Exercise: Name Scramble for Warm-up

For a middle school elective course on creative thinking that I am teaching, I came up with a (hardly unique) exercise to warm-up the students to the subject.

On the syllabus sheet that was waiting for them at each seat was a “Hidden Message” puzzle. The benefit of such an approach is that a student can start on something when they enter the classroom (and when they come in at different times, it is good to have something ready for them to do – I learned this from Challenger School where students start on work that is on the board when they enter the classroom first thing in the morning – they go directly to the classroom from drop-off).

There are no specific instructions; just the title “Hidden Message.” So, as expected, students are drawn to this puzzle (rather than the syllabus) and ask about it. I say that they should try to solve it. Some will ask what they should do; in response, I ask them what they think they need to do. To keep them on task and engaged, I provide hints as needed (maybe every 30 seconds or so).

For this puzzle, I took the name roster and inserted letters that spelled “CREATIVE THINKING.” Then I added dots to make the puzzle into an even-width shape. The name roster uses the possibility that they know each others’ names already or recognize their own name first. For a mixed level class such as this, the students needed a hint that this involved their names; they asked whether they could ask each other for their names and I reminded them there were no specific instructions so were free to use whatever method they could think of. So, they started talking – but the social dynamics provided some foil where some students were not cooperative – so workarounds or negotiation became involved.

The puzzle was solved within 15 minutes which is just right for a warm-up.

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