Category Archives: Thinking

Island Survival: A Cooperative Game

Island Survival:
A Cooperative Game

Do you need a great cooperative game?

This one will sweep them away. I play Island Survival with year 4, 5, and 6s either at the beginning or end of the year and it is always a hit! They often ask for it again. It’s a great game that allows for problem solving, justification, reasoning, creativity and cooperation.

In Island Survival, students work in small groups to try and survive being marooned on an island through a story that unfolds piece by piece. They meet a series of challenges that require different types of thinking and ultimately aim to get off the island as a team.

For example, in one scenario, survival teams have access to a range of resources but a storm washes three away. They have to decide on and justify which ones they will lose in the storm. In another, they have to practically think about how they would respond to injuries in a group.

This game could be used on day one with your new students, after a holiday break, or at any time to reinforce teamwork skills or learning habits that you have been working on together.

You can use my slides above or make a copy for yourself to edit in Google Slides.

How to Play

  • ROOM SET UP: Group tables together and remove chairs. This encourages active participation. Some unsettling or ambient jungle sounds will help set the scene.
  • MATERIALS: Each group gets a large sheet of butcher’s paper and textas. Use something as survival points like counters, play money or gold bottle caps (if you are using points).
  • TEAMS: Select (or have students select) survival teams that will work together for the whole task. 3-5 in a team works well.
  • SLIDES: Use my slides (above) that walk through the scenario step by step with instructions and timers. Feel free to make a copy of my Google Slides and adapt them  – and ham it up with some dramatic storytelling!
  • GAMEPLAY: Each slide will describe a new scenario that groups are presented with. Show and tell teams the information, what you expect from them and how much time they have. For example, at one point they need to design a shelter. You could briefly explain that you will only accept structurally sound designs that only utilise resources and tools they would have access to, then give teams 10 minutes to discuss and draw their designs. Walk around and give points and prompts while they work. Once the time is up move to the next task.


There are lots of variations you can use and with some creativity it is extremely easy to adapt the game to what you need. Some are:

    • SURVIVAL POINTS: The game works both with and without a point system. If you use it, teams can only leave the island (win) after earning a certain amount of points. They earn points by doing things like justifying all the items they decided would be washed away in a storm. In the slides, I have included notes about how I give out points however you can adjust it to suit your students. You can easily play it without having any kind of point system – just skip those slides.
    • PHYSICAL CHALLENGES: All the challenges I have included are discussion-based but to get the kids moving you could add others such as “Get two of your injured survivors (team members) across the oval without them having to touch the ground” or “Fit everyone in your team on one piece of falling cliff (a scrap of paper) without anyone falling off for 20 seconds”.
    • ONE HOUR or ONE MONTH: I usually play Island Survival over 1-2 hours however you could easily break it into smaller parts and play it over a longer amount of time to build on the skills used during the game.
  • I would love to know if you try Island Survival, how you use it, or if you have something better that is great for teamwork! Let me know what you try. The Island is your oyster…

Edit: If you are having trouble accessing the slides:

  • Make sure you have a Google Drive account and you are logged in. You will need a Google Drive account to get a copy of the slides.
  • Is your internet connection blocking the site? Try accessing the slides on a different internet connection.
  • Leave me a comment below or tweet me and I can get in touch to help.

Effort and Achievement Charts

Carol Dweck’s work around growth and fixed mindsets has been groundbreaking for education. It has reinforced for educators that is it essential to praise effort, not intelligence.

This has led to change in the way educators speak and lots of us are doing great work in the way we provide feedback to students based on the processes they engage in, like persisting, failing and trying again, rather than talking about how smart they are.

However I think it is essential for us to make it explicit for our students that it is not intelligence that will land you success, but instead, the amount of effort you put in will have a major impact on your achievements.

Each year I now have my students create effort and achievement charts to explicitly demonstrate what this looks like for them as individuals.

Understanding Effort 

I ask them to create a scale from 1 to 4 and to map what effort looks like at each level, 4 being the highest level of effort they could put into a task. We break down what people do when they are applying effort to something, and the way the behaviours change as effort decreases.

Some actions and behaviours that students say demonstrate effort are paying attention, asking for help, persevering, choosing a good spot to work, staying focused on one task at time, producing high quality learning products, taking their time to do something well rather than quickly.

Actions that students often say show a low level of effort are letting yourself be distracted, giving up, rushing, choosing to do something else other than their current task.

Students create their own personalised effort scale and map out what effort looks like at each level for them. It is important for them to identify how this might differ from others in their class. For example, some students focus more on the way they physically present when showing effort (e.g. staying with a group, keeping their eyes on the task, sitting in a certain place that helps them concentrate) while for other students the mental strategies they put in place are a stronger factor (e.g. ignoring distractions, focusing on one task only, persevering).

Silence ≠ Good Learning

This discussion provides a great platform to work through misconceptions about what learners need and do. Students often tell me that talking or moving around the class demonstrate low effort!

I seize the opportunity to begin to undo the myth that good learners sit silently in rows listening to their teacher talk at them. Together we begin to reframe what learning is and what effort looks like when we are trying to learn. This is tough and you can still see a few posters here that show the deeply instilled belief that level 1 effort includes talking.

Linking Effort to Achievement

Once we have determined what effort looks like, we map out what kind of achievement we would expect to get out of it using real scenarios (this can get very vague and wishy-washy without proper examples).

E.g. If a child says they are putting in effort into learning about decimal place value, it would looks like like paying attention to a decimal learning task, asking questions, staying focused, trying and trying again. The achievement they would expect from this level of effort is that after a time they would understand decimal place value, have evidence to show this and be able to discuss it.

At level 1 through 4 students describe the achievement they would expect from the explicit effort-related behaviours they have described. The guts of this part of the task is that students see the link between low effort and low achievement.


Sharing examples

When students share their charts with their peers, I ask them to share an example of a time when they showed level 1 effort and what the outcome (or achievement was) and then share a story of a time they used level 4 effort and what they achieved.

We display these charts where students can refer to them and use them as part of our daily dialogue. “How can you show a level 4 effort in this learning activity?” My students are able to refer to the processes they personally need to use to experience high levels of achievement.

Bonus: I encouraged my kids to think of metaphors and symbols to express something that gets better and better to create their chart. The Jedi is my personal favourite but the creativity for this part of the task was cool all round and meaningful for each student.


How do you explicitly teach effort to your students?

Hexagonal Thinking


Hexagonal Thinking is a visual tool to help people make connections and organise ideas on a topic. I first learned about hexagonal thinking through the  No Tosh Lab who encourage the use of it for going from the messy idea stage of the designing thinking process to the stage where ideas are organised and ordered to work towards solutions.

I used hexagonal thinking with my class this week as a tuning in activity for our term inquiry unit “Who’s Got the Power?” which will look at Australian civics and history through the lens of current parliament.

img_8337Previously during the week, to collect pre-assessment and to get student feedback to inform unit design, I had my students list any words they had heard about this topic that they either already knew or did not know. They also listed any questions they had or things they wanted to find out more about.  

I used these words and questions to create a list of words to put on the hexagonal cards, and presented small groups with 30 words from their lists, such as government, parliament, laws, refugees, promises, tax, referendum.

The groups worked together to organise and join the word cards by linking words that they thought had strong connections. We talked about strong and weak connections, for example “Governments have lots of money” was a weak link, but “Governments have lots of responsibility because they have to control and spend money for all Australians fairly” was a strong connection, which allowed them to add more words to their honeycomb.



The benefits of this activity were clear:

  • Students learned LOTS of new vocabulary (they looked up the meaning of unknown words or learnt it from a peer).
  • Learning new concepts from peers was strong (e.g. one student explaining a jury to the rest of her group by referencing a movie).
  • It was clear for me to identify areas were students have little or no knowledge to follow up in future lessons.
  • The explanations and justification had to be strong for group members to make a case to their group in order to put a card where they thought it should go, otherwise they would be overruled by the group.
  • A strong decision-making process was key for groups to be able to work collaboratively on this task.



  • I made my hexagonal cards on Pam Hook’s HookEd website.
  • She also has blank templates for printing here.
  • There is a hexagonal thinking generator in ClassTools that could allow groups to work on this in a digital space instead. I did not find the Word Doc download to work on this site.