The Blind (Bags) Leading the Blind

“Introduce a little anarchy…” – The Joker

In yesterday’s post, we talked about the ridiculous appeal of LEGO blind bags. In case you missed it, here’s the 30 second recap:

LEGO sells collectible sets of minifigures in sealed “blind bag” packages covered with wall to wall artwork, so you don’t actually know which character is inside when you buy them. Kinda’ like a hybrid of Forest Gump’s famous box of chocolates and colorful array of pint-sized Pokémon: gotta catch ’em all! But you never know what you’re gonna’ get.

Drawing inspiration from the same underlying principles that makes this blind chase for mastery so gosh-darn addictive, I decided to cool up a classroom “blind bag” activity where students experienced the same sense of thrill, chase, and mastery — with the ultimate goal of “collecting” as much information about our current unit as they could possibly manage before the timer ran out in our regularly scheduled class period. Today’s entry uses our study of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying I to talk about just one way this LEGO-inspired challenge can play out in a classroom, but I’m including a handful of alternative approaches after all the recap of the novel study lesson to help offer a broader look at how you might be able to adapt this activity for your classroom. Resources are linked accordingly. And for either approach, all you’ll need are a small batch of padded envelopes. I picked up a set of 10 at Wal-Mart for less than $5 (and made sure NOT to seal them closed, so I can use them again and again in future lessons).

Here’s How I Did It

If nothing else, I wanted to replicate the same spirit of excitement that came from rummaging through blind bags of LEGO minifigures in an effort to complete a collection. Low risk, high reward. Instant feedback, and an addictive rush of dopamine from the thrill of each new discovery, and the perpetual dangling carrot of adding a new item to your ever-expanding cast of characters with every new bag that you opened. Since we were studying a particularly challenging novel with a bunch of different characters who navigate both a treacherous journey and the complex web of interpersonal relationships and family dynamics, I decided that it only made sense that my blind bag search would ask students to “build a character” out of whatever random parts they just happened to find in their blind bags.

So:

  • I took 8 padded envelopes and placed a character-specific “hint” sticker on the outside of each “blind bag” — that way nobody might inadvertently draw the same bag more than once. Icons for this entire activity came as freebies from TheNounProject.com (Yes, this is technically cheating the true spirit of a “blind” bag — but I don’t want my students wasting time).

  • I filled each bag with “pieces” that were unique to the character inside. And true to the evidence of the source material, character came with five “pieces”: a motivation, two allies, and two adversaries.
  • I divided students into small groups, and set an overhead countdown timer for 30 minutes. When the timer started, one representative from each student team sprinted to the front of the classroom to grab one blind bag each, take it back to the desk group, and begin “assembling” the character that lied hidden inside of the padded envelope, using the clues provided on the item cards in conjunction with a graphic organizer.

Bundrens

  • Teams had 30 minutes to assemble as many characters as they could using as many details from the text as necessary to support their decisions. Once a team had successfully built their character, they called me over for a quick spot check, and if all the necessary parts were accounted for in the graphic organizer, they earned the right to race back to the front of the classroom and trade in their completed blind bag for a new one.

This rinse-and-repeat process continued for the duration of the countdown — with teams selecting, assembling, and spot-checking the necessary details for each new assembled character. How many characters can you “build” before the timer expires?

Some Other Ways to Change The Game

  • Put actual LEGO pieces inside of your the “blind bags,” and swap this timed character study into a full-on STEM challenge where teams must create something out of the materials they receive.
  • Forget the timed race aspect of the challenge, and use the “build a character” activity as a random shakeup to give student groups a singular character that they must get inside the head of before a timed class debate… which they must complete IN. CHARACTER.
  • Working with younger students? Why not trade your traditional graphic organizer for one of these LEGO templates from Play Like a Pirate author Quinn Rollins?

 

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with his wife, Laura, a high school music teacher and fellow graduate of The Catholic University of America, and a giant-sized Maine Coon cat named Jack.

5 thoughts

  1. John, fun post! In Kansas, while I was growing up, Dime stores often had grab bags for $5 and $10. My mother and grandmother often took their chances. I can see that I could easily incorporate this idea to a Shakespeare study of characters with ANY of the plays I teach ; )

  2. Great idea! I love the appeal of randomness and surprise. You could also fill the bags with the random icons from the noun project and have them use them to write a collaborative story or explain how they relate to what you are studying or fill it with numbers and have students write math problems.

  3. As a 5th grade math teacher, I can envision putting random numbers and operation signs in an envelope, and having students come up with as many different order of operations equations/answers as they can. I can also see putting various fraction strips in there and having students write word problems to go with the fractions.

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