Acorn Exercise (Facilitation and Experience Design Activity)


As the instructor, I demonstrated an example of a 20 minute Acorn at the beginning of the semester. I facilitated an 20 minute session based on movement improv and game design.

Note: the photo is of me facilitating a similar workshop on Governor's Island, not at SVA.

One of my masters students facilitated an Acorn session that had the class create collages with recycled and surplus magazines. The photo depicts multiple students' work.

Another student shared her ceramics practice with us. She paired us up and had us create something with a partner using clay. But no verbal communication was allowed. This is a hand that I made with one of the students that I was paired with.

In this student's Acorn, she gave us worksheets and colored squares. She then played different songs and had us visualize the songs using the squares.

Similar to the collage and clay Acorns, this student gave the class some still life materials, paint, and paper and asked us to make something within the allotted time. Participants started using the fruit and other still life "subjects" as paint brushes as well.

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Project Brief

Acorn Exercise

I developed this activity for my MFA students at SVA's Design for Social Innovation (DSI) program. I borrowed the concept and the name "Acorn Exercise," from Christy Dena, who introduced the concept to me at Forward Slash Story.  

Over the course of the semester, each student will facilitate a 20-minute interactive Acorn Exercise. This can be an activity, a creative exercise, a game, a Q&A, or some other facilitated activity. NO SLIDES, LAPTOP, OR PROJECTOR USE ALLOWED. Students may use a computer or mobile device to play music though.

The Acorn Exercise is about just you and the core of something you want to pass on that others may grow from. You can take us through a hands-on workshop on a creative process you use, get us to experience the way you make, or a project-making exercise. But remember, there is only a short amount of time, and you’re not using a digital projection. You can use the Acorn Exercise to share something about yourself, your creative practice, your culture, etc.

You should bring any props or materials that you need for your Acorn Exercise. Since our class meets in the afternoon (when no other classes are in session on our floor), we should be able to use any space at DSI.

Learning Objectives

Learn how to facilitate and teach a short activity, including how to plan and prepare for the Acorn Exercise.

Learn to give and receive feedback for their facilitation.

Learn basics of experience design, including how to capture attention, how to give clear instructions, how to problem solve on the fly, how to create an emotional or narrative arc, etc.


The project is graded pass/fail based on the student facilitating their 20 minute session in class.


There are no specific required readings or resources for the Acorn Exercise. However, the readings pertaining to other parts of the class have informed the students' Acorns. Full course syllabus here.


Students have reported that the opportunity to facilitate and share something about themselves to be valuable for their learning. The idea behind these is to get the students to learn to start moving away from the "crutch" of slide deck presentations and to share something more personal about their culture or creative practice. The "real world" application for this is preparing them to facilitate workshops, focus groups, and product design sprints in their future careers. 

However, given the class size of ~22 students, it was sometimes challenging for some students to command the attention of their peers and to stay within the 20 minute limit. Also, over the course of the semester, some students started to express a certain "Acorn fatigue," as the activities took up valuable class time from other activities and discussions. 

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