2. I like circles. As we know, this formation allows for everyone in the group to see everyone else. It's also the best configuration to share your voice - sound waves move around within a circle much better than any other shape. I also remind everyone to have their name card in hand. There will be people in the group who will want to know what to do with the name card when they get done making it.
3. My participants (no matter what age) will want to know what's going on. I use this time to share a VERY brief introduction and logistical information (e.g., where are the restrooms - ease some anxiety of the environment when possible) - no more than 90 seconds. If you dive into educational theory, "short boughts of instruction" are preferred over long boughts. It's all about keeping attention. Before I move on (to Step 4) I note that we will be doing our first activity in a moment, something that will help them understand, even more, what will be happening.
4. When I change the topic to "challenge by choice" (or whatever you use to inform your group about choice), I get another 90 seconds of my group's attention. I use the example of making the name cards as a reference to some choices - I ask my participants to hold up their cards and look around (this engages some physical activity). Even with the expectation of making their first name nice and BIG, they made choices - I look around at the cards they are holding and point out the different choices made (e.g., color of marker, style of lettering, the position of the name on the card, etc.). In my "choice" presentation, I do ask everyone in the group to "stay" with his/her group in some way. "One of my responsibilities," I tell them, "is for me to know where everyone is. If you stay with your group it's easier for me me to focus on the other parts of my job so you can have the best experience as possible. So, thanks for helping me with this." (Again, I asked for their "help" - continuing to build my relationship with most of the group - some might not be engaged by my invitation to help me out. Before moving on I do ask if anyone has any questions up to this point - and, of course, provide the answers I can.
5. Again, I change the topic, letting them know we are going to do our first challenge together. Back to educational theory, I'm providing a brief "anticipatory set" (information) about what's to come. In adventure education we often call this "front loading". I want my group to know that what we're doing next is like what we'll be doing together for the program. Now, I don't say much here, I want to get my group moving by this time. [Note: We're only about five minutes into the program.]
6. In this step I emphasize that there will be times when we have to do some "skill development" before moving into an activity - "we'll need some particular skills to increase our chances of success." "For some of you, the skills might be easy to pick up, for others the skills might not be easy - they might be a challenge to work through. That's part of why we're here - to work through the challenges we'll be facing together." I want my group to know that there will be some unknown ahead and we're here to support each other. Before I move into Step 7, I remind my group of the perfect circle expectation, that they cannot move until I say "perfect circle". This is often forgotten when additional information is provided after directions are given - it's just how the brain works.
7. I've moved to a location in the activity space that allows for the same size circle to be formed (I don't need to add a challenge here of adapting to a smaller space - not the purpose for the activity), THEN I say "perfect circle". Again, I don't say anything else. I stay quiet (maybe look at them a bit with "questioning" body language), so the group has the opportunity to figure out what's next. I want to start transferring the "power" of decision making over to the group. At first, most (if not all) groups will look to the main facilitator (the person who often talks first) to lead the way. In our team building programs, we want the group to lead the way - right? So, again, I want them to start problem solving together. Every time I do this, no matter what age, at least one person will take an initiative to try something.
8. Once the circle is formed (so far, for me, it always gets there), I ask if anyone has questions about forming the Perfect Circle. I ask at this point, and not during Step 6, because I want the questions to come from experience and not speculation, and I want them to get moving. Then I add the new rule to the Perfect Circle. As often as I can, I like to provide directions in increments. When I can first anchor, with some action, one (or two) direction(s) it's easier for the brain to take in new information. Note: I added the, "I can only call perfect circle" after one of my groups decided to "overuse" the term - you know what I'm talking about.
9. Then, another call to action. This second attempt is always better (time and process) than the first. At this point I ask them how they're doing. I let my group know I will be asking this question throughout the program. I want to know how things are going for them. I tell them, "this helps me to know where to take you next - I want to give you good challenges, not overdo it." (You noticed, I asked for their help again - building my relationship with them.) With a little "group" experience under their belt, questions are easier to "see". This is the time where I often tell my group, "Questions are free today. So, ask away. Now, it's not my role to solve 'problems' that come up, that's your job. But, don't be afraid to ask, clarification might lead to solving a problem." With this information I let my group know a little bit more about my role and "officially" let them know it's their job to problem solve - a point I then get to reiterate during the program.
10. One more call to action - usually pretty fast this time. This physical action anchors some of the information we just talked about and opens the brain back up for the new information in Step 11. Some of you might not agree with my choice to congratulate my group. However, I believe "validation" is a good thing - validation is another way to build relationship. I am specific. I say something like, "excellent perfect circle - everyone is where they need to be." Or, I might say, "WOW, that was fast! Good job. As we move forward, this might be important." Again, EdTheory will say specific feedback can be internalized better. Then, I let my group know we have one more thing to learn before we play the game. This adds to the anticipation about what's to come.
11. Here I teach the Blind Shuffle - the first part of Name Card Return. I call it "skill development" because I'm pretty sure everyone is about to do something they've never done before (unless they have been in a team building program with me before). So, "when learning something new we want to be nice to each other and ourselves - this might be very important to remember as we work together today." When I teach the Blind Shuffle I let my group know that "part of the challenge" is not to look at their cards before I say "GO!" I set the expectation and tell them how it fits into the activity. I also let them know that if they "accidentally" look at their card after they stop moving, simply exchange it with someone. This lets my group know (or starts to anyway), that sometimes we'll do something we're asked NOT to do. "It's important to do our best, if we can, but know that mistakes are part of learning. Most mistakes are not done on purpose. The idea here is to recognize our mistakes and do something about it" - in this case, I've given my group the opportunity to fix the mistake - exchange cards with someone near them. Then we can move on - enough said. I also provide some time to clarify the expectation of "stopping" after exchanging with five different people. This is confusing for some people - somethings I give an example. I walk around the group, exchange with five different people (while everyone is watching me) and then stop. (I know this might sound silly, but it happens every time. Some get it. Some don't.) And, I make sure they understand they can continue to exchange cards with others even if they have stopped moving. I tell them they are "helping" others finish up their exchanges. (This information is also difficult for some people to understand - they believe they have to stop everything they are doing).
12. When I see everyone has stopped moving I give them one more opportunity to exchange name cards with someone if they accidentally peeked at the name on their card. Again, my purpose is to start/continue building a safe learning environment. Now, of course some people will not "admit" they peeked because of prior "shamed" experiences. If anyone does make an exchange I'm sure to thank them for doing so. I don't make a big deal out of it (like, "thanks for having integrity" - this qualification takes you down another relationship path), I simply say, "Thank you."
13. In this Step I've shared the directions to Name Card Exchange. This activity is what I consider to be an introductory challenge. It has only two parts (or, you might say, rules) - return the card to the person it belongs to and form a perfect circle in relation to where I'm standing. I also tell my group that the process will be evaluated by time. I then share that during the program there may be this or other types of evaluation processes. Here I open the floor to questions about the expectations. At this time I don't bring up anything more about "evaluation" unless they do. And if they do, I'll ask them, "at this time, please hold that thought. I would love to bring this up again in a little bit." In most cases we can forego this conversation. If needed, open up talks. So, once the group understands they will be timed, as you can imagine, the energy begins to change. There's something on the line. For some it's exciting, for others, not so much. (All good things that can come up during the program.) Here again I'll say, "Questions are free. does anyone need help understanding what's about to happen?" It's also good to note here that I don't ask the group if they want some time to talk amongst themselves before this first attempt. I want to give them an experience, get them moving, give them something to talk about. When it seems like the time...
14. Once I say "GO!", I first start the time - DON"T FORGET THIS PART! (You know why!) I usually don't know many of the names of my group members yet so I use, what I consider to be, a helpful behavior. I start calling out the name of the person on my card. By doing this, maybe I'm role modeling a positive behavior and maybe I'm continuing to build my relationship with the group - now, that is if anyone notices. (Here's the counter point. What do they notice if I'm standing off to the side? I like to "play" at first and then slowly step back.) As soon as I can hand off the name card I have I move to a place outside the clump of players who have, more often than not, mobbed together in the center area of the original circle. At some point between handing off the card I had and stopping the time, someone has found me and returned my name card. Since I am part of the solution I choose to move to my Perfect Circle spot instead of looking for my name card. I don't say anything during the "return" and "circle up" action. I just wait for movement to stop - then I stop the time. (Sometimes movement might start up again when players realize something is not right. I simply restart my stopwatch and stop it again when movement stops.
Keep me posted.
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.