The Internet TESL Journal

An Information-Sharing Puzzle Activity

Bob Gibson
aj7r-gbsn [at]
Faculty of Law, Keio University (Tokyo, Japan)

This puzzle activity is loosely based on a memory of a 'leadership game' I took part in, many years ago now, during an extended interview for a public service position. If any other participants in that interview went into ESL, then there may well be other versions of the activity going around.

Suggested Guidelines

It's obvious from the collected information that this is, in essence, nothing more than a simple arithmetic problem disguised, with a good deal of extraneous information, as something more complex. This won't be obvious to the students you try it with, however.

The INTRODUCTION can be given to participants on paper, or can be read aloud by the teacher or by a group member. Individual information items, copied onto paper or card, are distributed, randomly, one by one. Depending on the group size, each participant may receive two or more items.

It's only fair to warn the group that, while most of the information items are useful, some are 'red herrings' designed to confuse the issue. It's up to them to decide which are which. For lower level students, you may want to reduce the number of red herring items; for very able groups (bearing in mind the increased time the task may require) you may even add distracters of your own.

You should also stress that everyone needs to share all of his or her information, as it's often difficult to decide by yourself whether or not one of 'your' information items is relevant. If a participant holds back an item which later proves to be vital, he or she is going to get some very black looks from the others.

I usually tell group participants at the start that I won't help them, but will merely confirm or reject their guess as to the day on which the Ee'mo is completed. For that reason, I try to keep hints to a minimum, with perhaps a pointed question or two if the group gets really stuck. You do, however, need to tailor your input to the level and approach of the students concerned.

Male (and even female) students in some cultures may well assume that the woman members of the construction team do less work, or even none at all, and students from many cultural backgrounds may assume the same of the blind member. (I use that term, incidentally, because most of the blind people I know use it to describe themselves. You may choose to amend it to 'visually- impaired'.) Rather than jump in to correct such misguided assumptions, I prefer to let groups dig themselves out of the hole.

Most full-class college-level Japanese groups (Interestingly, the 'rank' of the college seems to have little effect on how quickly students get the answer.) seem to require around thirty minutes to work out the problem, but you can often cut the time required by having two or three smaller groups compete to get the answer first. With smaller groups, you may need to check they aren't simply exchanging slips, or laying them out on a desk. In multi-group sessions, it's also best to try to balance the numbers of 'quieter' and more outgoing students in each group, and also to mix the sexes. All female groups typically get there faster than all-male groups. With a single, full-class, group, you may need to discreetly remind quiet students to volunteer their bits of information.

To raise the challenge level, you can incorporate phonetic 'minimal pairs' (l/r; t/d etc.) into the information items. These will vary according to your students' phonological problem areas in discrimination and production. If you want to add an element of hilarity, you can encourage students to pronounce Ee'aloro'alan words properly: the diacritic ', as in cha'loo, means that there should be a short pause between the syllables. When the final syllable of an Ee'aloro'alan word ends in a vowel, as most do, it carries a strong, sharp rising intonation. By custom, the words 'Ee'aloro'moo' and 'Ee'mo' must be uttered with the speaker's left hand placed on the top of his or head. Feel free to invent more customs of your own!

Note: The name 'Ee'aloro'ala' comes, if I remember correctly, from a piece of juvenilia by the late John Berryman.


(To be given or read aloud to participants)

Let me tell you about the House of Ee'aloro! Every ten years, the people of the small planet Ee'aloro'ala, build a great stone 'house' in honour of their god Ee'aloro. The house must be rebuilt every ten years because the winds on the planet are powerful enough to knock it down in that time! The formal name for this house is 'Ee'aloro'moo', but in everyday conversation people call it the 'Ee'mo'.

The Ee'mo is solid, with no empty space inside, and in shape it is almost, but not quite, a cube. It is a great honour to be allowed to help build the new Ee'mo, and the construction teams are chosen mainly by a lottery, although for religious reasons some of the workers are selected from special groups in Ee'aloro'alan society. The House of Ee'aloro is constructed by manual labour, without any machines, and according to tradition is must be completed within two Ee'aloro'alan weeks.

The question you have to answer is this: On which day of the week is the construction of the Ee'mo completed?

You may tell other people the information on the cards, but you must not show your cards to anyone else.

Individual Information Items

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VI, No. 7, July 2000