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Broken Squares

Broken Squares

Props/Prep: Yes
Time: 30-40 min
Audience: Any (teams)
Physical: No

Broken Squares Template

Activity: This activity is a great way to break the ice with a new group of people, or to focus on group work, working as a team, communication, helping others, problem solving, critical thinking, etc… The puzzle process may frustrate some group members, while invigorating others. Group member observers should make note of each participant’s reaction to the activity. Participation and cooperation by all team members is essential to attain team and individual goals. This activity may expose participants to behaviours that may contribute toward, or obstruct group success. 

Time Requirements: 30-40 minutes

Materials needed: A set of broken square puzzle pieces (see broken square template pdf file), and envelop or baggie for each puzzle set, tables for each group, team instructions, and observer instructions.


  • Divide your participants into teams; groups of 5-7 are best. 
  • Give each team member an envelop with puzzle pieces inside. Your team will be successful when there is a perfect square, each of the same size, in front of each team member. 
  • Print instructions for each team and a set of instructions for each observer/judge.
  • Hand out the set of broken square envelopes, and instruct the group to distribute one envelope to each of the participants (do not open the envelopes until instructed to do so).  
  • Give each group a copy of the Broken Squares Team Instructions. Read these instructions out-loud. Check for understanding and answer any questions.
  • Instruct the group to begin the task. Monitor the group, along with the judge/observers, to ensure that the group follows the rules fairly closely.
  • Allow most groups to complete their puzzles. Call time. 
  • Have the entire team develop a set of learning points, which you record on the flipchart (this may take up to 20 minutes).
  • Take these up with the entire group. 

Function in class: This is a great activity to use when starting a class with a focus on problem solving or critical thinking. It is also useful to illustrate human nature, being selfish, or being unselfish, noticing others needs, and generosity. It is also useful as an icebreaker to increase interaction between group members. 

Broken Squares Instructor Notes

Debriefing of this activity is where most of the learning takes place. 

Debriefing points:

  • Participation and cooperation are necessary
  • It is imperative to understand the objectives of the task at hand
  • Problem solving requires team members to keep an open mind and to use a variety of potential solutions
  • Lack of communication makes problem solving difficult
  • You are never alone on a team
  • As a team member, you must be willing to help others and accept help from others

Puzzle making instructions:

  • Make the broken squares by using the broken square template pdf file. Cut the squares apart on the lines. 
  • Mix them up and then put pieces in the required number of envelops. You can have an equal number in each envelop or make some envelopes more full than others. 
  • Make sure each group has the same number of complete squares as team members(or one set). If you use card stock (60 lb), you should be able to use these over and over again. 

Broken Squares (each participant should get this sheet)

Game Rules:

  • You may only use the pieces provided.
  • No member may speak or gesture in any way throughout the activity.
  • Members may not ask another member for a piece; take a piece from another member, or signal in any way that another person is to give them a piece.
  • Members may give pieces to other members.
  • Members may not place their puzzle pieces in the center area for other team members to take. 
  • When a group (all members) have assembled all puzzles as instructed, they should indicate to the teacher or facilitator that they are done. 

Broken Squares (only the observer/judge should get this)

Observer/Judge instructions:

  • Make sure each participant observes the following rules; no talking, pointing, or any other kind of communication.
  • Participants may give pieces directly to other participant but may not take pieces from other members.
  • Participant may not place their pieces into the center for others to take.
  • It is okay for a member to give away all the pieces of their puzzle, even if they have already formed a square. 

Observer/Judge observations:

  • How willing were members to give away pieces of the puzzle? Were participants more interested in getting than in giving?
  • Did anyone finish their puzzle, and then withdraw from the group problem solving? If so, how did it affect the rest of the group?
  • Did dominant individuals emerge, or did everyone seem to participate equally?
  • Did you detect evidence of frustration? How did it affect the group?
  • What was the critical turning point(s) affecting the group working together?
  • Other observations…