and a pen/pencil for each person
  • One rectangular wastebasket (10”x14”)
  • One 12” x 14” piece of cardboard with the 168 hours of the week marked along the 14” edge (like a ruler)


1. Ask students to list on one sheet of paper all of the roles they actively play in their lives, except (for now) their role as a student. Provide examples of roles such as Father/Mother, Husband/Wife, Brother/Sister, Son/Daughter, Friend, Employee, Pet Owner, Hobby/Sports Enthusiast, etc. (5 minutes)

2. Ask them to estimate realistically how much time they spends in each role per week. Estimate in hours for each role and determine a grand total, including the time that they sleep. (5 minutes)

3. Now ask a student to take a piece of 8 ½” x 11” paper and crush it into a ball. Produce the wastebasket and have the student shoot the paper into the basket from about 3”ft. It should be easy at this point. Have others try, as time allows. (1 minute each)

4. Once the student is comfortably making shots, add the cardboard cover to the top of the wastebasket. Align the marks on the cardboard with the back edge of the wastebasket according the number of hours they have determined that they spend in their present life roles. The more total hours they spend in their roles each week, the more the cardboard will cover the wastebasket and the smaller the opening will be. (1 minute)

5. Now have the student(s) take a couple of shots with the cardboard cover in place. It should be more difficult. Explain that each missed shot represents the consequences of spreading oneself too thin. Ask for examples such as being late for work or missing a meeting. (2 or 3 minutes)

6. Now ask the student to develop an honest and realistic estimate for the time they will spend as a student. Give examples of time commitments such as class time, study time, group work, travel time to campus, etc. Have them add this time to their previous weekly total of hours assigned to roles. (5 minutes)

7. Now readjust their cardboard cover to account for the additional time necessary each week in the role of college student. This will, of course, make the opening on the wastebasket even smaller. Have the student(s) now toss the paper ball again from the same spot. Explain that any misses represent difficulties in their role as a student. Ask for examples such as missing classes and failing tests for which they haven’t studied. (2 minutes)

8. Next, demonstrate how to manage time by modifying/deleting roles and their corresponding time on the cardboard cover, and have them repeat tossing until they are comfortably making shots. Stress that they have the decision about what roles they wish to add, modify or delete in their lives. Hold a discussion about which roles they might be willing to cut back or drop. (5-10 minutes)


I have used this activity a few times with similar outcomes and experiences. It was difficult for most students to think of roles until I gave them examples of time consuming roles such as friend, sports enthusiast, brother, sister, etc. Once they recognized how their time is devoured by roles, students began to recognize the many roles they played. Most students seemed amazed at how many roles they play in their lives. One student commented “I have always considered myself inactive until now; I have many people who count on me.”

Students stated they were amazed at how much wasted time they spent during the week on roles they deemed insignificant to them such as TV sitcom watchers, soap TV followers, afternoon nappers, etc. Many of the same students first thought they did not have enough time to become successful students. My favorite was the non-traditional student who claimed she never had a spare minute to get tutoring for her weak subjects, but yet could find 90 minutes to watch three episodes of “Friends” everyday.

Most students were pretty good shots from about three feet, but the cardboard cover made enough students recognize the difficulty of succeeding with the smaller hole. With some coaxing, the “Friends” addict decided that she could manage her time more effectively by taping the episodes during the day and watching them later commercial free. By fast-forwarding through commercials she saved almost 30 minutes each day. This encouraged her to seek additional minutes to delete from each role. With creative thinking on her part and a little encouragement on my part, she found an extra 90 minutes each day to devote to her role as a college student; she put this found time to good use in receiving tutoring


I will definitely use this activity again. I appreciate the power of having students experience the lesson of this activity rather than my simply telling them. I believe when people can visualize and actually experience success, as they do in this activity when they change their roles and related time commitments, the positive results can become a powerful reinforcement. My previous failures using lecture and advice convinced me that these traditional techniques can no longer suffice as methods of teaching. Demonstration and experience, along with verbal encouragement, provide students with the tools for success, tools they can adapt for future challenges.


Adapted from: “The Graduation Game,” Downing, Skip. Facilitators Manual for the On Course text.

–Chris Eplett, Coordinator, Student Support Services, Gogebic Community College, MI

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