The name of this activity is a word rebus puzzle. It stands for unfinished story. Get it?

It is human nature to finish what we start and, if it is not finished, we experience dissonance. That’s why we cannot tolerate unfinished stories. Stor exploits the intense compulsion to finish incomplete narratives.


Everyone receives a copy of an unfinished story. The participants work in team to write a suitable conclusion. Later, the participants pair up with people from other teams and share their conclusions.


To write a suitable conclusion to an incomplete story. 


Minimum: 4

Maximum: Any number

Best: 10 to 30


20 to 30 minutes


The Contest, one copy to each participant

Conclusion of the Story, one copy for the facilitator

Supplies and Equipment

  • Timer
  • Whistle


Put yourself in the participants’ place. Read the incomplete version of The Contest. Write the concluding section. See if you can write two or more alternative conclusions. Compare your conclusions with the author’s conclusion.


Distribute copies of the unfinished story. Give one copy of the handout to each participant. Ask them to spend a minute or two to read the story. After a suitable pause, blow the whistle and proceed to the next task.

Organize the participants in teams. Form teams of two to five people. Seat each team around a table. Or ask the members of each team to stand around a flip chart.

Ask the teams to come up with the conclusion to the story.  Instruct the participants to make their conclusions realistic and brief. Assign a 4-minute time limit.

Ask the participants to remember the team’s conclusion. Blow the whistle to indicate the end of the story writing activity. Ask the participants to make sure they can remember the conclusion created by the team so they can retell it to others.

Pair up with people from other teams. Ask the participants to find a partner from some other team. Ask the two members of each pair to share their conclusions to the story.

Continue working in pairs. Ask the participants to switch partners and share their conclusions.

Compare the endings with the author’s ending. After a suitable number of exchanges, blow the whistle and ask the participants to return to their teams. Get everyone’s attention and read (or retell) the author’s conclusion.

Debrief the learning point of the story. Briefly compare the author’s conclusion with the conclusions created by different teams. Ask the participants to come up with the “moral” of the story or the learning point of the exercise. Invite the participants to recall and share workplace examples of this learning point.

Variations and Adjustment

Want to save trees? Instead of distributing copies of the handout, read the unfinished story or tell it in your own words.

Want more interaction? Specify the training topic and ask teams to write a short 1-page story related to the topic. When completed, ask the teams to cut off (or black out) the concluding section. Exchange the stories among the teams and ask them to write concluding sections. Compare the new conclusion and the original conclusion of each story.

Working online? In a training webinar, read aloud the unfinished story. Ask the participants whose names begin with letters A through M to independently type their conclusions in the chat area. Ask the other participants to independently select the conclusion they liked the best.

Adapting this Activity To Explore Other Training Topics

You can use this game plan as a template for exploring your own training topic. The key design task is to write a story with a strong and logical ending that is related to the principles you are teaching.


The Contest

Nobody in the village knew when the tradition started but everybody knew how the contest was conducted.

The contest was very simple: Two contestants stood facing each other. They spread their feet and assumed a stable posture. They placed their palms against each other. The referee stood near them and started the contest by beginning to count.

The rule for winning the contest was very simple. All children had memorized this ancient rule: You win if you make the other person’s feet move before the referee counted to 20.

Everyone played the contest game in the village: men and women, boys and girls. From a very early age, children were taught winning strategies. Among adults, there were secret meetings to share special strategies. In these meetings, the older and wiser people taught others how to strengthen leg and arm muscles, how to stand barefoot and dig one’s toes into the ground, and how to push suddenly to topple the other contestant. In some secret meetings, men and women learned how to cast spells to weaken the opponent, how to tease the opponent to make him lose confidence, and how to stare at the opponent’s forehead to mesmerize him. Some people even bribed their opponents, asking them to pretend to have lost the contest. This bribe was very expensive because of the public humiliation associated with the loss.

On the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, the village gathered on the banks of the river for the championship contest. During the last four years, this ceremony was anticlimactic because nobody challenged the reigning champion. Rumor had it that there will not be any challengers this year and the champion would win by default. But all villagers came to the celebration hoping for some surprise and excitement.

The champion came to the middle of the arena and yelled out the traditional challenge. The village elder stood by his side, ready to count to 20. Even though everyone expected that there would be no challenge, there was a hush in the crowd.

But wait, here is someone stepping forward: a frail holy man with a grey beard. Although he looked weak, he strode purposefully to face the champion. Without any delay, he assumed the palm-to-palm starting position.

Some spectators started laughing. Others became apprehensive thinking that the holy man had secret powers to hurt the champion. They held their collective breath.

The village elder started the count. Before the count of 3, the holy man moved his feet. The crowd howled in disappointment. But the village elder kept counting because, after all, rules were rules. The holy man whispered something into the champion’s ears. When the count reached 17, the champion moved his feet. The crowd was stunned and confused.

The village elder called for his advisors. They talked among themselves in subdued tones. Then the elder stepped in the middle of the arena and said:

I proclaim that both contestants won. Our ancient rules say that a person wins if the other person’s feet move before the count of 20. Since both contestants’ feet moved, both of them have won.

Later, people asked the champion, “What did the holy man whisper to you?”



Conclusion to the Story

According to the champion, this is what the holy man said:

You have already won.  Would you like to achieve a greater victory?  There is still time.  If you move your feet, I too can win.  That way you can demonstrate how cooperation makes everyone win.

That was the year the villagers learned that one could win without making someone lose.