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Teaching By Deception

May 26, 2016

How do you teach people who don’t want to learn? Better yet, can you take someone who is opposed to learning, hostile even, and convince them to learn and like it? In fact, like it so much that they don’t want you to stop?


I’m an assistant scoutmaster in troop 832. Brad is the scoutmaster. I don’t want his job. I like being an assistant. Brad has to do all the planning. He has to arrange for transportation to the campouts. He has to buy the food and get reimbursed. He has to handle all the paper work. 

My job? I get to play scout stuff with the kids. I got the WAY better end of that walking stick. The issue, is that the scouts are 12-13 year old boys. And they hate scouting. At least they do if you ask them. 

So, Tyler, are you coming to scouts on Wednesday?

What are we doing?

Scout skills.

Ugh, I guess so, if I don’t have to mow the lawn.

Tyler, you live in an apartment.

But, the boys enjoy getting together with their friends, and do you know what they enjoy even more? Competition. So, last night I disguised my scouting lesson as a game. 

So, Ryan, are you coming to scouts on Wednesday?

What are we doing?

A trivia contest. . .with prizes.


The trivia contest was a lot of work. I first went through and identified the requirements that some of our boys are missing for their next rank advancement. For those of you who are scouter-types, most of the boys are 1st Class rank, meaning all they need for their Star rank are merit badges. But, a few of our boys are still at the Tenderfoot and 2nd Class level. How do you remedially teach those boys without boring the older boys? You get the older boys to help teach. (Just dont’ tell them that’s what you are doing.) 

Once I got the requirements gathered, I put them into questions. But, they make pretty boring trivia questions. And how are you going to hold a contest with a question like this?

1st Class Requirement 9.b. 

Investigate an environmental issue affecting your community. Share what you learned about that issue with your patrol or troop. Tell what, if anything, could be done by you or your community to address the concern.

But, I had three boys who needed to complete 1st Class requirement 9.b. I also had 5 boys who didn’t need to complete 1st Class requirement 9.b. But, they were very excited to answer a question about environmental issues. Here’s why.

I divided the eight boys into two teams. Each team sent one person to the middle table for each round. I wrote some true trivia questions like “Who was Baden Powell?” The two contestants competed to see who could answer first. Once the boy answered, his team got 1 point. And they also got a question like 1st Class requirement 9.b. They took the question back to their team and came up with an answer as a team. Their answer was eligable for 1, 2 or 3 points depending on how well they answered.

The boys were working very hard to be allowed to take the requirement questions and provide well rounded answers. Over the course of the hour, I managed to get them to complete 15 requirements. And at the end, they were begging for 

Just one more question! Please! We still have a few minutes. 

I have to admit, the contest went better than I expected. Sure, there were the two boys who kept kicking each other. (They were on the same team.) And there was the boy who kept getting excited and yelling over the entire room, (When he wasn’t a contestant.) But, when we got done, they all agreed they would like to do another one of these. 

Just don’t call it “Scout Skills.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, the bag of Almond Joy candy bars they were competing for was probably a big incentive as well.) 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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