Synectics - Understanding Together
  1. Select a topic or concept to be studied (e.g. federalism).

  2. Provide factual information on the topic. For example…

    • Federalism diffuses power among different levels of government.

    • Most people think of national, state, and local when they think of levels.

    • Some powers are “delegated” to the national government; others are “reserved” to the states.

    • Many powers, responsibilities, and functions tend to overlap between levels.

  3. Present an analogy (e.g. federalism is like a layer cake). Suggest some similarities between the two things being compared. For example…

    • There are different layers of government as there are different layers of cake.

    • Both can satisfy wants.

    • You can have too much or too little of both.

  4. Personalize the analogy. Ask students to describe in a single word what it feels like to be a layer cake.

  5. Identify compressed conflicts. Ask students to pair words on the list that appear to be in conflict, tension, or somewhat contradictory or opposite. For example, students might pair “divided” and “joined.”

  6. Critique the original analogy. Ask students to explain how federalism is unlike a layer cake. For example…

    • Power is not divided neatly in federalism as the layers of cake are.

    • Layer cakes do not cost nearly as much.

  7. Discuss and Create: Ask students to work in small groups to discuss the merits and flaws of the original analogy then come up with an alternative analogy (e.g. federalism is like a marble cake).

  8. Debrief: Ask students how this activity may have enhanced their understanding of the topic or concept (i.e. federalism) or made it more enduring.



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