Jenga Anyone?

Jenga might very well be a counselor's best friend.  It's like truth syrum, for sure, because as soon as we start playing, kids tend to tell me what's on their hearts and minds.  But what else can you do with this game? In small group counseling, we use it as a metaphor for life. As the students build the tower, they tell each other all of the good stuff in their lives, the stuff they’re thankful for, the stuff that builds them up.  Then, as they pull a block from the tower, they talk about things that have happened that kind of weaken their tower, like the time their cat ran away, what happened when they made a bad grade, the day they got into a fight with a friend.  As the blocks come out, they're put onto the top of the tower.

As the Jenga tower grows taller, it’s also getting weaker. The goal is for the students to handle with care as they try to build it up as high as they can before its eventual demise.  It does eventually collapse, so I warn students about that ahead of time, especially those who have trouble managing their feelings when there's a perceived loss involved.  When their tower falls, students pause to reflect about a time that they may have felt like their life was falling apart.  Typically that’s a death or divorce, but it can be anything they want to share  We then build the tower back up as we talk about what it takes to put the pieces back together.  This is the time to share strategies:  deep breathing, exercise, music, talking it out, drawing, reading. 

If you buy the fancy version, known at Totika, you get some color coordinated discussion cards, so that's a fun twist on the original game.  The game really has endless possibilities.  Click here to see how Rachel Lynette from Minds in Bloom uses it as a Getting To Know You activity. If you're on Facebook, click here to see what Pam Dyson at the St. Louis Center for Play Therapy suggests. How do you use Jenga in your counseling or in the classroom?


  1. Hello, BlogFriend:

    I can't remember if I told you before, but on Fridays, we have "social studies" if we earn enough points for kinds words and deeds, compliments, good choices etc. It's actually just board game time where we practice being... social! (But they love when I write "social studies" on the board, and we always say "Wink," because we know what it REALLY means!)

    Two rules: 1) You need to be involved in an activity with two or more people and 2) "You can't say: You can't play." No exclusion allowed.

    It's fun to watch the groups change as the year progresses.

    Jenga is often a choice because it doesn't require math or reading skills like some of the other games. It's a good equalizer.

    Nothing like waking up to a great post from my friend on the Corner. And, Hey! No tissues today!

    Happy day!

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  2. Great post!! I love your ideas!

    We also use jenga blocks to explore the 40 Developmental Assets. We put a number on the top of each block. When a child/adult pulls a block, he looks at the corresponding number on the asset list to find the word and definition (free from search-institute.org), and shares something about that asset, for example, creative activities or cultural competence. It might be a story related to the asset, a way that he is experiencing that asset, or a way that people could help to build that asset in children/youth.

  3. Oh, Kim, I LOVE that "social" wink . . . very clever! And Ann, I may try your idea with my staff in an upcoming inservice!!! What a fun way to play with the Assets!

  4. I love Jenga. Saw it at a character ed conference where they used it as a friendship lesson. As they build the tower, the child had to tell a quality of a good friend, or a fun thing they did with a friend. When they started taking out the blocks, they talked about naming a thing a friend did that upset you or made you not want to be their friend; they tied the concept of friends are support and when you lose friendship circles, you become weaker as a person because you don't have people to lean on, to talk to etc.

  5. Love all of it! I especially love the analogy that you have used with the students...I will be using that next time. : ) You rock!


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