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Educational toolkit and toolbox: Interpersonal and intrapersonal skills “Sticky fingers”


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The sole responsibility for the content of this document lies

with the authors. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union.

Introduction – Developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills during STEM activities

Development of transversal skills in youth is supporting them to successfully apply their learnings, personality and cultural background to the world beyond their schooling. Interpersonal skills connected to teamwork and collaboration, communication and organisation are useful both in professional and non-professional life. When students and teachers are given rich and varied opportunities and context within which they can improve those skills then deliberate approaches in teaching them have high impact as well. As Abrami et al.in 2009 proposed how explicit teaching of critical thinking skills may be the best way for developing them in the student body, we argue that the same approach is applicable in fostering inter(ra)personal skills. Advantage of making such training explicit is that it allows instructors and teachers to articulate to students the employment benefits of interpersonal and intrapersonal skills while placing them in the context of STEM topics and concepts.

Brief Description of the activity:

(Workshop duration 45 min)

This activity can be used as an energizer because it is short and audience engaging. We suggest that it is played at the beginning of the day or at the start of the after lunch session. The participants are given seemingly simple task where their internal organisation, teamwork, collaboration and effective communication play an important role to successfully solve it. At the same time the activity is suitable for inner reflection and analysis of intrapersonal skills like flexibility and adaptability, perseverance and self-motivation and self discipline.

The objective of the game is that teams of 8 to10 people have to work collaboratively to lower the long and light stick down to the ground with their fingers. The participants have to practice interpersonal and intrapersonal skills in order to find a mutual agreement and develop a strategy in order to execute the task, while at the same time empowering deeper individual skills connected with self-motivation and ability to monitor and control individual behaviour.

This activity can be regarded as a stand-alone activity where just certain aspects and teaching interpretations of it might be used or it can be used as an example of full-depth analysis of developing transversal skills while working in STEM education fields.

Added value to this activity is that it can be used as a tool to offer qualitative feedback to the participants which is connected with their personal engagement in team, teamwork, collaboration and communication strategies.

Use of interpersonal skills

This activity empowers the participants to actively engage with interpersonal skills. Usually the trainer can notice the change in group dynamics as the game progresses and additional time for attempts is provided.

At the beginning there is a lot of laughter, individual accusations, frustration, distrust and disbelief, yelling while at the end the group becomes more collaborative, calm, focused, silent and observant. During this process the group practices communicational and organisational skills.

Use of intrapersonal skills

As individuals are important constituents of a team who work on mutual tasks they bring their own personality in the solution. Activity is designed in such a way that flexibility and adaptability to surprisingly changing conditions plays an important role. Each participant is placed in an environment in which the persistence in the pursuit of specified goals is highly dependent on surprises and the discovery of errors.

Proposals are made by individuals and the group adapts to new ideas in an effective way to achieve the given task. It is important for trainers to observe the process of team communication for later analysis and the transmissions of messages that involve the shared understanding.

Accompanying files:

  • PRESENTATION_Inter(ra)personal_skills_workshop-STICKY_FINGERS
  • Assistant_instruction-STICKY_FINGERS

Preparation before the workshop

  • Read all the accompanying documentation of the workshop, the follow up presentation and lecture notes in it.
  • Prepare long lightweight rigid sticks, approx. 2,5 – 3 m long with thickness not greater than a little finger (pinkie). Good examples would be bamboo sticks, tent sticks or PVC wiring channels. One stick per group of 8-10 participants is needed.
  • If working with a larger group we would advise to get additional helpers for the execution of the activity with whom you have tried out the activity beforehand.
  • Ensure that you have a room or place with sufficient space that teams can move freely. The activity is suitable to be executed outdoors if weather conditions allow it.
  • If you plan to give qualitative feedback to your participants it is advisable that you have one more assistant per team. In that case we strongly advise you that the assistant played the game and experienced the challenge first hand. Print Assistant_instructions-STICKY_FINGERS document for each of the assistants and make sure that they understand the guidelines on what to observe and how to take notes.

Materials and infrastructure needed

  • 1 long rigid stick per group of 8 – 10 participants
  • Pack of A4 papers in various colours
  • Pack of felt tip markers
  • Spacious room without obstacles or steps
  • Computer and projector
  • If working with a larger group of people and a couple of teams additional printouts for assistants. Look for the Assistant_instructions-STICKY_FINGER document.

Note: Long rigd stick should be lightweight, approx. 2.5 – 3 m long with thickness not greater than a little finger.

Activity description

Welcome and introduction to the workshop (10 minutes, slides 2 – 11)

Welcome the participants and tell them that in this workshop we are going to discuss and have a hands-on activity related to transversal skills. Take some time to present the domains and the basic transversal skills related to each domain, focusing on the domain of interpersonal skills. Explain that the present workshop is about developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.

Classroom activity: Hands-on minds-on activity (20 minutes, slides 12 – 21)

  • Instruct the participants that they will play a game where they have to work collaboratively in order to solve the task.

Note: If there are enough participants to make two or more groups, instruct them that they are a member of a team and they have to work together in order to be better & faster than other teams.

  • Make groups of 8 to 10 people. The game can be played with 6 people per group, but the expected results are harder to achieve. Less than 6 players is not recommended. Each group is divided in half, and they form two lines facing each other approx. 1 m away. (Slide 14)
  • Instruct the participants to make a railroad tie (crosstie, railway sleeper) with their index fingers while somebody’s finger has to be between their two index fingers. The players can form horizontal crossties at the level of their chest. The best way is to demonstrate with volunteers how those crossties are made. (Slide 15)
  • Explain to the participants how the task of the game is to lower the stick placed on their fingers.

Facilitator will lower down the stick on their fingers (do not lower down the stick before the rules are explained) and each player have to obey only two rules throughout the game:

  1. All those fingers have to form an equidistant distribution throughout the length of the stick.
  2. Each finger has to touch the stick from the bottom part of it continuously throughout the entire duration of the game while being horizontal and perpendicular to the stick itself. The stick must rest on top of your finger at all times and you are not allowed to curl the fingers, grab the stick or use any other body parts like nose, shoulders, head, elbows etc. to touch the stick from above or to force it anyother way except that it lays freely on top of your fingers.

At this moment it is suitable to make a joke on what is not horizontal, perpendicular nor what can not be considered as touching the stick, as well it could be good to emphasise what is down and what is up.

  • Explain to the participant the task of the game which is that they have to work as a group in order to lower the stick down to the ground level.

Note: at this moment it is suitable to lead the short discussion where they can estimate how much time they would need to complete the task. Ensure that you keep track of the team estimates. Guessing at the estimates is mostly based on feelings and emotions rather than on hard evidence and data. People are often very optimistic and therefore their guesstimates are overly optimistic especially because participants will belittle the activity and appraise it as easy.

  • When the team is ready, the facilitator lowers down the stick on their fingers, slightly applying a small downward force while the group creates an equidistant distribution with their fingers from one end to the other end of a stick.

Note: this element of applying a slight downward force is a subtle facilitator trick to increase the probability that the stick will go upwards in the first attempt. As well, downward force is increasing their feelings of the weight of the stick and their intuitive and subconscious reaction to resist more with upward force.

  • Check with the group if everybody is ready and announce the start of the game.
  • Get ready, set, go and release the stick.
  • Repeat the steps above in so many iterations as you see fit for your goals.
  • During the activity:

    • If you are working with a larger group of participants made out of multiple teams use assistants to gather observations and insights about each team.
    • Observe how participants are communicating and how they accept or reject other ideas and proposals.
    • Notice that at the beginning of the game there are mutual accusations and distrust in other team members.
    • Notice who are the leaders and who are the followers.
    • Ensure that while playing the game all the participants are obeying the two rules especially the one with constantly touching the stick from bottom side of the stick.
    • Take note on how frequent and on what level the rules are being broken.
    • Interesting thing that usually happens during the game is that it starts out loud, with a lot of laughing, suspicion, and accusation while it slowly evolves to collaboration, unity and unison.
  • The game ends when the stick is lowered down to the ground, it usually takes a couple of attempts. Their success depends on the time facilitator designated for the activity. Each group has to work together to lower the stick to the ground. If given a sufficient amount of time to play the game most of the teams do eventually manage to lower the stick down completely to the ground.


Depending on the guidelines and facilitation the game can be played in competitive mode (with minimum two groups while the team which lowers down the stick wins) or in collaborative mode (while the team which lowers down the stick first cheers and encourages the other teams).

Note: if you want to raise awareness about how important it is to work together to achieve the goals regardless of obstacles on the way to allow more time for teams to lower the stick down. If you want to raise awareness of how sometimes the results do not come at all, how errors are standard issue in life and we can learn from them, like in science and research, you can stop the game sooner. That part of the frustration of not being able to achieve goals and find the answer is extremely common in science and research.

Reflections & interpretation (15 minutes, slides 22 – )

Ask participants to reflect on the activity and think about which skills they deployed during the activity. Give them 3 minutes to think and share their thoughts. We can add a part here where this is a more extended activity during which the tutor writes all skills shared in a flip chart. Lead the discussion so that the participants share their own perspective, experiences and opinions without explaining to them if they are right or wrong. Details about the goals which can be achieved with this activity will soon follow up. If needed during this phase of the workshop discussion can be done with the entire group where some of the conclusions are written on a flipchart or whiteboard by a facilitator or participants could individually reflect by writing their answers first on one sheet of paper before sharing it with the rest of the group.

Be sure on how to communicate and how to increase the likelihood that your message will be transferred. Example from the beginning of the activity while index fingers were positioned to make a crosstie and one of the two rules were introduced. The phrase “equidistant distribution” was used to explain equal distances among fingers. That moment can be used to teach scientific vocabulary to students who are not familiar with the wording and its meaning. At the same time it can be a good self-reflective moment to raise awareness of how scientists and teachers often assume the understanding of their words with their audience. At this moment it is OK to emphasise how in science and while teaching there are a lot of specific and technical terms which usually scientists or teachers take for granted because they have used them very often.

Sometimes scientists and teachers tend to use complicated and professional terminology just to sound smarter, like politicians, while sometimes they take things for granted and assume how everyone knows the terminology like they do. One has to always question the ways a certain message is conveyed and assume that words can be easily misunderstood.

Guidelines for discussion and reflection:

1st part: Reflection on Interpersonal skills

Lead the discussion with participants to explore what was happening during the game and let the participants offer the solutions and ideas.

  1. Never dismiss an idea as being wrong as it may discourage or embarrass the participant. Instead, when a wrong idea comes up, spot the mistake and ask a question that will lead the group to understand the mistake (don’t point out the mistake directly).
  2. Remember that a wrong idea sometimes can be even more valuable than a correct one, provided that the participant identifies the mistake.
  3. Try to give the floor to as many participants as possible.

Offer to participants feedback about their internal organisation and communication. Reflect on how the communication was happening, were the participants listening to each other and how ideas were accepted and adapted.

  • How did your team communicate?
  • What was the internal organisation?
  • Can you recognize people who were motivating the team, guiding the team, giving ideas, leaders or followers?

Trainer can now demonstrate how (s)he can lower the stick alone without any help and ask the participant how come that 8 or 10 of them can not do it. Guide the participants through discussion and let them propose answers on why the stick went up.

  • Can you try to explain what happened during the game?
  • Why did the stick go up?

If the facilitator was making jokes during the activity, reflect on the participants’ feelings. When were participants ridiculed for how they do not distinguish up from down how it made you feel?

  • At the first couple of attempts if everyone was working to reach the same goal, how did you feel when you got off the track so fast?
  • Can you find examples of the real world where the group was meant to solve an easy task which became extremely difficult and tough?

    • How was that challenge solved?

Instruct participants to develop a strategy and a one line advice they could share with others who have not played the game. In order to achieve that, make groups of four and distribute each group one sheet of paper with a felt-tip marker.

  • What types of actions are important to keep the group focused on the common goal?
  • Can you propose a strategy?
  • Could you give advice to people who still did not play the game?

    • Write the one sentence advice

Let the groups present their advice and comment on them.

2nd part: Reflection on Intrapersonal skills

Guide participants to reflect on the individual feelings they have encountered during the activity. Analyse different presumptions participants have and their tendency to underestimate certain tasks which proved up later to be more challenging. At this moment of the workshop we would advise you that the participants are instructed to individually reflect on the questions asked. Distribute papers and pens to the participants and instruct them to write the answers on the papers. Explain to them how it is important to have opportunity for self reflection before exchanging their thoughts in front of the group. They can choose their own level of participation while working in a group and decide how much of their personal reflection they would like to share with others.

  • How was it for you?
  • How did you feel about the task before you started executing it?
  • Did you consider the task challenging or hard to achieve or you thought it would be an easy job?

Guessing at the estimates is mostly based on feelings and emotions rather than on hard evidence and data. People are often very optimistic and therefore their guesstimates are overly optimistic especially because participants will belittle the activity and appraise it as easy.

  • When you estimated how much time you would need to finish the task, what was the mental schema you were guided by?
  • How did the estimates of your team members influence you?

If the facilitator/trainer was making jokes with the participants during their trials and errors it is important to analyse what was happening during those moments. Self-motivation is enthusiasm for doing something, and perseverance is the continued effort and determination to do so, as explained by Cambridge dictionary. Outside factors can influence one determination such as positive or negative influence by a teacher / facilitator in this example. The team with which one works can have an important influence on individual goals they have set.

  • What were the factors which influenced your personal motivation to successfully solve the given task?

    • Intrinsic motivation
    • Other team members
    • Facilitator comments

Usually, people tend to find a culprit anywhere else rather than in themselves, and that kind of accusation often happens with this game. Explore with participants what was the issue. Who was the one to work against the goals of the team, were there intruders, spies or people with some secret agenda? Many times, people get frustrated with somebody else who is not lowering the stick. Investigate through discussion how it makes them feel. Explore how they cope with individual frustration and frustration of other members in the team.

  • Were you blaming others for not succeeding to execute the given task?
  • Were there any visible or invisible frustrations?
  • How did participants cope with frustration?

Some people tend to bend the explicit rules of perpendicular and horizontal fingers. Usually someone starts pushing the stick from above by using thumbs or sometimes even entire fists or hands. The concept of self-discipline focuses on the ability to engage in or refrain from engaging in particular behaviours. Guide the participants in the discussion about the rules of engagement and conditions when certain rules can be overlooked.

  • Were you breaking / following the rules of the game?
  • Is it ok sometimes to bend the rules just a little bit in order to achieve the goal?
  • Where the line has to be drawn?

3rd part: Linking activity with STEM topics

This activity can be delivered in the classroom like an introduction to the physics concepts of force, Newton law and pressure. Since the activity is relatively short and engaging, students find it attractive and easy to follow. We propose to use the activity when some kind of a break in teaching is needed and then to gradually reflect on it and come back to it when the specific content approaches the curriculum, a few days, weeks, months and sometimes years after. With facilitated discussion and open brainstorming in the classroom students can propose explanations and scientific reasoning on the question: “Why does the stick go up?”.

Detailed STEM explanation:

  • (Force, Newton’s laws and vectors) Each finger is interacting with the stick with a force. From a stick perspective force is the environment (the finger) interacting with the body (the stick). That force can be represented by a vector. If you have younger participants than the word vector can be replaced by an arrow. In that case the conversation with younger participants should be continued with longer and shorter arrows. The resultant force is the sum of each of the finger forces upward. If the resultant force is equal to the weight of the stick by the I. Newton law the body (the stick) at rest will remain at rest, and a body in uniform motion will remain in the state of uniform motion unless it is acted upon by an external force. That external force is the resultant force which is represented with resultant finger force. In that case the stick goes upwards very fast, one would even say accelerating upwards. Once when the team manages to establish equilibrium state, the downward force because of the weight of the stick and upward force caused by the fingers are equal by value but opposite directions and they annulate each other which leaves the resultant force on stick equal to zero. Then and only then the stick can either remain in the place where it is or start moving uniformly. That uniform motion, with constant but small velocity can often be observed in this activity when the teams do manage to lower it down. This activity can be used to explain the concept of forces, how forces can be explained by mathematical tools as vectors, addition of vectors and Newton’s laws.
  • (Pressure and gas laws) By looking deeply on interaction between one finger and a stick you can observe that a finger force is acting on a certain surface area which is connected to the dimensions of the finger. By the definition that is pressure as a force acting on a surface area. When pressure is applied from the downside of the stick it produces the movement of the stick upwards. That movement can be considered as a region of higher pressure, while the adjacent finger thus remains an area with lower pressure. At one moment an adjacent finger will lift from a stick thus breaking the rules of the game and forcing the owner of the finger to move the finger upwards thus producing the force momentum on a stick. And it starts a chain reaction which ends up with movement of the stick upwards, and usually accelerated movement upwards. Those kinds of movements can be micromovement, but it is visible on a macro level with the movement of the stick. If you consider the finger as a gas particle which is bouncing from a balloon membrane, then the balloon would be a stick.
  • (Scientific approach, algorithmic thinking and mathematics) At this moment the participants can be asked to determine the minimum number of fingers to stop the movement of the stick upwards. And then the exercise can be repeated by adding a finger (a player) in each try to perform an experiment on when it becomes more difficult. This moment can be as well used as an opportunity to talk about variable control in scientific methodology and scientific rigorousness on what it means “to become difficult”.

    Once when the participants estimate the minimum number of fingers to “easily” lower the stick you can move the conversation to mathematical abstraction. If you consider a finger as a dot, there is a limited and countable number of dots which are placed on the stick. The participants at this moment estimated the minimum number of dots which are needed to move the stick downwards, more easily. By making logical errors you can misguide the students that the increase of the number of dots will definitely produce the movement of the stick upwards. If you place the stick on the floor, you can say how there is an uncountable infinite number of dots acting on and end up with the question why doesn’t the stick go up.

A summary of transversal skills used during the challenge

Show the DOTS mind map of Transversal skills and focus on the list of basic skills under the domain of transversal skills under discussion. Compare these skills to the list provided by the participants.

This exercise involves group work so your participants might also mention skills related to other domains. If participants missed some skills, invite them to think which of these skills they deployed during the exercise and how.

Note that for interpersonal and intrapersonal domains there may have been some overlapping, but they are also quite different.

  • Communication skills – Think of ways certain messages were communicated and understood within team members.
  • Organizational skills – Remember the approaches explored in order to achieve the goal.
  • Teamwork & collaboration – Be able to combine individual efforts of all members to achieve a goal.
  • Flexibility and adaptability – Analyze persistence in the pursuit of specified goals.
  • Perseverance and self-motivation – Reflect on perseverance and determination to finish the task.
  • Self discipline – Monitor and control behaviour.

Developing students’ intrapersonal and interpersonal skills

Now refer to the object of this workshop again. Developing students’ transversal skills goes beyond the curriculum of a specific subject and it takes longer than allocated for specific lessons or topics. If those skills are gradually introduced and developed, students’ skill sets will grow with it. In STEM topics which are mostly based on hard content, open inquiry and opportunities for introspective reflections on interpersonal and intrapersonal skills facilitate the development of those skills.

Offering to students an array of opportunities to analyse group work, their own stance in it, communication channels, personal flexibility and adaptability will challenge them to think about it and recognize opportunities where they are learning more than STEM content.

Going back to hands-on minds-on activity, explain that in the classroom students typically react positively to new approaches, engaging activities and games. Giving the students freedom to express themselves and propose a STEM explanation of why the challenge was so challenging and why the stick went up will enable new forms of expression and create links with the knowledge constituents they already hold in the new and provocative situation.

Explain to the participants how it is important at the same time to offer a place for reflection on one or more of the transversal skills through discussion or premade questionnaire. This type of intervention does not require a lot of time but it is beneficial for the students. In a modern class, students need to be active participants and co-designers of the learning process. They need to have the opportunity to make decisions and shape the learning process according to their particular needs. That means that a learning process cannot be 100% pre-defined. Students need to be able to follow different paths depending on their skills, their performance and interests.

Challenge participants to reflect on their teaching practices and styles. How often do they give their students opportunities to reflect on the processes in the classroom, teamwork and express personal feelings. At the same time reflect with the participants how often they try to introduce STEM topics through activities which do not have clear and visible connection with STEM topics. Students need to be able to follow different paths depending on their own competences: skills, knowledge, attitudes and values, their performance and interests.

Many teachers want to have complete control over the learning process and feel uncomfortable with degrees of freedom and asking publicly in front of entire classroom questions which are related to interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. To that end it is essential to explain to them that this is a gradual process and they can take small steps, making sure they feel comfortable with the changes they introduce in their teaching style. This is the reason why we propose this relatively short activity and give at disposal different ways of reflection to it and a variety of interpretations. Choosing only one, some or executing activity with the sole purpose of having fun and laughter is a legitimate goal.

Wrapping up the workshop (5 minutes, slides )

Wrap up the workshop by mentioning again the objective of the workshop and how hands-on activities can be used as a simple example of how to help students develop transversal skills. With this activity of “sticky fingers” they are developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. These small changes in teaching don’t necessarily have a long duration but can be used as intermezzo in teaching. Energizers which can be used to start the brainstorming session for STEM topics and at the same time develop transversal skill needs deeper thinking and preparation. In order to achieve multiple goals and start small changes in teaching approaches, small and short activities can end up like a good strategy. Thank the participants and invite them to introduce changes in their teaching approaches based on their experience during the workshop.


  • Abrami PC, Bernard RM, Borokhovski E, Wadem A, Surkes M A, Tamim R, Zhang D. 2008. Instructional interventions affecting critical thinking skills and dispositions: a stage 1 meta-analysis. Rev. Educ. Res. 78:1102–1134.

Dewar Gwen, 2009-2012. Teaching critical thinking: An evidence-based guide, http://parentingscience.com/teaching-critical-thinking/

  • Neville Chiavaroli, Esther Doecke and Quentin Maire talk at Research Conference 2019, addressing the theme, ‘Preparing students for life in the 21st Century: Identifying, developing and assessing what matters’, from 4-5 August at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. Download the conference proceedings.
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