Playful learning with origami ‘fortune tellers’

The activity

To increase engagement with a reflective writing assessment, I incorporated the use of origami ‘fortune tellers’ in an activity where students discussed the marking criteria in relation to three reflective writing examples. The activity demonstrates how playful and active learning can aid reflective thinking and writing skills. My inspiration for this activity came from this CreativeHE blog post.

Students were first divided into pairs and given time to familiarise themselves with the marking criteria and read the three reflective writing examples. One fortune teller template (see Figure 1 below) was then shared with each student. Students were given written and  visual instructions on how to make and operate the fortune teller.

Figure 1. Fortune teller template used in this activity.

The fortune teller is labelled with colours and numbers that serve as player options. The person operating the fortune teller (Player 1) manipulates the device based on the choices of the other player (Player 2). For example, if Player 2 picks ‘blue’, Player 1 would then work the fortune teller back and forth four times total (one move per letter in the word ‘blue’). This is done twice in total, with Player 2 picking a colour and a number. When the second number is picked, Player 1 moves the fortune teller accordingly to reveal the final number options. Player 2 then selects one of these options, and Player 1 opens the selected flap to reveal (and ask) one of the hidden questions. 

For my activity, the hidden questions either related to the reflective writing examples or the student’s own work. They were phrased in a similar way to the marking criteria. Some examples were:

  • Are there reflections on personal or professional development which show personal insight into the learning journey? 
  • Is there evidence of transferable skills developed?
  • What grade would you give your chosen reflective writing example?
  • What is one thing you are going to do from your first piece of formative feedback?

Students were encouraged to discuss their answers and general thoughts, using the marking criteria to justify their responses. When one round was complete, students swapped player roles. I suggested 3–4 rounds per reflective writing example. At the end of the activity, the class shared their thoughts and findings. Through discussion, most pairs correctly identified which example was ‘adequate’, ‘good’ and ‘excellent’.

Impact on students

Gamification, and playful learning in general, has increased in popularity and is often used as a mechanism for improving student engagement, motivation and learning outcomes (Rivera & Palmer Garden, 2021). As many of the students had encountered fortune tellers before, it brought a sense of childhood nostalgia to the classroom. This feeling of excitement and human connection is an important part of encouraging a playful learning environment which I believe we successfully created. In playing with their ideas and knowledge of reflective writing, students were empowered in their process of constructing knowledge and applying it to their evaluations of the reflective writing examples (Rice, 2009). As a result, they were able to push themselves into a more challenging reflective space and develop as reflective thinkers. 

In terms of informal evaluation, some students have referred to this activity in their summative reflective journal assignment. Comments indicated that the activity helped them improve their reflective thinking and writing, both in general and in relation to satisfying the marking criteria.

Final notes and advice for readers

  • Make sure you have clear instructions (written and visual) on how to make and operate the fortune teller as not all students will be familiar with the process. 
  • Practise making one yourself so you can help students if needed.   
  • Save the fortune teller template so you can edit or change questions for other activities.
  • You could have students make their own fortune teller from scratch! This could be helpful for revision or consolidating knowledge.


Rice, L. (2009). Playful learning. Journal for Education in the Built Environment, 4(2), 94–108. 

Rivera, E. S., & Palmer Garden, C. L. (2021). Gamification for student engagement: A framework. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 45(7), 999–1012.



  • Nayiri Keshishi

    Nayiri is a Learning & Development Teaching Fellow. She has over seven years of experience in the design, development and delivery of engaging learning programmes, with a focus on academic and professional skills development. She has an MSc in Occupational & Business Psychology and is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

How to cite

Keshishi, N. (2021) Playful learning with origami ‘fortune tellers’. Teaching Insights, Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2023)

Post Information

Posted in Edition 1, October 2021, Recipes for SuccessTagged , , ,