Experiential Learning : The Human Knot

One of the classes that I’m teaching right now is entitled “Communication Skills” but the primary objective is to help learners develop public speaking skills. It’s more of a lecture-style class (much to my chagrin) . There are chapters from a book to be covered and assignments are designed for learners to present their speeches / presentations in the class. This is my first experience of this sort, as I’ve always taught language proficiency courses. Initially, the idea of so much TTT was causing a lot of unease inside me. It’s energy AND time consuming plus the whole idea of going ön and on was not-at-all appealing.

But of course, being a part of a tertiary institution with set educational standards (which I really give my hats to) and systems of conventions that have functioned successfully, I was, in no means, intending to rock the boat. So what I did was infuse communicative and self-learning tasks whenever and wherever possible AND tried engaging learners in discussions during my presentation sessions.

(Which reminds me that I need to get a powerpoint remote control to become mobile!)

Well, anyway, I noticed that learners really enjoyed these sort of lessons the most and were quite oblivious to the fact that learning actually took place!

Very much in contrary to how they behave during presentations (can you share your thoughts with your partners? –>> whiff of voices here and there, some on whatsapp ticking away and I still am figuring out how can I get EVERYONE to focus in class) – eventually I had to resort to calling out names.

Now, coming back to the topic. I’ve always loved to have classes that encourage autonomous and experiential learning. When I say autonomous learning, I’m talking about having learners to work together and teach themselves to figure things out. The thought processes that take place at this point of time greatly contributes to understanding and learning.

Experiential learning is something else altogether as well. In my previous post, I spoke about an educator who inspired me with a similar technique. I’m sure you’d have summed up that experiential learning means learning from experience. If you’re interested, the following websites have some useful information on experiential learning:

Defining Experiential Learning – Wikipedia

What is Experiential Learning? – James W. Gentry

So what did I do then? I played the Human Knot Game. I honestly think it’s an amazing game that can be used for different learning objectives. Very adaptable, fun, interesting, and engaging. You can read up more on this game and how to go about it at the following websites:

The Human Knot – Holden Leadership Center

How to play the Human Knot

The human Knot – Youtube

a) The areas that were supposed to be covered during class were –> definition of communication, types, effects, effective communication and the communication process.

b) All tables were moved to the corners and sides of the classroom to have an empty, working space.

c) Learners were then briefed and guided step by step to get into the Human Knot Game. This is how it looked during the most challenging part of the game (picture below). In fact, I tried to lure them into giving up, but they stood their ground!!


d) Eventually, they gave up ( due to fatigue) but with a heavy heart, for sure!

e) It was then time for reflection. Learners got into groups of 4, and discussed the following post activity questions:

  • Describe your experience of being a part of the human knot. How did your team communicate with one another and what challenges did you face?
  • How would you define communication?
  • What are the types of communication that took place in your ‘knot’?
  • Who were the senders and receivers in your group? What kind of qualities did they have?
  •  What kind of noise / interference did you experience in the process of untangling the human knot?
  •  Based on your experience, what are the strategies for effective communication to take place?
  •  Describe lessons that you’ve learned during this activity that can be used in your daily lives.


f) Learners then had to present their discussion to the classroom, where further discussion and feedback ensued between everyone.


There are several observations that I made from this activity:

– Unintentionally, my lesson was actually based on David A. Kolb’s experiential learning theory (as illustrated below). I didn’t manage to get step 4 done though, due to time constraint.


– The Human Knot Game can be used as an activity for different language targets. Among them:

a) Application of verb tenses (past tense)

b) Practicing giving instructions (low level learners)

c) Post-reading activity (For reading materials from “communication”themes)

d) Be aware of cultural differences when playing this game, as learners would have  to be in very close proximity with one another. Do keep that in mind.

– there were times when the learners were so intensely weaved into a know that they almost gave up. As a teacher, I asked “possibility questions” just to get them thinking on other possible alternatives to un-weave themselves.


So there you go. Any comments or insights?