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Small Group Exercise: The 20-Step Process

This exercise is inspired by the theater game Car, where students work together to create factory machine parts with repetitive motion and sound. In The 20-Step Process, we take this a step further by making a simple task comically complicated.

This exercise challenges small groups of students to think critically, solve problems, and create and execute a plan. It’s also a creative challenge—students can present their process in a variety of performance styles.


1. Divide students into small groups of 3–4.

2. Assign each group an everyday task, such as making a peanut butter sandwich, brushing their teeth, or filling the car with gas. If you need help with assignments, our service promptly outdoors and food related prompt the lists are full of action ideas.

3. In their groups, ask students to write a list of 20 steps—no more, no less—to complete the task. For example, making a peanut butter sandwich isn’t just about opening a jar of peanut butter and using a knife to spread it on bread. It might involve locating a magic pig to sniff a peanut plant, digging up the peanuts, selecting only peanuts with a certain set of measurements, washing the peanuts with special soap, extracting the peanuts from the shell, crushing the peanuts into a paste. , adding salt to the paste, heating the mixture to a fire that is exactly 348 degrees… and so on for 20 steps, the 20th step being the completion of the sandwich.

The steps can be as silly and whimsical as the students want, as long as there are 20 steps—no more, no less. If students are having trouble understanding the steps, they might want to try working backwards from the final step, or break each part of the task down into ridiculously small micro-tasks.

4. Once they have created the list, students will find a way to present it as a performance. Some ideas might include:

  • Create a series of 20 painting scenes (one for each step).
  • Mimic the 20 steps.
  • Do an interpretive dance of the 20 steps while a narrator describes the action.
  • Present the list in the style of a step-by-step instructional video.
  • Turn the list into a poem or song.
  • Create a comedy scene where a teacher shows students how to do the task using the 20 steps, or a group tries to follow the instructions written on a piece of paper for the first time.

Students can come up with their own ideas of how they would present the list to their group. All movements and voices (if applicable) should be large and exaggerated.

5. GStudents have time in class to plan and rehearse their performances. If you want this exercise to be a larger project, you can assign part of the task as homework and have students practice at home and present the next day.

6. Students will present their scenes to the rest of the class.

7. After each group’s presentation, students will complete and submit an individual reflection.

Click here for a free reflection.

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage fighter from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at www.kerryhishon.com.

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