Here is an activity , a potential icebreaker or team building exercise , which raises lots of interesting questions about how we use instructions – in particular how we deliver instructions and the problems that we can encounter. ( I have taken it from an early version of The Creative Teaching Space on my website).
First of all – find any description that is quite technical. You can find descriptions in textbooks, in glossaries, or on the web.
The (platypus) (Greek (platys), “broad”; (pous) “foot”), also duckbill, is a semiaquatic, egg-laying mammal native to Tasmania and southern and eastern Australia. The animal has a bill that resembles a duck bill but is actually an elongated snout covered with soft, moist, leathery skin and sensitive nerve endings. The body of the (platypus) is 30 to 45 cm (12 to 18 in) long; the flattened tail measures 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 in) in length. The feet are webbed. The body and tail are covered with a thick, soft, woolly layer of fur, from which long, flat hairs protrude. The most conspicuous feature of the small head is the bill, which is about 6 cm (about 2.5 in) long and 5 cm (2 in) wide and which the animal uses for detecting prey and stirring up mud at the bottom of rivers in order to uncover the insects, worms, and shellfish on which it feeds. The head is joined directly to the body without an apparent neck. The (platypus) eyes are small, and it has no external ears, but it has keen senses of sight and hearing. Young (platypus) have rudimentary teeth; in adults the teeth are replaced by a few plates. Adult males have a hollow, spur on the inner side of the hind leg, from which a toxic fluid is ejected and which may be used as a weapon of defense. The call of the platypus is a low growl.
Next remove some words.
Give the written descriptions to trainees and ask trainees to draw the animal – it could even be an object.
Conduct the task and have a discussion about how difficult it is to follow written instructions. You could then open a discussion on how people felt when doing this task. Is there a better way of giving and receiving instructions?
Task: Draw this animal. What animal is it?
The hide is grey-brown, with a sparse covering of coarse, yellowish hair. The short, stocky body has a high arch in the back and is supported by powerful legs which are covered with dark fur. The four-toed forefeet and five-toed rear feet are equipped with long, claw like nails. The head is long and slender, terminating with a tubular, pig-like nose with numerous white hairs. The ears are large and rabbit-like, tapering to a point at the tips. The strong, muscular tail is kangaroo-like, tapering to a point. The most unique feature (of the ——) is its teeth, which in adults are found only in the back of the jaw. The actual teeth are not anchored in the jaw and grow continuously throughout the animal’s lifetime. Instead of being covered with enamel, these teeth have only a layer of cement. Or: The body is stout, with arched back; the limbs are short and stout, armed with strong, blunt claws: the ears long: the tail thick at the base and tapering gradually. The elongated head is set on a short thick neck, and at the extremity of the snout is a disc in which the nostrils open. The mouth is small and tubular, furnished with a long extensile tongue. A large individual measured 6 feet 8 inches. In colour it is pale sandy or yellow, the hair being scanty and allowing the skin to show.
Compare results. What is the animal?
This is it – an Aardvark!
You will get all manner of interesting responses. A good discussion guaranteed.