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Using Anomia as a Team Building Tool

The following is a guest blog post by author Michelle Cummings, founder of Training Wheels. Michelle is an accomplished author and a dynamic, sought-after speaker in the areas of leadership, team-building, and experiential learning. Michelle has created a wide variety of facilitation, debriefing, and team-building activities that have collectively changed the way trainers and educators work.

Team Building professionals and facilitators are always on the lookout for a new prop or tool to incorporate into their repertoire. When my colleagues and co-authors and gurus Matthew Broda and Trevor Dunlap came across a deck of Anomia cards, it was like a fireworks display of ideas. For many seasoned facilitators, there are those moments where you see a tool or a widget and you know that that thing has the IT factor. Anomia is just that tool. Although it is simple in design, Anomia cards are rich with categories and icons that allow for so many opportunities for scaffolded gameplay and facilitation. 

Michelle Cummings - Training Wheels

When the concept for the new book, Team Building from the Toy Aisle, came into being, Matthew, Trevor and I had a writer’s retreat and each author brought 10-15 different board games or activities they had found in a toy store. Using elements of game-based design and experiential theories, we deconstructed a wide range of existing mass market games and re-envisioned them for use as purposeful and engaging tools for personal and organizational development. When we opened the box of Anomia cards, our minds exploded with several ideas! 

So how did we perceive the development of these cards from the Toy Aisle to Teambuilding? We used the essence of the card design to create several new team building games that allow for physical engagement, a re-imagination of existing teambuilding exercises, and new activities that will allow for all levels of group interaction. These cards made it so easy to use their simple design to provide many opportunities for deep engagement and gameplay, and anytime you can find one deck of cards with multiple applications is like winning a mini-lottery in the eyes of a facilitator.

Traditional table-top card games and boardgames are designed for competitive play, where there is likely a sole winner and one or more losers. In the team building field, many games are more cooperative in nature to highlight working together to achieve a common goal. However, a good mix of competitive and cooperative initiatives can make for an even more well-rounded experience.

Competition exists in every field, and, believe it or not, it can actually be a good thing. It can provide feedback that we can evaluate in terms of behavioral, psychological or social outcomes. It can boost innovation and creativity or possibly validate a specific market or service. It can also prevent complacency as we strive to beat another team or stretch us to do a little extra in order to win. Not all aspects of competition are bad, and let’s be honest, we’ll be competing for something for the rest of our lives. Why not teach effective skills in how to do it well?

There are so many unique features on the Anomia cards that work well for grouping participants. We created several activities that fall into both competition and cooperation. Here is one energizer activity using Anomia Cards they included in our book called Total Recall.

Total Recall

  • Objective: Players will face off with other players in the room trying to be the first person to blurt out a correct answer. Each time a player wins a round, they earn points.
  • Original Game: Anomia
  • Required Materials: Anomia Game Cards by
  • Purpose/Focus: And Energizing Introduction or Icebreaker Activity
  • Grouping: Up to 100 participants

Set Up:

  • Remove all wild cards and blank cards from the deck.
  • You need five cards per participant.Make sure you have a variety of symbols on the cards you select.

Facilitation Process:

  • Invite participants to select five Anomia cards from the center of the room. These cards will be used throughout the game.
    • On the cards players will find a word and a symbol on the card. Both are relevant during the game.
  • Once participants are given their cards, the players are ready to play as described:
    • When the facilitator says go, each player is to match up with another player, and on the count of three they are to present their top card to one another.
    • The players then race to give an example of the person, place or thing on their opponent’s card. (This is done intentionally, so you cannot prepare your answers ahead of time.)
      • The player that blurts out their answer first gets a point unless the following occurs:
        • If the players also have a matching symbol on their cards, the player that blurts out the answer first gets two points instead.
      • When players have completed a face-off they should trade cards and move onto a new random partner and play the game again:
        • Count off to three
        • Show cards
        • Blurt answer
        • Count score
        • Move on
  • Play continues until the first person in the room has 10 points. (Usually approximately 5-7 minutes)

Facilitator Script:

  • Hey everyone, gather around. Today we are going to start off with an ice breaker. We will use this card set called Anomia Cards. These cards have a few unique features. They each have a category and a symbol on each card. In a moment I’m going to distribute several cards to each person.
  • Once the game begins, your task is to find a random partner and on the count of three, you will reveal your top card to your opponent. (Demonstrate this with the person standing next to you.)
  • You are going to look for the category on your opponent’s card and quickly recall and blurt out an answer that would match that category. For example, if your opponent’s category was “Type of Storm” you might blurt out, “Tornado!” Whoever blurts out a correct answer first receives one point.
  • Then, you will find a new partner and repeat the process. However, if you and your opponent have the same symbol on your cards, the round is worth two points instead of one. For example, if I reveal my card to my partner and their category is ‘Cooking Utensil’ and I am the first to yell out, “Spatula!” and our symbols are also matching, then I receive two points for that round. Try and get as many points possible in a 5 minute time period. The first person to 10 points wins the game!
  • Are there any questions?


Tips for Success, Troubleshooting or Adaptations:

  • This game can be played by creating your own words as well.
    • This is useful as a frontload to the days learning by selecting words that have meaning from a client’s needs assessment.
      • Words might include ideas or concepts such as integrity, communication, leadership, etc.
      • Words should be printed on cardstock and pre-prepared for the event.
      • There is a free Print-and-Play feature on the AnomiaPress website where you could create your own cards, and there are also some blank category Anomia cards in the Party Edition game that still include the symbol in the middle of the card. Using a fine-tipped marker and your best penmanship, you could write the words or concepts onto these cards.
  • For a non-competitive version, you can eliminate the points and ask each person to compete against 10 other people in a 5-6 minute timeframe.

Possible Reflection Questions:

  • How did the points affect the way you played the game?
  • Did you develop any strategies for yourself the longer the game went on? If so, what were they?
  • How well did your brain process the quick-thinking responses you were required to give in this activity?
  • What are some analogies between this game and the real world?

Here’s a quick video clip of a group playing Total Recall using Anomia Cards.

 To purchase a copy of Team Building From the Toy Aisle, you can visit the Training Wheels website at this link:

Team Building From the Toy Aisle


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