After years of teaching this lesson I finally wrote it down for my masters terminal paper for the University of Oregon: DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT LEADERSHIP PROGRAM. Yesterday, I revisited this with current Inquiry Hub students and incoming students for next year. I should have spent more time on the debrief, but I think lessons of this format really take practice to do well. If you try this lesson out, please share how it went with me.

Tick-Tack Treat: A lesson on Win-Win

The Framing Story: Read this before the lesson/activity.

Try Softer

A young boy travelled across Japan to the school of a famous martial artist. When he arrived at the dojo he was given an audience by the sensei.
“What do you wish from me?” the master asked.
“I wish to be your student and become the finest karateka in the land,” the boy replied. “How long must I study?”
“Ten years at least,” the master answered.
“Ten years is a long time,” said the boy. “What if I studied twice as hard as all your other students?”
“Twenty years,” replied the master.
“Twenty years! What if I practice day and night with all my effort?”
“Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.
“How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.
“The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way.”
~ Joe Hyams Zen in the Martial Arts (pg. 95)

Tic-Tac-TreatThe Activity: Tick-Tack-Treat
Supplies: A white or black board,
pens/chalk, eraser
a 5×5 checkered grid
masking tape (for the grid)
small wrapped candy

Set-up: Create the gird in advance.
Read ‘Try Softer’.
Ask for volunteers for a ‘challenge’.
Select two ‘groups’ of 4 students.
These students sit on benches or on the floor in two rows in front of the checkered playing grid. One group is assigned X and the other O, and they are given the following instructions: (As described in The Debrief, your language here is important. Know exactly what you want to say and don’t take questions from the students. If students raise hands to ask questions tell them they can work out their questions as they complete the task).
Look at one group, “The task for this group is to get four X’s in a row, and you all get a treat.”
Look at the other group, “The task for this group is to get four O’s in a row and you all get a treat.”
The groups alternate opportunities to put a mark on the grid, and the students in each group will take turns so that they rotate who gets to place the mark on the grid. (If they are sitting in rows and rotate to the back this works best or else there is crowding at the grid and no one can see what is happening).

The Lesson: What happens when a team gets four in a row?
When a group gets four in a row, they get candy BUT the game keeps going! (Do not tell them this in the set-up). When no team can get more candy, send them off and pick two new groups.
What usually happens is that the first group or first few groups battle one another competitively, trying to block their “opponents”. When they realize that the game continues after candy is given out, then eventually they realize that it is in their best interest not to compete but to work together to maximize how much candy both groups can get.
Note: Most often it is the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th group that figures it out. Once, doing this with Grade 5’s they got it on the first attempt, Another time with parents and Grade 8’s working together I had to model it for them because the competitive nature of the adults didn’t allow them to see the win-win possibility.

The Debrief: What was the goal of the activity?
It is interesting what responses you will get to this question, but what you are looking for is, “To get candy”.
What happened when you got candy? (The game kept going)
What did the last group figure out?
Note the language in these following questions- Keep this language out of the activity to enrich the discussion during the debrief.
Did I ever say it was a competition? (No)
Did I call you teams? (No, groups)
Did I call it a game? (No, a ‘challenge’, or you can say ‘activity’)
Did I say that you had to put your own symbol, X or O, on the grid? (This is an interesting point- if you are careful in your explanation then really students could have taken turns placing four X’s in a row, two from each group, followed by four O’s on the grid. They share in completing each other’s task.)
Question students about competition and why they thought it was a game with two opposing teams (Team sports, game shows, -competitive paradigm)
Now is your opportunity to refer back to the framing story… “When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way”…
Sometimes we try harder instead of trying smarter.
Sometimes we are so fixed on the task, (what we are doing), that we forget the goal or the outcome, (what we really want).

Introduce the concept of Win-Win, (don’t mention Win-Win before now).

The framing story or metaphor, “Try Softer” has more meaning to the students as a result of the challenge, Tick-Tack-Treat, and the challenge has more meaning to the students when the connection is made to the story. Win-Win. Furthermore, the challenge itself becomes an experience to understand this leadership concept, an experience far more meaningful than just explicitly explaining the concept. Also, even the spectators that don’t get to participate and ‘experience’ the challenge have a more meaningful representation of the lesson, as the challenge becomes a visual metaphor for them. (I also share the candy with everyone during the debrief!)

I believe that metaphors and reflection help get difficult messages across. In fact, delivering a message in metaphor can actually be more meaningful when teaching leadership concepts. Like the girl in “The Butterfly Story”, (also found in my paper), leadership teachers can make an experience too easy for the student to complete, and then potential growth and development does not emerge beyond that experience.

– – – – – – – – – –
Think Win-Win
Win-Win is a belief in the Third Alternative.
It’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way.
A higher way.
(Quote taken from a motivational poster)
– – – – – – – – – –

If you’d like to check out my paper, here is a direct link to the pdf: Also available on Slideshare.

2 comments on “A Lesson on Win-Win

  1. Hello David,

    This sounds like a brilliant illustration and a great deal of fun. Win-win is a concept that is difficult for adults to incorporate in our behaviours. That’s because we grew up in a competitive school system where we succeeded if we were “better” than our classmates. For my parents, they were numbered in their report cards as the # 1 in the class or the #12 or whatever. One of my kids’ principals (slightly younger generation than my parents and from a westernized first world country), actually had to change seats every Friday according to how well they did that week in school. So, come Monday, the top kid was at desk #1 and the “worst” kid was at desk #30.

    I am so glad we’re moving to a different paradigm of looking at children and hopefully giving them a different way of looking at themselves. Education should not be a matter of getting the most points, but of everybody learning at their own pace and our community helping us, instead of competing against us. “Win-win” as you say.

    There was some article floating around (don’t think I have the link) that discussed the importance of emotions and how activating emotions helps us to learn and to remember. Ties into the bit you mentioned about metaphors. The picture you’ve give me of this activity is already lodged in my memory. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing.


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