The Hammer or Nail Exercise

Suggested by John Provo (Reitaku University, 2-1-1 Hikarigaoka, Kashiwa-shi, Chiba-ken 277, Japan) -

I find that this exercise works best near the end of the term when students and the teacher are frazzled and are more likely to put up with this slightly wacky activity. It seems at least partly related to our sense of how much control we have over our lives as measured by several tests like the MMPI. But other aspects of our sense of self are probed also, I think. The instructions I wrote for other language teachers but you'll want to adapt them for your purposes. Here goes:

Hammer or Nail?

Concept: metaphorical, abstract, right brain, control over one's life

What to do: Explain that this activity is meant as an exercise in abstract thinking. "Use your imagination. Think of yourself in non-concrete terms." Ask students which of the two choices best describes them. Give them time to think, then ask them to raise their hands to indicate their choice. "Who is a hammer?... Who is a nail?" Then have them ask others near them why they feel like a hammer or a nail and give them about a minute to discuss their choice.

In one session probably no more than six to ten of these should be done. If the class is very small, students might be asked to walk to one area of the room (nails over here; hammers over there) and talk about why they feel the way they do.

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