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ABC - Alphabet Soup
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 02/29/2016

Abc The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Everyone in corrections can relate to seemingly unsolvable mysteries. Our work life is peppered with unraveling correspondence with cryptic references that are sometimes an array of acronyms. The discernible content of some notes may indicate potential danger. Because of this, it seems that we occasionally dive into the alphabet soup whether we like it or not.

ABC - Alphabet Soup is a classroom exercise that hones the decryption skills of participants. It is a fast-moving endeavor that requires almost no material at all. It can be tailor-made for each group and is bound only by the limits of the writer.

The facilitator can start like this,

“As corrections staff, we are constantly monitoring offender communication in order to maintain safety of staff, offenders and the public. Yet, how many times do we find a kite or written correspondence that we can’t quite understand? This is a daily occurrence.

“We all know that some of the meaning can be hidden by a series of initials and abbreviations. We have to, by necessity, sift through many different ideas to find meaning in communication between offenders. It is like trying to discover the meaning of randomly tumbling letters in a recently stirred bowl of alphabet soup.”


The facilitator will then distribute a list of initials with a theme. This list should be created in advance. The list can be anything: sports stars, historical figures, song titles from a specific musical group, etc. It is up to the facilitator to match the list to the audience.

For example, the list can be labeled “Science Fiction/Fantasy Movies” and contain different initials to spell out in short form the title of a science fiction or fantasy movie. Here is a shortened example:

Science Fiction/Fantasy Movies Alphabet Soup

Find the full title of these science fiction/ fantasy movies from the initials provided:

L O T R
P O T A
T C O N
I R

The answers are Lord of the Rings, Planet of the Apes, The Chronicles of Narnia, and I, Robot.

When building the list, the facilitator should develop over twenty different initial entries on a puzzle. This can be assisted by an almanac, a brainstorming session, or the Internet. The important thing is to make a challenging puzzle that is not impossible. The best puzzles contain parts that jump off the page as obvious in retrospect. Also, items from different decades are represented to accommodate all puzzle solvers. (Please see the Television Series Alphabet Soup list on the next page that can be used or modified as each instructor who employs this exercise may wish.)

The Teamwork Option –

Distribute an alphabet soup list to each student. Give the class five minutes to work individually. Stop the clock after a few minutes. This gives participants a taste of the list, but should not permit enough time to solve the entire thing. The facilitator asks who has found the most. Then, the facilitator builds teams of four or five around some of the high scoring individuals. Individual successes are combined to demonstrate the power of collective effort over the work of a lone person. In other words, teams share their answers.

Of course, the winning team may have the reward of bragging rights or some toy. In the end, however, the efforts of all teams are shared for the benefit of all. That is the ideal in our vocation – shared knowledge for the benefit and safety of all.

Television Series Alphabet Soup

Find the full title of these 33 popular television series using the initial provided:

M A Y
H I
E I E
F T
C A
T R
O D A A T
T S
M A M
W K R P I C
S S
A I T F
T A A H M
G P U S M C
T O
S A T C
T C
M P I
L A S
W T B
T B B T
L I T B
H I M Y M
P S
M V
C S I M
F
T G G
G T
T B B
U B
S N L
H D

ANSWERS - Television Series Alphabet Soup

Find the full title of these 33 popular television series using the initial provided:

M A Y: Mad about you
H I: Home Improvement
E I E: Eight Is Enough
F T: Family Ties
C A: Charlie's Angels
T R: Thirty Rock
O D A A T: One Day at a Time
T S: The Sopranos
M A M: Mork and Mindy
W K R P I C: WKRP in Cincinnati
S S: Still Standing
A I T F: All in the Family
T A A H M: Two and a Half Men
G P U S M C: Gomer Pyle USMC
T O: The Office
S A T C: Sex and the City
T C: Three's Company
M P I: Magnum P I
L A S: Laverne and Shirley
W T B: Who’s the Boss?
T B B T: The Big Bang Theory
L I T B: Leave it to Beaver
H I M Y M: How I Met your Mother
P S: Perfect Strangers
M V: Miami Vice
C S I M: CSI Miami
F: Friends
T G G: The Golden Girls
G T: Good Times
T B B: The Brady Bunch
U B: Ugly Betty
S N L: Saturday Night Live
H D: Happy Days

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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