Using the “Characteristics of a System” Activity to Create a Community of Learners





Overview: In a reading class of 5th graders, the teacher had the students gather in a circle outside. Each student was given a name tag with a number on it and was instructed to select at random two other people from around the circle. They were then given the rules of the game when told to start, they were to keep an equal distance between themselves and the other two people they selected. They were not to talk during the game.  The teacher ran the game for a period of time long enough for the students to experience what it is like to be an interdependent part of a complex system. The teacher gathered the students around an influence diagram, a circle with the numbers around the outside. The numbers coincided with the numbers the students wore. She asked each student to tell her the numbers they had selected during the game. She drew lines from the student to those students they had selected. She continued until all students had a chance to respond. She asked the students the following questions:

  • What happened?

  • How did it feel?

  • What created the behavior we saw?

  • What did you notice about the timing of people moving? Did everyone move at the same time? Why/why not?

  • Looking at the influence chart, did everyone have the same impact on the movement of the system?  Which people had the most? Least? Why?

  • How is this activity like being in a classroom?

As the class discussed how this activity was like being in a classroom they developed the guidelines for their class community.

Resource – Characteristics of a System Lesson

ST Concepts & Habits


  • Feedback

  • Circular Causality

  • Change over time

  • Dynamic system

  • Interdependencies

  • Patterns & trends

  • Shared vision

  • Unintended consequences

Habits of a systems thinker:

  • Seeks to understand the “big picture”

  • observe how elements within systems change over time, generating patterns and trends

  • identify the circular nature of complex cause and effect relationships, i.e. interdependencies

  • recognize that a system’s structure generates its behavior: focuses on structure, not on blame

ST Tools

  • Influence Circle – A variation on the connection circle



  • Analyze the possible causes of conflict among youth in schools and communities


  • Understand that any collection of things that have an influence on one another can be thought of as a system.

Social Studies:

  • Identify and analyze characteristics, causes, and consequences of an event, issue, problem or phenomenon

Implemented by: Betty Junell

Submitted by: Tim Taber

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