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Broken Pieces

‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it’. In this exercise the reverse is
true. This exciting technique seems to draw everyone in and
has endless applications.

HOW?
Each person is given a key piece of information or responsibility, that the group needs in order
to complete a task.

1. Best done in a circle, but not impossible with conventional seating arrangements.

2. Explain the task to be completed by the whole group - a problem to be solved, a code to be
cracked, a sequence to be decided, a conclusion to be drawn, a decision to be made, a
solution to be found, a product to be made.

3. Explain the rules. For a typical talk-based exercise:

• You cannot physically give your information to anyone else. Nor can you take anyone’s.
• You cannot move or leave your seat, except for one person who may be asked by the
group to write notes on the board / flipchart.
• From time to time the teacher will let you know how long is left, and will remind you of the
rules if they are being broken. Apart from this, you have to organise yourselves.

4. Adjust the rules for the nature of the activity. It is important that each student holds onto
her information or resource or particular responsibility throughout.

5. Announce the deadline. This should be achievable, but create urgency.

6. Let battle commence.

7. Teacher’s role: the activity is designed to exercise group problem-solving skills. It is,
therefore, important to allow the group to take charge of the process. If you sit back,
observing but not intervening, the true dynamics of the class will probably become evident:
domination, withdrawal, poor listening, put downs or whatever. It may be difficult to hold
back, but this is experiential learning and will only bear fruit if the real state of affairs is
witnessed by all. Only intervene if physical harm or emotional abuse is about to occur.
Talking about what has happened afterwards with the group is as important as the
exercise itself.

APPLICATIONS
1. Maths
For example, as an introduction to algebra write this coded message on the board:

7 9 13 4 5 6 9
1 5 7 8 2 6 7 10 11 12 10 9 3

Give each person, or pair, one of the following 13 clues written out on cards

OxE=I
N < 10
3 x D = 12
O+A=S
Y-O=R
YD = U - R
3D = L
2xP=N=I
O+Y=E
3Y + 2 = B
YxY=T
2Y = N
3xO=N

Explain: “On the board is a message which you can solve as a group by using all the clues.
Everyone stays in their seat (except for one person who can be nominated as ‘writer’ and can
use the board). Everyone keeps hold of their own clue. People share their clues and ideas
by talking.”

2. Science
Ask the group to devise an experiment to separate alcohol and water. Give everyone a clue,
for example

• alcohol is a colourless liquid


• water is a colourless liquid
• the boiling point of water is 100C
• the boiling point of alcohol is 78C…
• evaporation means …
• condensation means …
• a Liebig Condenser is … etc.

3. Business Studies
Decide the best location for a new branch of a supermarket chain. The ‘pieces’ are various
factors to take into account in the decision-making process.

4. Pieces can be visual


For example
• History - give sections of the Bayeaux Tapestry to be organised into the correct sequence.
• Modern Languages - sequence a story from cartoon-like scenes

5. Pieces can be physical


For example
• Build a bridge to certain specifications - one person has the straws, one the scissors, one
the cellotape, one the ruler etc.
• Each person has a particular dance step or position - these have to be put together into a
performance piece.

6. Pieces can be in a foreign language

7. Pieces can be sophisticated


Each piece can be a position or an argument or a personality in a debate. For example:
“What is the path to peace in Northern Ireland?” or “What is the likelihood of intelligent life
being discovered on other planets?”.

WHY DO IT?
♦ The exercise works with the brain’s natural desire to work out puzzles and make meaning.
♦ It strengthens linguistic, logical and interpersonal abilities.
♦ Distributing the pieces gives everyone a potential contribution so no one is left out - this is
helpful when you want students to learn the arts of participation and inclusion.
♦ It draws everyone’s attention to the need for listening skills and basic rules. This, in turn,
creates the context and motivation for improving behaviour. It can lead to the creation, or
reinforcement, of Ground Rules.
♦ It reveals the starting point from which you can discuss with the class ways of taking
responsibility for learning.

VARIATIONS
1. Video the exercise with the group’s agreement. Watch the footage with the students, then
discuss improvements to behaviour and problem-solving technique. Set Ground Rules
(see separate Murder Hunt activity) and suggest group procedures such as Round,
Conch, Sum Up And Speak Up (see Maintenance). A couple of weeks later run a similar
exercise again, video again, watch and assess how far the improvements had been made.
2. Run the exercise in small groups, rather than the whole class.