The Mysterious Star

By Nathalie Jacquemin

Here’s a structured sharing activity that my Belgian colleague Nathalie Jacquemin facilitated recently in Paris Master Class session. It was enthusiastically received by the participants and the facilitators.


This game takes place in four phases:

  1. Work as a team to specify a key concept from a training topic.
  2. Create a mind map that identifies four secondary concepts.
  3. Discover three key words associated with each of the secondary concepts.
  4. Reflect and share the insights from the team activity.


Collectively analyze a key concept and create a mind map of related concepts and terms.


Minimum: 2

Maximum: Any number

Best: 12 to 30


30 to 40 minutes


  • Index cards
  • Pens or pencils
  • Sheets of flip chart paper
  • Color markers


Select a topic. Specify the topic to be analyzed into key concepts. Come up with a suitable title for your activity.

Prepare cards. Cut each index card into two. Assemble 17 smaller cards for each team.


Specify the topic to be analyzed and defined. Here are some sample topics: leadership, effective training, mediation, and trust in a team.

During the Master Class session, Nathalie’s topic was leadership. The activity required the participants to identify a number of key concepts related to this topic.

Form teams. Organize the participants into team of 4 or 5 members. Ask the members of each team to sit around a table and remove everything off the top of the table.

The participants grumble as they remove books, notebooks, and water bottles off the table and store them underneath. Each table is now completely empty except for the 17 small cards and pens.

Select a key concept. Ask each team to agree on a key concept related to the training topic. Write this concept on one of the small cards and place it in the middle of the table. Announce a 3-minute time limit for this task.

Philippe’s team chose the concept “exemplary”, wrote it on a card, and placed it in the middle of the table. Everyone is curious about what would happen next and they wait for the instructions from the facilitator.

Discover connections. At the end of the allotted time, ask the teams to come up with four secondary concepts related to the original concept, write them on four small cards, and place them on the table around the original concept. Give 5 minutes for this task. Report elapsed time after 4 minutes.

Philippe’s team becomes intrigued by the concept of “exemplary” leadership and they discuss four possible key concepts. They select these four: consistency, respect, behaviors, and values. Each of these words is written on a small card and placed around central card.

Continue to make connections. Ask the teams to come up withthree keywords related to each of the previous four concepts, write them on small cards, and place them in the form of a star around the earlier concepts. Announce a time limit of 5 minutes for this phase.

Philippe’s team discusses what would be the three most appropriate keywords related to each of the four concepts already in place. They decide to surround the concept of "respect" with these keywords: hierarchical levels, collaborators, and client. They arrange the cards symmetrically and end up with an artistic structure of 17 cards.

Appoint a Guardian of the Star. When each team has completely arranged the 17 cards in form of a star, ask the team to appoint a Guardian of the Star to stay behind at the table. The Guardian must memorize all the words on the cards and the locations. If necessary, encourage the Guardian to take notes.

Ostiane is appointed to be the Guardian of the star of Philippe’s team. Endowed with good visual memory , she memorizes the words on the cards and their respective locations. The Guardians from the other teams write down the words feverishly on pieces of paper.

Hide the middle part of the star. Ask the teams to turn over the five cards in the middle of the star to hide the words.

Ostiane turns over the central concept and the five five related key concepts, and gets ready to play her role as the Guardian of the Star.

Rotate the teams. Ask the teams to change tables, except for the Guardian of the Star who remains at the team’s table.

Discover the heart of the star. Ask the participants to guess the five hidden concepts in the middle of the star by asking closed questions. The Guardian can answer only "yes" or " no ". Explain that the first team that correctly discovers the five concepts is the winning team.

Philippe's team (without Ostiane) finds itself at another table, where Denis takes on the role of the Guardian seriously. The team easily guesses two of the words. After that, the team members try out different words and Denis says “No” to one word after another. Taking pity on the frustrated team, Denis begins to give clues. So Philippe's team finishes first!

Reveal all the stars. Ask the Guardians at each table to reveal all the key concepts. Encourage the participants to discuss the concepts and keywords with the Guardian.

The unveiling of the stars gives an opportunity for a meaningful discussion about the chosen keywords. The participants notice that the stars at different tables are different from each other. However, the words in each star are perfectly aligned to the central concept.


Ask participants to return to their tables and begin a debriefing discussion. If you have time, ask the teams to produce a poster that reflects their star and present it to the entire group.

Variations and Adjustments

1. Ask the teams to create an infographic related to the original concept.

2. After a suitable time, ask the teams to change tables again.

3. If a team is blocked, permit its members to ask open-ended questions.

4. At the end of the game, ask the teams to draw their stars for use in future training sessions.