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Fish in the can saws wild apples dog car sidewalk tree. Shirt the table carpet in the floor roof cloud. What? What do you mean I’m not making sense? I’m using simple english words. Oh, I see. I must not be communicating. Believe it or not, communication is not as easy as it seems. In this lesson, I’m hoping to show you that hearing what someone is saying, and saying what you want someone to hear is quite a skill. A good skill for life and a vital skill for science. In science, the ability to tell someone what you did, how you did it, and what happened after you did it, is a key skill in sharing science information. Scientists from around the world share information and their measurements and details of what they did must be very precise. To begin with, let’s try this little exercise in giving directions.



Experiment 1:

A Peanut Butter And Jelly Jam


You need:

Peanut Butter



Butter Knife

(Be prepared to make a mess and have fun.)

1. Pick a person to be the sandwich maker (this works better if it’s someone who’s kind of in on the game).

2. The sandwich maker tells the group that he or she is a robot who does everything that it is told. However, the robot is very literal, so it does EXACTLY what it is told to do.

3. The rest of the group gives one instruction at a time (“Put the jam on the bread.”) until the sandwich is made or until no one can stand laughing anymore.

The key to this activity is the sandwich maker. The robot must do exactly what he or she is told. So when the robot is told to put the jam on the bread, the robot takes the jar of jam and puts it on the bag that the loaf of bread is in! When the robot is told to take the bread out of the bag, the robot can’t do it because the bread bag isn’t open! Have a lot of fun with this, it’s messy and makes a great point.


It’s a little harder to tell someone how to make a sandwich than you thought right?! Try telling a robot how to tie its shoes. Or for that matter, walk across the room. It’s quite hard. Communication involves a lot of assumptions. An assumption is when you expect someone to know what you’re talking about. You assumed that when you told your “robot” to put the jam on the bread, that the robot would know that it needed to open the jar. Then you might have told the robot to open the jar and it didn’t know how to do that either! Again, you assumed something that is obvious to you but not at all obvious, perhaps, to something or somebody else. My father tells the story of when he learned this lesson the hard way. When he was a kid there was a hole under the porch at his house. His Mom noticed a board sitting on the ground and told my Dad to fill the hole with the wood. Well, my father, being a good little boy, did exactly as he was told and put the wood as far into the hole as he could, leaving a good two feet of board sticking out of the hole. His mother came back from what she was doing, took one look at the wood sticking out of the hole and proceeded to yell at my father for being such a dummy. My father was clueless. As far as he could tell, he did exactly what he was asked to do. However, his mother assumed that when she said fill the hole with the wood, he would use the wood to push dirt into the hole. My father followed the directions correctly but was wrong. His mom gave directions correctly and was also wrong. As you can see, communication can be very difficult. I’m willing to bet this kind of thing has happened to you. You have told someone to do something and they messed it up or someone told you to do something and you messed it up. Keep this in mind the next time something gets messed up. A little better communication can keep a lot of things from getting messed up (and keep you out of trouble as well).

Communication isn’t just giving directions however. It’s also hearing what’s being said and following directions. How good are you at following directions? Try this.


Experiment 2

Get The Picture


You Need:

The instruction sheet on the next page. One for each person in the group.

Pencils for each person in the group


1. Pass the instruction sheet to everyone in your group.

2. Tell everyone to read the instructions carefully and to go ahead and get started.

3. The answers for “Get The Picture” are at the end of the lesson.


Get The Picture


Please follow the following directions exactly.


Do everything that the instructions say.


Read all the following directions before beginning.



1. Circle the word circle in this sentence.



2. Write the third word in this sentence here. __________________



3. Draw a large square on the back of this paper.



4. Draw a large triangle on top of the square on the back of this paper.



5. Draw a rectangle inside the square with a short side touching the middle of the bottom of the square on the back of this paper.



6. Draw a small square to the right of the rectangle in the large square on the back of this paper.



7. Draw a circle above the left side of the triangle.



8. Ignore every single instruction on this page but this one. Turn your paper over and draw a big smiley face on the paper. There should be nothing on the back of this page but one big smiley face. After you’ve drawn your smiley face turn this page back over.



So now you’ve had a chance to see that giving directions is difficult and following directions is difficult. Let’s put it all together with this next activity.



Experiment 3

Communication Block


You need:

Identical sets of five different objects for each person in your group. For example, each person in the group has the same set of five different blocks, or everyone in your group has their own fork, apple, napkin, pencil and toy car. It doesn’t matter what the items are but for the instructions below I’m going to use blocks as my items.

Some sort of screen to allow everyone to keep their items hidden from prying eyes. I use file folders. Open them up about 90 degrees, they stand up nice and the kids can keep their stuff hidden behind them.

1. Pick one person to be the “teller”. Everybody else will be “listeners”.

2. The teller will put his or her blocks together any way he wants. Make sure no one can see how the blocks are laid out. The teller can stack them on top of one another, lay them end to end or do whatever he feels like. I highly recommend only using three blocks the first two or three times.

3. Now, the teller has to carefully tell the listeners what he or she has constructed. The teller’s job is to get all the listeners to build exactly what she has built. The teller should only use her voice to explain how the blocks look. She shouldn’t hold any blocks up or use her hands to show how the blocks are laid out.

4. As the teller describes what has been built, the listeners should try the best they can to build what’s being described.

5. Once the teller feels he or she has explained everything, he should uncover his blocks and let everyone see what he was trying to describe. Take a look at everyone’s blocks. How well do they match?

6. Let everyone have a turn being the teller.

7. For the first couple of times don’t let anyone ask any questions. It is completely the job of the teller to make sure everyone can make the same block constructions.

8. After a few tries, let the listeners ask the teller questions. Emphasize that now the listeners have a responsibility to make sure they get it right. It’s no longer only up to the teller. If they have their blocks set up wrong now, they might not have asked a question when they should have.


This is a great activity and it really shows how hard it is to communicate with someone. It does a great job at pointing out assumptions and showing how careful and detailed you have to be with your instructions. It also shows that the listener has an important role to play. The listener must be very careful not to make assumptions and to be sure to take responsibility for what they are hearing by asking good questions. One more thing this activity does, is show how important definitions are to good communication. When I do this activity with my groups, I do it a few times and then take the time to point out some of the definitions the group has been using. For example, when they call one block the red square everyone knows which block that is. I also point out where a definition can come in handy. For example “Stand the blue block on its side.” Well, which side? Long side, short side, fat side, how do you know? At this point, I take the time with the group to create definitions. “Okay, so when we say long side that always means this side of this block.” As you do this activity, you’ll see where assumptions are made and definitions can come in handy. In science, good definitions are vital. If somebody says, “I put the apparatus one meter from the ping pong ball.” Everyone in the world knows how far a meter is. There is a standard for meters, inches, cups, liters, ohms, joules and all sorts of measurements. Without good definitions no one would know what anyone was talking about!

Well, I hope I was able to communicate how important and how difficult it is to have good communication. Whenever you write something, read something, say something or hear something, be very careful to make sure you’re not assuming something. Try to make sure your listener truly hears what you’re saying, and vice versa, try to make sure you’re hearing what someone’s telling you.

Answers for Get The Picture

There should be nothing on the page except for a smiley face on the back! Did you get it. If not don’t

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