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Surrealism, Imagination

Daughters in Boxes -- 函入り娘 2

Based on the famous speech by the Meiji era Japanese feminist leader Kishida Toshiko, this activity asks participants to create a manga version of her speech, working in teams.

I have spelled out a nine step process, but it might make sense to do a much quicker, rougher version of this, to leave time for other discussions. Steps 1, 4, 5 are essential, I think.

Step one is to read the original essay (for Japanese readers, in Japanese), and do a reader response writing activity.

Step two is to form teams with a mix of self-identified skills/capacities:

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Daughters in Boxes -- 函入り娘 1

Based on a Japanese puzzle game and the famous speech by early feminist leader Kishida Toshiko, this game asks players to identify the obstacles to the freedom of young women and then remove them one at a time.

Making the game is a key part of the activity. In teams, participants:


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John Cage's Ten Rules

From the great Open Culture website.

These rules can be used in many ways:

  • As one big prompt for a writing activity;
  • As individual prompts for a writing activity;
  • As prompts for role plays or speeches;
  • As propositions to debate...

They are great to use for thinking about innovation, creativity, education, any kind of self-directed work.
RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

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If I had a hammer...

I got this idea from Adiwena (like many Indonesians, he has no last name), a student who responded to the Spiral Model I presented with his own Web of Learning, a model of learning in which the learner is at the center, engaging with a variety of teachers and classes, each of which offers something potentially valuable. The learner has to find the best way to learn in each context, making the most of resources available, and weaving the various courses into the web or pattern of learning s/he needs or desires.

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What is ... ?

Another surrealist game from Alastair Brotchie. This one involves the random creation of definitions.

What is...?

Each player writes a question on this pattern: "What is ----?" (e.g., "What is solidarity?")

The players each fold down their papers so the questions are concealed and pass their papers to the next player who writes a definition on this pattern: "It is ----" (e.g., "It is a scream in the night." or "It is the final resting place of our dreams.")

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If/Would, When/Will

The first technique is from Alastair Brotchie's collection of surrealist games. The second is a variation on the first. Like all such games, it is important to play them freely, without concern about "making a good one" or being clever. If the players feel free, the results can sometimes be remarkable. We are used to trying to work together rationally, these games ask us to work together irrationally, creatively.


In pairs or a group: each person writes the first clause of a sentence, beginning with "If", on this pattern:

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I heard you fired your boss...

This game is a variation on the "Yes, and yay" improvisation game I learned at Kani Club. The purpose is to be playful and free with language, using a standard form of interaction creatively. Like most games, it can be thematic or simply fanciful. (In any case, it needs to be fanciful.) Finding the creativity and play in each other is an important gain for people working together in groups. Just as we need to re-invent the wheel periodically when it comes to our strategy, we also need to re-discover each other from time to time.

The flow:

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Ten Levels of Why?

A nice way to dig under obvious truths. I learned the basic technique here from Emily Schnee, from whom I learn so much. I have found that many students experience this as a revelation because it calls on them to question again and again when they are typically called on to give one answer.

Take a simple statement of an identity (I am a teacher), or a problem (I don't have enough time to do work I want to do), or just about any simple sentence (slugs leave a trail)...

Spoken version:
The player says her/his sentence out loud, then one person asks "why?"

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"Elephants, I like elephants"

This activity, based a children's song by Eric Herman and the Invisible Band, is a word game in which participants take one thing and describe it in terms of another (see also the surrealist game "L'un dans l'autre" (the one in the other) in A Book of Surrealist Games).

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"This is not a pipe..."

The idea of this circle game is to take an object and then re-imagine it as a series of different objects. I took this from a children's game I learned from Robyn Avalon when visiting with her family in Santa Fe. Kids love it.

Good for: loosening up, for using language naturally, in a fun and creative way that people at different levels can understand and enjoy.

Set up: chairs in a circle (could also do it standing)

Number of people: at least three

Materials: some simple object

Time: 30 minutes or so

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