Just three words

From a Just Three Word exercise on knowledge sharing
From a Just Three Word exercise on knowledge sharing
Just Three Words

Brief Description

A verbal or written method to quickly elicit short, focused participation from people in a group. By limiting a contribution to only three words, people have to distill their response. Allows input from many people whereas longer comments take a long time. People will also get creative and improvise or "riff" off of previous contributions which can take the interaction in surprising new directions.


(if applicable)

When to use

  • As an icebreaker
  • As a short, provocative personal introductions activity (sort of like three "tags" about yourself)
  • As a way to get quick feedback from many people and allow EVERYONE to speak
  • To summarize by the group, for the group
  • To add a playful element- a break! When a group is getting stuck in their progress and you need to add energy or change direction.

How to use

Photo by Choconancy (Nancy White) on Flickr
Photo by Choconancy (Nancy White) on Flickr
Face to Face (and base for all other contexts)
  • Describe the activity. Tell people we are going to do a short exercise to hear from everyone. The trick is they can only use three words. Tell them you are serious. If you want to really limit, get a bell to ring or make a sound when people exceed the three words.
  • Set the topic for the "three words" - this can be a question or a statement. For example: please give us three words that describe how you are feeling at this moment in the meeting. Give us three words that describe your experience in (topic of the meeting). Give us three words that capture our key actions so far.
  • Ask someone to start, then go randomly or sequentially around the room. This is best done in a circle so people can see facial expressions.
  • If someone starts to ramble, remind them of the rules or make an agreed upon signal or sound. Some people just can't help themselves.
  • You can capture the words if that is a useful artifact for the group. (See the image to the right as an example.)

On a Telephone Conference Call

  • Phone comments can drag on, especially for large groups. This game originated as an online text technique but works well to surface a sense of the group and get fast feedback. The technique is to do a round of comments from everyone on the call with the constraint that they can only use three words in their response. For example, at the end of the call you might say "what three words describe your experience of today's call?" The notes from these exercises can then be later reviewed and observed for similarities, differences and patterns.

In an online forum

  • Set up a discussion topic or email thread, Just One Word/Just Three Words. As the title explains, each post has a word limitation. This creates a quick interaction opportunity, allows each poster to "riff" of the previous and can spawn some interesting creative runs. Good for freeing up thinking while brainstorming or using other divergent, creative facilitation strategies. Safe place for anyone to post... you don't have to create a great literary piece to post! If you want to ratchet it up a notch, try approaches like "rhyme two lines:"
It's better to jump in and try it yourself
Than let a forum linger, closed, on the shelf...

image from Beth Kanter on Flickr
image from Beth Kanter on Flickr
Tips and Lessons Learnt
  • You can take the recorded words and put them into the Tag Cloud creator Wordle (http://www.wordle.net) to see what words came up more often than others. See example to the right.

Examples & Stories

Who can tell me more?

(add your name/contact email)

Related Methods / Tools / Practices



summarization, knowledge_sharing, icebreakers, fun

Photo or image credits