Adapted from "Broken Squares": Preparing Students for Group Work, from Practicing Collaborative Learning, Maryann Feola Castelucci and Peter Miller, College of Staten Island, CUNY, Dept of English, Speech and World Literature, Winter 1986

(Note: there are many versions of this game online. This version is open-ended, intended to give people a common experience which they then describe and analyze, making of it what they will. Versions like "Building Dynamic Groups Developed by Ohio State University Extension, 2000" are designed to teach people how to collaborate by having them unwittingly replicate good and bad behaviors, which the teacher then points out. As Jacotot would say, ca sent le bride -- smells like a bridle)

[write up activity in context: how to develop group building skills when collaboration, participation, equality are your priorities, this is deep work, but can be very useful -- Example: used in context of class that wanted to understand how OWS-type process works]


Joker introduces the game and motivates it, making clear that while it is a puzzle it is a game, not a test. It is important to make clear that it is not a trick or a set up -- the puzzle can be solved following the rules of the game and we will reflect on it afterwards.

The Joker explains the process:

  • form groups of at least six, five players and one observer,
    each player gets an envelope with puzzle pieces in it (don't take them out yet)
  • the goal is for each player to make a square of the same size and shape (never hurts to remind people that squares are of the same shape, especially if language is an issue);
  • the observer(s) will observe and take notes, to help reflect on the game afterwards.

The joker then explains the rules for players and observers:


  • No talking
  • No winking, nudging, signalling of any kind.
  • A player can offer a piece to another player.
  • No taking pieces, unless offered.
  • No placing pieces in the middle, they must be offered to another player directly.
  • A player may give away all of her pieces, even if she has already formed a square.


  • The role of observers is to observe the game and take short notes to help recall what people did.
  • The observer can not offer help, give hints or suggestions, etc.
  • The observer can remind players of the rules.

When the motivation, process and rules are clearly explained, the joker tells players to open their envelopes and remove the pieces, being careful not to leave any pieces in the envelope, or drop them on the floor.

The play begins, and the joker observes, taking notes as well, including observing the observers. The joker does not say anything, not even to remind people of the rules. It is important that the joker set a relaxed tone, no pressure, even if the players get anxious or frustrated.

The play ends when the squares are formed. At that point the joker can give people the reflection form (see attached), or proceed to the discussion.

Discussion goes in three stages:

Description: (joker or notetaker needs to take good notes here)
What did you do (ask each player, then observers)? What did others do? (Take time with this, a detailed description is the key to a useful analysis.)

How did you feel? Did your feelings change?

Was there a turning point?

Do you see any patterns? Can you sum up your participation? Different types or modes of participation? Your group's overall process?

Does this game resemble any other groups you participate in? How? Give specific examples.

What do you think about this game? What does it show? What does it mean?

What can we make of this game? What implications does it have? What would you like to know or do better?

Watch for: The joker may have to suspend the game if the frustration level gets too high. This is a judgment call and depends on many factors, such as degree of trust in the group, degree of trust between group members and the joker....