Metaphor Card Line Up
Summary: The group works together to line up in order based on the Metaphor Card each person has in his or her possession.
Needs & Numbers: A stopwatch and one set of Metaphor Cards for groups of 8 to 12 participants (you could play this one with up to 48 people).
Timeline: 25 to 30 minutes
Set Up: Considering just one group of 12 participants for the moment, you will need to choose 12 Metaphor cards to use for the activity. The difficulty level of the activity will depend on the cards you choose. Initially, if you want to make it easy, choose cards from the deck that are easy to define. For example, the toolbox, the frog, the fox, the rainbow, the sun, and so on.
Process: Hand each participant a Metaphor Card with the picture facing down – no one should see the picture on the card he or she has before the activity begins. The group’s goal is to line up, each person with card in hand, into alphabetical order based on how the card is named by the person holding it. When the group is ready, a “GO” starts the time. When the group is lined up in alphabetical order, the time stops. Check through the line to verify the “alphabetical-ness” of the result. You might need to have some discussion around the expectations you have for the activity (that is, if you have certain expectations) if you find any overly creative card names (see Note below).
After the group has set an initial time, and the expectations are clear, challenge them to improve (going for a faster time). Before starting the next round, ask each participant to turn his or her card picture down, and then exchange cards with at least five other people (this is called a “blind shuffle”). When ready…(this means when you and the group are ready – if they ask for planning time, let them have it)….say “GO” – stop the time when the group is lined up again. Check the result. After this second round, you (and the group) will have to make a choice to continue (going for an even better time), or debrief the activity to explore the learning's. This choice will depend on your programming needs.
One of the learning objectives of Metaphor Card Line Up is the concept of mental models. Cards will have to be defined – given a name – in order for them to be lined up alphabetically. So, how will the group come to agree on the name of each card as cards change hands? Initially, if the cards are fairly easy to define (don’t be surprised if they aren’t), the group will have little difficulty lining up after an exchange. However, how will the group handle more abstract cards like, the broken pot, the bridge with the ducks, the two masks (comedy, tragedy), the cornucopia (do most people even know what this is?), or father time and baby New Year? How will the group come to an understanding and agreement about the cards? It will take group “work” to reach the same “mental model” for each card. In this lies the lesson of mental models – how do we all come to agree on the same definitions, or, shared words?
So, to recap the activity. You could start out with an easier line up (two or three attempts to get the best time) and then give them a more abstract set of cards and compare the process of the two different sets of cards. Questions: How is it that the first set was easier than the second? What needed to happen for the group to be successful with the second set of cards? Why is this Important?
Now, if you want to try this with more than one group, simply put together a set of cards for each group – one card per person. There will not be enough cards to make all of the sets easy, so have a mix of easy and more abstract cards for each set (or not – you might be working with an objective like diversity or privilege). You can have a designated timer for each group and go three rounds, or set up a little competition to see which groups comes in first, second, third place, and so on. Then, after three rounds, for an interesting dynamic, bring all the groups together to make one large community. Questions: How will groups and group members share what they know in order for everyone to be successful? How will they communicate with each other before, during, and after each round? How does competition relate to cooperation?
Notes: Be ready for a number of solutions and problem solving strategies in this one. Chris once used this activity with a group of college students. One of the students decided to name any card he ended up with “Absolutely Awesome Card” – which, at that time, put him at the front of the line up. So, consider how much creativity you will allow.
Will it be okay for participants to “tell” someone what’s on the card they are handing another participant during the blind shuffle? You can set up expectations or roll with the challenges that present themselves – this will depend on the program goals. Allow the group time to sort out their plan. You can force the group to ask for planning time by constantly pushing on through to the next round, or you can give them planning time between each round until they are ready to begin. One of the main aspects of any initiative is to see what the group “gets themselves into” and “how they are able to get out of it.” This can involve some skills building through coaching or group discovery – depends on your program goals.
Follow Up: (Some of the questions here are from the paragraphs above.)
- How were you able to decide the name of the picture on the card (some appear to be obvious, some are not)?
- How was the card name affected by the blind shuffle after each round?
- Was there any group strategy to keep the cards’ names unchanged?
- How were the more abstract cards named – did they change over time and why?
- How did you come to understand and agree upon the names of the cards? What needed to (or did) happen for you to be successful with naming the more abstract cards? Why might this information be important?
- With more groups involved, explain how competition was a factor in your process? Discuss what it was like for you as a group when all the small groups came together as one large group?
- How did you communicate with each other before, during, and after each round?
- What did it take for you, as a group, to be successful?
- What is important about the idea of mental models? How can this information help you at school/work?
Variation #1: Here are some other possible line up concepts to work with: Largest to smallest – defining the “size” of the card can be left up to the group or facilitator; most powerful to least powerful; most important to least important. It would be interesting to see how the group comes to an agreement about each of the concepts. There could be a consensus activity in here too if needed (see #20 “Biggest to Smallest” in this section).
Variation #2: Our friend Frank shared this idea. After the group has created an alphabetical line up of cards, have the group do a blind shuffle. Then, without talking, the participants hold up their cards and then get into the correct order. The idea here is to make sure everyone in the group knows the name of each card – or at least most of them so they can help each other.
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