Lesson Plan on Problem Solving

This is a Lesson Plan on Problem Solving by Adam F.C. Fletcher for


Introduction: Lesson plan for 8-40 students and/or adult participants working in teams. The activity is designed as an experiential way of pulling together lessons from previous communication and teamwork.

Goal: When this session is complete, participants should be able to…

  • Practice solving a problem as a team
  • Highlight issues of leadership, support, communication and power by creating a stressful situation
  • Practice patience in the face of frustration

Time: 120 minutes

Materials: One 6” x 6” “lava rock” for each 2 of your group members. Rocks, logs, carpet squares, or paper can be used – whichever is most convenient. If your group has 9 people, you should have 4 items.

Space: An open, grassy field about 20 yards long is optimal; large indoor space is workable.

Considerations: A deceptively simple exercise, this lesson plan quickly develops rich lessons for how groups work together – especially when they are frustrated. Frustration is a key component of this lesson so it is absolutely critical that the group be allowed to work through mistakes, false starts, and slip-ups. Be warned that watching a group struggle in this manner can be just as frustrating for the facilitator. Be patient, it really does take at least an hour to complete. Pay close attention to the actions and interactions of group members.


  1. Tell participants story that the group is being chased and they need to get across a field of hot lava.
  2. Give the group their “lava rocks,” explaining that when they step on these magic rocks they will not sink into the lava. Their challenge is to figure out how to get the entire group from point A to point B (both marked by scotch tape on the floor or lines in the dirt), from one side of the Hot Lava Pit to the other.Explain that only one person can be on a plate at a time, and the plates may be picked up and moved. Participants should know that the key to the game is that only part of the team will be able to cross the field at once.A time limit can also be placed on this game.

    If people are talking, take one of the lava rocks away. You can return it when they show more cooperation.

  3. Ask if the group has any questions about the rules – however, do not answer any questions about how they should do it, and do not let them discuss it.The most common solution to the activity is to bunch up closely on the lava rocks with two or more people standing on each one. The team will then hand the iceberg at the back up to the front, slowly creep forward and then repeat until they reach the far shore.If participants are totally stuck, tell them that they have five minutes to get everyone on the lava rocks. This often helps them get the idea that they have to put rocks close together.

    If desperate, you can give them the chance to return to the starting pint, talk for a few minutes and then begin again in silence. These techniques can also help control the time it takes to complete the activity, thus ending with sufficient time to debrief. Dealing with frustration is crucial.

  4. When the group has completed the task, give them a moment to celebrate their success. Then sit down to talk about it. The debriefing of this lesson plan is absolutely critical. The following lists offer numerous possible questions.The key to debriefing this exercise is to keep good running notes on specific actions of both individuals and the group during the lesson and then call their attention to those actions during the discussion. Pay attention to the roles taken by the students and by the adults. Who makes the first move? Who is out in front? How do they work together? What kinds of tensions do you see?Listen to group member comments and help them relate the lessons to other situations they might be in, or might have already encountered, especially for groups that will be working together in the future.

Questions to open the debriefing:

  • How did it feel when I gave the rules?
  • How did it feel when I first got started?
  • How did you feel when you ran out of rocks/logs?
  • How did it feel to get off on the other side of the river?
  • How did it feel to slip off the iceberg and begin again?
  • How did people at the front feel? The back? The middle?
  • What was hard? What was easy? Why?Questions about Power:
  • How did the group decide what to do?
  • Did the team have a plan? Did everyone understand that?
  • What kinds of leadership did you see?
  • Were there differences in the roles students took and the roles adults took? How so?
  • In what ways did students and adults work well together? In what ways didn’t they? How could you tell? What would you change? Why?Questions about Communication and Respect:
  • What was it like not to be able to talk?
  • What other forms of communication did you use?
  • What did you learn about communication?Questions about Support and Trust:
  • How did you know you were being supported by others?
  • What kinds of things did people do that were supportive?
  • What was it like to have to hang on to each other?Questions about Apply what You’ve Learned:
  • What was useful about doing this exercise?
  • How is this group like other groups you have been a part of?
  • What does this tell you about what it takes for students and adults to work together?
  • What have you learned about how you work in a group?

SoundOut Skill Building Lesson Plans
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These lesson plans were created by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut under contract from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction funded through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. All contents ©2007 SoundOut. Permission to use is granted exclusively for nonprofit and in-school education purposes only. All Rights Reserved.

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