When you are “Stuck for an Idea” try this Instant Challenge

Do you suppose there is such a thing as “thinker’s block?” Sometimes I wonder. I was faced with a group of stone-faced blank looks earlier this year — burnt out from trying to figure out 5 special effects and the rest of it, they had no script, no story, nothing to tie it all together. They didn’t know each other well enough to take any creative risks and be laughed at, either. I did ask as many probing questions as I could and still got grunts and shrugs. So, I made it into an IC — and it worked so well, we used it for a lot of things. Try this:

Take 5 or 6 paper bags (I used lunch bags – anything will do.) Write on the outside the name of a category. The first time, my categories were “first name” “name of a street” “toy” “fruit or vegetable” “interesting job” and … something else. I forgot, but it could be anything: “dessert” or “foreign country” “animal” or “sport”. Just make up categories that are broad and don’t tell them why.

Then, hand out slips of paper or notepads and pencils. Each kid must write at least one word for each of the categories and then fold it and put it in the right bag. So, “choo-choo train” goes into the “toy” bag and so on. If someone wants to put an extra idea in a bag, that’s okay, extra is good.

Then, turn the bags to the wall so you cannot see the categories. Mix the order of the bags, so they no longer know which is which.

Each kid picks three slips of paper from three different bags. From those, he/she must create a character, character name, and job. BUT, the words do NOT have to relate to the original category.

So, it you pulled up “choo-choo train” you could be named Choo-choo or Chewy OR you could be an engineer, or you could be Joe Choo or you could be a Trainer, or anything else that made sense. You could be a “shoe” (choo) salesman — there are no rules. But something you pulled out of the bag must be either your character name or something about your character. You can use all 3 slips or use just 1 and make up the rest.

Each child gets think time (maybe 2 minutes) to come up with their character name and job/hobby from the 3 slips of paper. Then they go around the group and each tells what slips of paper they pulled and what character they created. It’s okay for other kids to piggyback ideas on the original kid — such as “Or, you could be a SNOW shoe salesman named Chewy Engineer” or whatever.

Then, give the team 3 minutes to create a skit explaining why all these people are stuck in the same place.

If they are still “stuck” on writing a story then tell them these people are all “stuck” somewhere and they must come up with a story about where they are stuck and why. Each time they do the IC they must be STUCK in a different place. If they get REALLY good, tell them they must use teamwork to create imaginary props to help the group get “unstuck” from wherever they are. Maybe they need a ladder to crawl out of the pit, or a crowbar because they are in an elevator. Maybe they are in a bubblegum factory. Whatever.

It’s a good IC just for fun, but also got them thinking OUT of the box for characters — and names, and jobs, etc. (Until this point, often the only characters they could think of were a mom, a dad and bratty kids. Over and over and over … if they could think of anything at all.) We did this IC several times with different slips coming out of the bags.

Later, when they got quicker at it, I brought in a tub with odds and ends of costumes (hats, scarves, old Halloween junk, pots and pans, feathers, you name it) and they added costume touches to the characters — but wait until they get the first part down! For my team, it just erupted into dress-up and they forgot the IC the first time, so I took the tub of costumes away for a couple meetings. Too distracting.

Anyway, that’s one way to get the ideas flowing — set up some specific borders or guidelines to fulfill freely and see if it helps.

In the beginning, they weren’t ready for unbridled creative freedom, but they liked the first taste and eventually they were hungry for the whole meal — and they cooked it themselves.


What to do when the team is “STUCK”

Excursion: take the team on a trip. Sometimes, it helps to leave the problem behind and get away, literally. This can be to the next room, a walk outside, out for ice cream, the grocery store, etc. Each team member must come up with two new ideas during the excursion. One year, my team (5th graders) was talking about using ice cream as part of their theme. We took them to a local ice cream shop. They listed lots of ice cream flavors and features of the shop. Many of the ideas generated actually wound up in the script. They came in second place in state that year,  just their second year of participation!

Another thing you can do with arguing over a decision syndrome is to brainstorm lots of ideas and then let them try to experiment or play with some of the ideas…and/or do the A-Lo-U (see Roadmap). The goal is for new or combo ideas to develop and to have their choice based as much as possible on first hand experience, not on politics. In your case, you can ask what are the things they like about each challenge. Are there elements in each that satisfy the same interests? For example, could the Transforming Prop in Holiday be made to have the same appeal as the StranDId Device? As long as everyone has something they are excited to do for the Team and as long as StranDId and Holiday are the 1st and 2nd choices of everyone, they should be able to stick with their choice. Remind them that in a matter of weeks this decision will be History and they’ll be on to bigger and better things.

We love to brainstorm, but at a certain point they have to come to a conclusion though. There’s always the pressure of the schedule. My Team is getting pretty good at Teamwork (and not arguing, but it’s still difficult under pressure of time). Here is something one TM did last year that has stuck with me as an inspiration. This TM agreed to dye her hair blue if the Team accomplished something. It must have been major! My idea, is a bit less drastic as I am not that brave (yet?!) . They have had weeks of generating , brainstorming and exploring. At our next meeting, if they can come to consensus about who their Travelers are and what Country they are going to On Holiday (that means a decision they all feel good about with out negative arguing) I am going to let them give me a TM makeover, goofy hairdo and a new outfit from the dress up box. How’s that for positive reinforcement?

Another technique is to fold a piece of paper (computer size) (you need seven pieces of paper) in half and then in half again one way and then the other. Each paper has about nine spaces then to write.

Each team member should write three ideas for say a prop across the paper and pass it on. No one can repeat ideas but they can build on ideas. It can get noisy but not as much as talking.

(Thank you,  NYDI)