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Protocol Toolkit Item: 6a


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An interactive group activity used to open minds to alternative options for solving a puzzle. Through team and whole group collaboration, this protocol helps teams open their minds to new ways to solve problems and work together.


  • Puzzles with approximately 20-40 pieces each. All must be different images.
  • Total number of puzzles needed is based upon total group size.


35 Minutes


Facilitators will need to purchase a variety of puzzles. The total number of participants determines the number of puzzles needed for this protocol. The whole group will be divided into teams of approximately 5-8 people. For example, if there are 50 total participants, there will be 5-7 teams, so 7 different puzzles will be needed. Naturally occurring teams can be used, or facilitators can randomly group the participants into teams.    Each team will have a puzzle to complete. No two puzzles should be alike. Before the activity, facilitators should take the following steps:
  1. Each puzzle should be removed from its box, and the pieces should be placed into a zip lock bag.
  2. 3-4 puzzle pieces should be removed from each bag.
  3. Place the removed puzzle pieces randomly into other puzzle bags (do not return any removed pieces to their matching puzzle bag). Each team will now have a puzzle bag with several pieces that do not match their puzzle. 
Teams will need to have space and tables where they can work on their puzzles. Note: Facilitators will know that each team cannot complete their puzzle because of the mismatched pieces. This should not be disclosed to the participants.


Step 1:

Introduce Protocol and create teams (2-3 minutes) Share the following information with participants:
  • The group will now participate in an activity where they must complete a puzzle with a team as quickly as possible. 
  • Facilitator(s) should put the group into teams of 5-8 people. Teams will need to have table space to complete their puzzles.
  • After the teams have been developed and have moved to their puzzle-building table areas, the facilitator(s) will distribute the puzzle bags. 
  • Teams SHOULD NOT begin until a signal has been given to do so.
  • Teams should let the facilitator(s) know when they have completed their puzzle.

Step 2:

Puzzle Building (15-20 minutes)
  • Facilitator(s) gives the signal for teams to begin to build their puzzles.
  • Remind teams they should try to complete their puzzles as quickly as possible.
  • Facilitator(s) should monitor the building and respond to any questions about the mismatched pieces by reminding participants that the only “rule” is that a team needs to complete their puzzle as quickly as possible.
Note: Teams will realize they have incomplete puzzles, thus requiring them to work with other teams to identify the puzzle pieces that match their puzzle and exchange them to form their final puzzle picture. It has been observed that teams naturally begin to interact with other teams without prompting. This interaction, communication, and cooperation should be allowed. If, after 15 minutes, teams have not started to cooperate and work together to find the missing pieces, the facilitator(s) may need to prompt them to look at what is happening with other teams and talk to others.
  • When all teams have completed their puzzles, inform participants they will now have an opportunity to reflect on this activity.

Step 3:

Reflection (10-15 minutes)
  • Participants will take some time to debrief as a whole group. Facilitator(s) can ask participants to think about and respond to the debrief questions below. 
  Debrief Questions:
    • What did you notice was happening when your team started to put its puzzle together?
    • How did your team approach completing the puzzle?
    • What barriers did you run up against? 
    • How did you try to overcome the barriers?
    • What did you notice happening with other teams?
  • How did your thinking about completing your puzzle change during this activity?
  • What does this activity tell us about being open-minded?
  • Facilitator(s) can select several participants to respond to each question in a whole group format, or smaller groups can meet and discuss the debrief questions at tables.

Resources & Further Reading

Examples of Use

  • In addition to supporting open-minded thinking with teams, this protocol also encourages collaboration and the value each person and team brings to a task.
  • Easier puzzles with fewer pieces can shorten the time needed to complete this protocol.
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