LEGO Serious Play starter kit for research & teaching

LEGO Serious Play was an essential aspect of my research method, getting participants to ‘build’ their answer, not just talk it through. I’ve also used it as a teaching facilitation tool to support critical and divergent thinking. LEGO is one of my most favourite research and teaching methods, as you can let people work through answers with the use of LEGO, and then capture the salient points when they share their build. It not only saves a lot of data processing for the researcher, but it is a lot more fun for participants. For teaching, it supports different forms of thinking and really gets ALL students involved. While LEGO Serious Play is a distinct facilitation approach and you can get trained to use it, there are also some helpful books to get you started. I recommend Blair and Rillo’s SERIOUSWORK as a good place to start.

To use LEGO for any aspect of research or teaching, you first need to buy some! This blog highlights the choices I made to build my budget LEGO Serious Play kit.

LEGO Serious Play sets are awesome! But expensive. There is a range of sets available on the official LEGO shop, but they were beyond my budget as a self-funded doctoral student. I had to improvise. This article will introduce the sets I purchased and how I think they worked for research and teaching use.

My haul

The LEGO sets I purchased for my LEGO Serious Play kit

LEGO classic

LEGO Classic sets are a brilliant way to bulk out your LEGO Serious Play kit. You get a lot of brick for your money, and the variety of colours is fantastic. I’m so jealous of children today – LEGO had about five colours when I was a child. I already had a Large Creative Brick Box (10698) – so bought a couple more to serve as the baseline of my LEGO Serious Play kit. The plastic storage boxes they come in are also the perfect place to keep the LEGO stored away between uses. In addition to these larger sets, I also bought a couple more classic sets, one featuring lots of windows and doors (11004) – the other featuring lots of wheels (11014).

The available sets vary over time, but I have found they usually have a classic set on offer with extra wheels and another with windows and doors. These are useful additions to any LEGO Serious Play kit so I’d advise investing in such sets. Windows and doors are not only useful in a literal sense, but they work well for metaphors. Wheels work well for movement, vehicles and more. I’ve also seen a set with extra roof tiles which I think could be useful. It’ll certainly be part of my next LEGO purchase.

Interesting bricks

Next up I wanted to add a set with some different/interesting bricks. To be honest, any set would do for this – but I wanted to avoid anything licenced. I felt items like a Star Wars brick or a Spiderman Minifigure would not serve as universal references, so wanted to avoid them. I think Minecraft LEGO sets are particularly useful as they have lots of transparent tiles and colourful bricks. At the time I purchased my kit, LEGO was celebrating its 60 year anniversary and had launched some special Building Bigger Thinking sets. I purchased World Fun (10403), which contained some useful pieces like a treasure chest, eyes, columns, helicopter and a couple of Minifigures. I also chose Ocean’s Bottom (10404) which has more eyes, wings, wheels and transparent bricks.

All these LEGO classic sets built the bulk of my LEGO Serious Play kit. This gave me lots of standard bricks, including windows, doors, wheels and more. The next pieces I used to build my collection were all a matter of choice. For example, baseplates can be useful for a lot of LEGO Serious Play kits – but they were not something I needed for my particular research. As such, I decided to forego them. If you need to facilitate collaborative builds then baseplates are the perfect way to bring this together.

Pick a Brick

To top off my LEGO Serious Play kit, I wanted to choose a few additional bricks. To help with this, I used the Pick a Brick station at a LEGO store. I focused on extra eyes, small tile pieces and anything else small. This would allow participants to build intricate/small/detailed models – should they wish.


Minifigures can be a bit of a divisive topic when considering their use in LEGO Serious Play. They can lead participants to focus on people (which may not be a bad thing) when they’re building their answers. For my research, I felt participants would benefit from Minifigures. Libraries are inherently social spaces – and people are part of that. I didn’t want participants wasting time in my research sessions ‘building people’ – so Minifigures it was!

Again, I felt the best place to get these was through a LEGO shop. There are build-a-Minifigure stations in LEGO shops allowing you to build three custom figures per pack. Four packs (12 figures) covered my needs.

Preparing the LEGO

The worst thing you can do is walk into your first LEGO Serious Play research or teaching session with a load of new boxes of LEGO. It’s worth spending some time unboxing and unbagging it to ensure it is ready to use. I also spent time assembling a few elements to make them ready for use. For example, adding tyres to wheels, putting wheels on axels, putting panes in windows and adding doors to their frames. While participants are free to switch things around, it does mean the bricks are ready for use without needing to combine these pieces.

From the unboxing photo below, you can see there was a lot of plastic bags to ditch. I also wanted to find a way to layout the LEGO without getting it everywhere – so I used the cardboard box lids from printer paper boxes. It worked really well to stop LEGO falling all over the floor during my research sessions.

Ready to go!

With all the LEGO purchased, unpacked and ready to go, I was able to start using it for teaching and research purposes. I still keep the LEGO stored in the big yellow boxes that came with the larger sets. I also bring a load of those empty box lids to pour LEGO out and stop it from getting everywhere.

LEGO works as a wonderful research and educational tool. I took this snap from one of the first sessions I facilitated three years ago. I can’t wait to share some more of my reflections on this.

LEGO, the LEGO logo, and the Minifigure are trademarks and copyrights of the LEGO Group. ©2021 The LEGO Group.

Using LEGO as a teaching aid for academic writing at university

This post will introduce my approach to using LEGO to teach academic writing. I conduct a lot of personal appointments with foundation and undergraduate students. For some students, ordering their ideas and structuring them is a real challenge. This problem tends to stem from:

  • not knowing where to start,
  • a sense of being overwhelmed,
  • the volume of information they consult,
  • the volume of information they feel *needs* including in their assignment.

Further, it is not just a case of ordering ideas, but structuring them that can be problematic. I feel that a lot of the poorly structured essays that I see are failing at the paragraph level. This is a real issue for a lot of students, especially those with less writing experience, those who have taken a break from education, or those who have no experience of essay-style examination. The latter is particularly an issue for international students from countries with different approaches to higher education assessment, often focusing on examinations above coursework essays.

This post will detail how I’ve used LEGO to discuss some of these issues with students, and use it to help them outline their approach to academic writing. This starts with a student I saw a couple of weeks ago. I was struggling to communicate the structural elements of an essay to them. The student had lots of ideas, but simply did not know where to start and all the approaches in study skill books were simply not working for them. Instead of just rephrasing, I tried a different approach, running downstairs to grab my tub of LEGO. I think LEGO bricks are an excellent way to visualise some elements of academic writing and decided this was the perfect time to give it a go. I think this metaphor for academic writing structure can really help students struggling to structure their ideas – or more appropriately, to help students who are overwhelmed with their own ideas and sorting them out.

Let me know what you think by commenting below, or getting in touch via @LeeFallin. You can also find out which LEGO sets I’ve used to build my teaching and research kit.

Using LEGO as a metaphor for academic writing

When planning your essay, it can be really daunting. You end up with ideas all over the place:

LEGO bricks spread all over a table in no order

You need to order these ideas into groups. The act of doing this enables you to identify the major aspects of your essay. As expected, some ideas will be discarded at this phrase too (see the pile to the right side). It is still worth keeping a record of these as they may be useful at a later stage (who would EVER throw a LEGO brick in a bin!?!?!):

LEGO bricks grouped into piles of the same colour. Some to the right are discarded.

Once you have grouped all of your ideas like this, they form the basis of your overall argument. Each brick group is an aspect of this, forming one of the micro-arguments that lead your reader to the conclusion in your overall argument. These micro-arguments (brick groups) may by represented in an individual paragraph, or across a group of paragraphs. This process is not easy. At this idea stage, some of your groups will end up too large and you will need to break them up across two or more paragraphs. When this is the case, it is hard to distinguish which paragraph an idea belongs in. In reality, you are more likely to come across this problem later in writing when you have an oversized paragraph that you need to break up:

A pile of yellow LEGO bricks of subtlety different shades

When all the elements of your points, arguments or ideas are grouped into their individual paragraphs, they need further structuring:

A pile of brown bricks come together into a block

A solid paragraph should have a good structure. I recommend TEAL as a good starting point:

  • Topic – A brief introduction to what the paragraph is about. What is your point?
  • Evidence – Academic evidence, reflections, your own research/data
  • Analysis – The ‘so what’? Persuade the reader that your conclusion is the correct one
  • Link – Link this paragraph to the next – or to your overall argument.

(Indeed – this stage may be the *best* starting point for some students, but the route described so far is excellent for those who struggle to structure all their ideas in the planning phase)

TEAL is a good way to structure all those ideas into a coherent paragraph:

An assembled block of brown bricks

LEGO bricks are an excellent metaphor for how you need to link all these elements together. The bumps and they way they interlock with bricks above makes this point clear. Everything with a paragraph must coherently link together and make sense:

Photo of lego blocks - demonstrates the

Once you have your individual paragraphs, they need to be assembled in the right order. This is often done as you go along, but as you being to edit, you may realise they need re-ordering. It isn’t just the structure that may change, and as you edit, some smaller points may need removing as you further refine your ideas (and try to get under your word count):

A long block of assembled bricks. Colours are striped in groups to represent paragraphs.

All of these elements together can help you rule your own writing:

LEGO monarch with crown

Taking this into practice

To put this into practice, I often recommend students grab a stack of post-it notes or use a mindmap to get all of their ideas on the table. The principles above serve as a great framework from which to interpret all these ideas. Working from the ideation phase, grouping/sorting and refining the order and breaking it into paragraphs. If all else fails, literally using the LEGO bricks works well too. Small post-it notes can be used to adhere ideas to the bricks in a way that doesn’t require cleaning them afterwards. This works perfectly with Duplo too.

The model above is designed to help students identify their main points, group their ideas under these main points, and then divide those points into interlinked paragraphs. As the bricks represent, these all need ‘clicking together’ to form a stable essay (or stable LEGO model!). This may seem a little obvious for advanced writers, but it is certainly worth trying with those new to academic essay writing. As above, please let me know what you think! I should also note a quick thank you to my colleague Sue Watling. She indicated this approach was interesting when I mentioned it in conversation, so I figured it was worth expanding on my blog.

LEGO, the LEGO logo, and the Minifigure are trademarks and copyrights of the LEGO Group. ©2021 The LEGO Group.