Melissa Dinwiddie

The 500-Year-Gap Conversation/Time Traveler

by .  
15 +

In pairs, participant A attempts to communicate the use and value of a modern-day object to participant B, who plays the role of someone from 500 years ago.



To introduce the importance of finding an analogy, a story, or a common point of connection when talking to an audience.


Game Flow:

  • In each pair assign a person A and person B.
  • Person B plays the role of someone from 500 years ago.
  • Person A endeavors to explain a modern-day object (e.g., a cell phone, a television, an airplane, a microwave oven) to person B. 
  • Partners switch roles and repeat. (Round two, person A has landed on finger and broken it, and person B has to convince them to put their finger into an X-ray machine.)


  • Tell the As the object secretly, without the Bs knowing. 
  • Add a round in which pairs explain to each other some technical process or skill or area of knowledge that they are expert in, but their partner is not familiar with.


  • Encourage person B to wholeheartedly embrace the character and mind-set of someone from 500 years ago. (Hint: lots of different things were happening in different parts of the world, but electricity was not in use yet.)
  • Perhaps demo the activity, playing person B. Illustrate misunderstanding of non-period words, for example: "Wait, you press a button? Like on my shirt?"


  • How did you approach your task at first?
  • What strategies did you use?
  • What was it like to take on the mindset of someone from 500 years ago?
  • What judgments did you make or not make about the inability of the person from 500 years ago to understand the object?
  • What is this like in real life? What gaps do you need to navigate?
  • How can thinking of those gaps like you thought of this gap help you be a more effective communicator?


Source: Performance of a Lifetime

Comments (2) (5.0 avg / 1 ratings)

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  • Or maybe it was POL that created it?? IDK, but Kat made this note at a workshop

    about 4 years ago
  • Kat Koppett, who I think created this, now teaches this as a 500 year gap (rather than 300 years) to remove the exercise from the period of slavery of Africans in the USA. Another suggestion is to try is a more general context of " a time hundreds of years ago, before the invention of electricity"

    about 4 years ago