Odyssey of the Mind Curriculum Activity:
Understanding Misunderstandings
Objective: Developing communication skills by creative experimentation with miscommunication.
Students will learn: Syntax, cultural appreciation and vocabulary.

Prep Time

30 minutes

-- Class
-- Small groups


Activity 1
Communication is the exchange of ideas, messages or information from one person to another. Lead a discussion about different ways people communicate and the tools involved in communication, e.g. body language, tone of voice, facial expressions etc.

Communication only occurs if someone receives the message being sent, so discuss how information is received and how it can be interpreted differently. Have the class take turns saying the same sentence, but giving it a different meaning utilizing the non-verbal communication discussed above. For example, "Way to go." It can be a statement of encouragement, sarcasm or anger depending on how the person says it. The class can label the mood or intended meaning of the sentence to see the different aspects of communication.

Activity 2
Is communication as effective if the sender and receiver cannot see each other? How do authors convey their meanings without actually speaking to readers? Their communication is reduced to only the written word. As shown before, people can interpret the same sentence different ways.

Authors must choose the best words to get their point across. Have the students write a short story about an animal, real or imaginary, that is forced to live in a new habitat that must communicate with other animals in order to survive.

Students must use any communication tools possible in the story in order to relay their messages to readers. Put all the stories together as a collection in a book for others to read and receive the class's messages.

Activity 3
Because there are so many variables in communication, miscommunication easily occurs. Divide the class into four groups to create a humorous skit that involves a new language that they create, a miscommunication and its solution.

The skit should also include malapropisms, an incorrect usage of a word, usually with comic effect. The term comes from the name of Mrs. Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy, The Rivals (1775). He took the name from the English word malapropos, meaning "inappropriately." Here are some examples for dicussion:
  • The cook had to use a fire distinguisher to put out a blaze in the kitchen.
  • The doctor said the monster is just a pigment of my imagination.
  • Isn't that a pretty pendulum around that woman's neck?
  • Good punctuation means to always be on time.
As each group performs the skit, the audience can write down as many malapropisms that they hear in the performance. What group can include the most that go unnoticed?