< Back to Classroom - Designing Instruction

Dr. Tangle

Dr. Tangle or Human Knot

Props/Prep: No
Time: 15-20 min
Audience: Any (teams)
Physical: Yes, very

This activity requires participants to engage in physical activity requiring flexibility, and invasion of personal space. It is a great illustration for problem solving, working as a team, trust, critical thinking, or helping individuals find their ‘voice’.  The goal of this game is to get untied from a knot made of human hands clasped together in a random way - a physical illustration of numerous team work concepts.

Time requirements: varies depending on how many phases of this activity are used.

Materials needed: None


  • Divide the class into groups of about 8. (any number between 5-15 would work though).
  • Have them stand in a tight circle and face each other.
  • Have them take their right hands and shake hands with someone across from them. Keep holding that person's hand.
  • Now, have them take their left hands and take hold of someone else’s hand.
  • On the leaders cue, all circle-teams must, without letting go of hands, untangle themselves. Warn them that safety comes first and they may let go if someone is going to get hurt.


  • Each group selects someone from their team to be Dr. Tangle. Dr. Tangle gets to stand outside the circle and help direct and instruct the team like a coach.
  • Once Dr. Tangle is selected, Dr. Tangle must turn his or her back to the team turning the tangling process.
  • Another way of tangling is to form a line holding hands and the teacher takes the first person and weaves her through the lines in and out randomly until tangling occurs and joins the first and last person together.
  • Then once the team is tangled (whatever method), all the Dr. Tangles for the teams, turn around and the teacher yells begin! Dr. Tangle, along with the help of the team work together to detangle and be the first team finished.
  • Have a short discussion about what effect it had to have a person on the outside looking in to solve the problem. What did it feel like to be Dr. Tangle to be able to see the problem and perhaps not be able to immediately solve it?


  • Dr. Tangle is sent to another group to tangle them. He is trying to make it as tough as possible for the other group. The Dr. Tangles have exactly 60 seconds to tangle the other group. If not done in the allotted time, the group gets to finish tangling. The teacher announces that time is up and the Dr. Tangles return to their home groups to deal with the mess that the other Dr. Tangle left them to solve.


  • The whole class tangles and sees if it can detangled.

Function in the class: Can be done to begin a class to promote a concept, or end a class to illustrate content. 

Discussion at the end: How does the group negotiate together? How were problems solved? What kinds of leaders emerged? What was helpful? What was annoying & detrimental? When, in life are we part of a group? What connections can we make to problem solving with relationships and group tasks - patience, vantage point, mediation.