To have students go through an experience that mimics the multiple steps and importance of clear communication between parties necessary in planning and carrying out a service learning project.
Our classes do “The Beast” game as we prepare for our grade-wide service learning projects. This activity is one of the most complex problem solving initiatives we use. It builds on the foundations learned in previous activities and should come near the end of the course.
Author: Urban EdVenture Faculty
Students will recreate a small “Beast” that was created by the teacher and hidden in the box. The students will do this with verbal communication given through a four-person job line.
Four sets of four nametags (these say “Builder,” “Buyer,” “Relayer,” and “Observer”)
One nametag that says “Storekeeper”
Table with two chairs for the store keeper
A box to hide the Beast
A flowchart of jobs or an easel with a marker
Be sure to prepare and understand the directions ahead of time, before you explain them to the students, as there can be some confusion around roles if not stated clearly.
Build a Beast of 7-10 pieces and put it in the box. Remember that each team will need the same pieces you used to create the Beast so, at least for the first round, make sure there are enough of those pieces to go around.
- The Builder tables should be set up as far apart as possible, and away from the Store.
- Seats should be facing away from the other Builders’ positions, if possible. Keep the Relayers / Buyers boundary away from the Store so that Relayers can’t come close.
Give the students the following general instructions:
- The object of this game is for each team to recreate a small Beast that is hidden in the box.
- You’ll do this through a four-person job line of verbal communication. You cannot write or draw anything.
- We’re going to divide you into teams of four, and let you decide which role each one of you will take. The four roles are: “Builder,” “Buyer,” “Relayer” and “Observer.” Each team will have one of each. During the second round of play you’ll get to change roles and try something new.
Ask the students to listen carefully to the descriptions of the roles:
- Observer: The only person on your team who may ever see the real Beast. Observers stay inside the room or boundary with the Beast and can look at it as often as they like. Observers may not touch the Beast, give any written communication to teammates, or step one foot outside their designated area. An Observer should be good at seeing details and communicating information.
- Relayer: Relayers get information about the Beast from their Observers. They are the people who can talk directly to the Observers. They can’t take any written information, or set foot inside the room; they must meet the Observer at their designated spot and relay information to the Buyer at the border line. The Relayers may speak to their Observers and Buyer as often as they like. Relayers may not go to the Store.
- Buyer: These are the team members who get information from the Relayers, and who can buy things from the Storekeeper with the beans provided. Buyers then take parts to their Builders and tell them what to do with the parts purchased. The Buyers cannot talk to Observers or touch the Beast.
- Builder: The Buliders construct their team’s Beast. The Builders get all parts and information from the Buyers, and can ask for specific information at any time. However, the Builder cannot move from his / her seat. No one else on the team may touch the team’s Beast.
- Storekeeper will be played by one student. Your Storekeeper is _____________.
Explain that each player will wear a sign telling who he or she is and that, when their team has finished, they are to gather at their Builders’ site to compare all four Beasts to the original.
Before you start the game, remind students that the object of the game is for the team to work on their own, using their communication and problem solving skills to build a Beast. There is nothing to prevent Builders or Buyers from looking at and copying what their counterparts on other teams are building or buying. There is nothing to stop Relayers from pushing the boundaries beyond what they’re supposed to do. But how valuable is the Beast that’s built by copying from others versus the one built by people who follow the challenging rules of the game? Also, others may not be as accurate in the pieces they choose.
Start the game!
- Name the Storekeeper and explain his / her role.
- Divide all other students into groups of four.
- Let groups designate a person to fill each of the four roles. If an adult must be utilized, give him/her a Builder role (it is the most passive). The Buyer role can be combined with Builder if absolutely necessary.
- Distribute the nametags and ask students to put on the nametags that correspond to their roles.
- Walk the whole group through the boundaries so they understand where they are.
- Tell students they’ll have 15 minutes to complete their Beast, then position each team member and begin.
- Rotate among the teams during the game to ensure that Observers are staying put, make sure Relayers are not peeking, and give encouragement where needed. When it looks like most parts have been placed before Builders, announce that the store will close in 5 minutes. This keeps them on task.
- Call “time” to signify the game’s end. Ask the teams to gather around their Beast and sit down. Explain to them, “it’s especially important that no one touches your Beast to make changes, once your team has joined together at the Builders’ site.” Make sure there are no last minute adjustments made to their Beasts after the teams gather.
Debrief as a group with the teams on the experience using the following questions:
- How successful did you feel your group was?
- Were you better at communicating as the game went on?
- What did your group do well?
- What would you do differently now?
- Did you convey information as a whole or in parts?
- Which role do you think was most difficult?
- Which role do you think was the most important? Why?
- What were your particular frustrations as a _____?
- What would you do differently?
- How has this game helped you think of ways you could be a better communicator in real life?
- Why is communication so important to humans?
If time allows, you may want to do this activity a second time. For the second round, give students the opportunity to choose different roles to see if they can improve upon their first attempt. Perhaps ask Builders and Observers to change to Relayers and Buyers, as their roles were more restricted or ask those who had outdoor roles (Observers and Relayers) to switch with team members who had the indoor roles (Buyers and Builders).
Note: If you are doing a second round using the same Beast and don’t have enough pieces for all groups to have the same pieces that you put into your Beast, instruct students to be creative and look for the next best thing to buy.