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The Snakes & Ladders of Learning

In order to expand our practice and work with other professionals who have different approaches and understandings, we need to cultivate a readiness and capacity to learn. An approach that is both playful and reflective can assist with this. “The Snakes and Ladders of Learning” is a fun and imaginative game where participants reflect on what helps them learn and what might inhibit their learning.

Activity devised by Rosalie Hastwell for the Artists Training Program.


“The Snakes and Ladders of Learning” is a fun and imaginative game where participants reflect on what helps them learn and what might inhibit their learning. The following gives an outline of how the game unfolds.


A key purpose of the activity is to learn about how we learn. Also, it’s for individuals to reflect on what inhibitors and enablers of learning may be for themselves, and to compare this with the experiences and perspectives of others. For groups that are working together, the activity can increase awareness of the needs and strengths of others, and help prioritise what the group needs to address.


  • Open floor space (approx 10m x 10m)
  • 30 sheets of bonded quill card 650x500mm (various colours)
  • Materials for making ladders and snakes (for example, 60m of 6mm poly rope, 50m of brown paper, paper tape, gaffer tape, scissors, knife, whiteboard markers and so on, as your imagination determines)


  1. Give each participant two pieces of card and the instruction: make (with pictures, words or both) one card that clearly represents something that enables learning for you, and another card that clearly represents something that inhibits learning for you.
  2. Once they have done so, all participants then present and speak briefly to their cards. There can be group discussion and clarification of cards that seem unclear to the group.
  3. Lay the cards out on the floor in a large-scale “board game” format, approximating Snakes and Ladders. Give participants materials with which to make both ladders and snakes of varying length, and ask them to place them on the board.
  4. Invite them to play.

Facilitator Notes

What Might Come Out of the Snakes and Ladders Game?

When “The Snakes and Ladders of Learning” has been used in the Artist Training Program, these have been some of the observations and feedback:

“The metaphor provided a useful and time-efficient vessel for personal reflection and sharing of experience. Participants seemed to engage with and respond to the exercise with interest and shared humour with each other – from the construction of the cards, through the making of ladders or snakes and in being on the board.”

“Positive, new, creative, kinaesthetic experiences have whipped us past the squares of creative and physical isolation, self-doubt and fear – and now we are hoping to get past the red tape toward refection and self awareness.”

What Were Some Examples of the Enablers and Inhibitors to Learning?

Enablers: active curiosity; positive, new, creative, kinaesthetic experiences; my passion enables me; respectful, playful environment; energy … on directed interest; reflection and self-awareness; trust in self and others encouraging/trusting me to do the work; talking with others; partnerships; professional mentoring or co-learning with passionate thinking colleagues; ongoing financial support: grants, funds, salaries, resources = ACKNOWLEDGEMENT; a bucket of ideas; FHL training workshops; mentoring; forgetting to worry; research; wise words from a Master; local knowledge; little people; culture; respectful play; listening openly; doing it; contact.

Inhibitors: my self-doubt inhibits me; lack of empathy for my novice status; not enough time; always focusing on others; closed restraints; creative and physical isolation; self-doubt/fear; expecting unspoken rules; petty power brokers and red tape red tape red tape; time … trying to fit it all in; overwhelm; rigid blockers; narrow vision; hostility; insecurities; isolation; feeling swamped by domestic life realities; talking too much; negativity; focusing too much on the differences between my work and others’ work; big people; no culture; the attitude or assumption that I already know; expecting family support or not receiving family support.

What Can Emerge from the Game?

  • One ladder could lead to another ladder: a double-ladder situation;
  • Words from a wise master might take you to the square of local knowledge which in turn might take you all the way to the last row…
  • It also may be possible to cycle in some of the more “snaky” zones;
  • One particular setback might finally be overcome only to be followed by a different setback that could place you behind the first setback all over again… “We’ve been having trouble getting past a cycle of hostility and isolation – respectful play could take us past all that – but the numbers aren’t right just now”;
  • Messages in most squares are clear and unambiguous: “Respectful play,” “wise words from a master” or “active curiosity” are clear and powerful situations;
  • There’s no mistaking the likely outcome of self-doubt: isolation and fear.

Any rules that might reasonably be applied to a game of snakes and ladders can be flexibly interpreted throughout the game. Novel interpretations at the ATP included strange methods of counting off squares and one particularly doubtful call of the dice in direct response to a request for a specific number.

A remarkable battle. A very tight match. Loads of colour and many familiar states with a few surprises along the way. A suspiciously loaded dice but maybe it doesn’t matter for it can just as easily roll in your favour. It matters not if you win or lose, its how you play the game… and the winner was..?”

One thing is sure: approaching the game of learning with open-hearted respect – for yourself and others – mixed with a handful of local knowledge and perhaps a few words from a wise master won’t slow your learning down.

There will always be inhibitors to learning. There will always be enablers. Placing your awareness on which ones are most useful to you and making conscious choices to influence the balance between the two will have its own reward.


The description of this activity was written by Artists Training Program Assistant Malcolm Hansford.