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Orange Scrabble

When facilitating meetings or trainings, I love using exercises that stimulate thinking in different ways, and which are fun for participants. Here’s one I invented!   It’s good for evaluation, brainstorming or recalling information from previous sessions,  you can probably think of many more uses. Plus it has the bonus feature of being edible.

It involves those little oranges – tangerines or mandarins – you buy by the bagful.  By writing a letter on each fruit you make a scrabble alphabet. Place these in a pile on the floor, so the letters are all visible, and gather participants around them in a circle.

Explain the purpose of the exercise and rules.  The task could be to give feedback on the meeting so far, to think of words associated with a problem (or solution), to recap highlights from the previous day of training, identify goals for the day ahead….etc.

The rules are not quite like normal scrabble. It’s a cooperative and participative game. Anyone can take whichever letters they need. When someone has spelled a word, anyone else can take letters and make the next one – which if course must connect or intersect with a word already on the ‘board’ (ie the floor next to the pile of oranges).  Words can be spelled horizontally or vertically -like in the real game – but also diagonally, upside down and so on. There are no ‘points’ associated with the letters, they all have the same value.

All the oranges must be used, letters can’t be removed once they are ‘spelled’ into a word.  And it’s worth mentioning that the fruit isn’t to be eaten until after the exercise is over – one hungry participant once ate a consonant – to the ire of his team-mates!   If you’re working with a mixed-language group, you may indicate that words from any language can be used – the person spelling a word has to explain its meaning.

At first it’s easy, people individually place words, and the ‘board’ looks a lot like normal scrabble. But as the remaining pool of available letters shrinks, the group will usually start to think together more cooperatively, spotting new opportunities and even bending the rules a bit. It’s OK to let the exercise become creative – an upside down W becomes an M,  new words weave through existing ones, oranges get nudged over etc.

Use this exercise for discussion as it unfolds.  If it’s a recall exercise, and someone spells ‘STRATEGY’ – ask what people remember about that concept from the previous day.  Or if in an evaluation the word ‘DIFFICULT’ appears, then have a conversation about this point. (You’ll be amazed what you discover. Once, a participant used a remaining letter W, together with a C already on the board, to let us know that the toilets weren’t working!).  Get the whole group involved.

You can also use it as a meta-analogy after – or part way through – the exercise, asking for example ‘What’s happening here in terms of participation?’  This can tease out issues like social loafing, language barriers, effective teamwork etc.  The playful nature of the exercise allows a light touch with which you can encourage participants to self-reflect, and adjust group dynamics.

Keep it lively and fun, the exercise usually takes 15 – 20 minutes.  Take a photo of the final result, before making the oranges available for snacking.

Some practicalities:

  • Group size: 8 – 16 participants
  • Use Whiteboard markers for your letters – they have the best staying power on orange peel– weird, eh?
  • English language scrabble has 100 letter tiles, you will need around 80 – 100 oranges.
  • In the English language version the letters are:
    • E ×12, A ×9, I ×9, O ×8, N ×6, R ×6, T ×6, L ×4, S ×4, U ×4.  D ×4, G ×3 B ×2, C ×2, M ×2, P ×2,  F ×2, H ×2, V ×2, W ×2, Y ×2 K ×1,J ×1, X ×1, Q ×1, Z ×1
    • There are also two ‘blank’ tiles, that can represent any letter (I draw a square on two oranges for this).

Feel free to use or adapt this exercise to your needs. I’d love to hear how you get on with it – drop me a line at info@associatesforchange.net.