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2014 New Year’s Resolution: to Create More Exciting Activities!

Are your participants tired of doing the same old activities again and again? Are you?

The New Year is a great time for setting goals and making resolutions! Try switching up your activities as one of your New Year’s resolutions.

Do you have a favorite or ‘go-to’ icebreaker? Is there a type of activity that you’re really comfortable using (e.g. brainstorming, think-pair-share?)? Do you use it all the time when planning a lesson or workshop? I spend a lot of time developing workshops, activities and curriculum, so I am constantly trying to think of new ways to do an ‘old’, yet tried and true activity. A skilled facilitator can look at an activity and think: I like where this is going, if I just tweak this a little bit, it could really work for my group and what I’m trying to achieve.


Recently, when developing a guide for the facilitators of a new curriculum I created, I included these tips for helping them to keep the material fresh, even after they(their) curriculum been on the shelf for a few months.

Typical Types of Activities

  • Brainstorming: The purpose of brainstorming is to generate ideas. Write all ideas on a board or poster-paper. Don’t worry about editing. Just write it all down.” In a brainstorming activity, it’s important to try to capture and write things as the young people say them. Use paraphrasing (restating what you heard in your own words) to clarify or if you feel you need to modify what was said. Most importantly, do not make judgment statements such as, “Good idea” or “Really? Does that fit?” Instead you can thank someone for their contribution.

  • Think, Pair, Share: This strategy can be used when you want youth to think about their answers. They may even write answers first, then pair with another person and share their answers. You can also have the pairs find another pair to double their group, and then share with each other. Role-Play and Skits: During role-plays and skits, youth either act out a given scenario or come up with their own scenarios based on prompts, questions, or ideas. Sometimes, these can take longer than expected. Let participants know how long they have to prepare the skit and how long the actual skit should last.

  • Agree/Disagree: You can also use it to gauge how much a group knows about a topic. In this activity, participants move from one side of the room to the other, depending on whether they agree or disagree with a statement. They start in the middle of the room and come back to the middle between statements.

  • Graffiti Wall: In this strategy, participants either work independently, in pairs, or small groups to write their ideas on flip chart paper. This can be useful for brainstorming and for capturing ideas. You can also use this Graffiti Wall to find out how much a group knows about a topic.

  • Gallery Walk or Walk About: This can work as an extension of a Graffiti Wall activity during which participants walk around the room looking at what other people or groups have written or drawn. This can be a way to generate additional ideas, and can provide an opportunity to provide feedback.

Tips for Modifying Activities

Over time, you will get to know your group and their preferred learning styles. The activities in the workshops can often be modified with just a little work. Here are some common strategies used in the workshops. Try some of these tips to modify activities to address multiple learning styles.

Relay Races: A little healthy competition may go a long way. If you find that participants have been sitting, getting them up and moving might help them stay actively engaged.

Tick-Tock: Along them same idea of a relay race, you create a little competition by timing the group and limiting the amount of time they have to work on a specific task. This is great for when you want to keep the energy high and need to accomplish to multiple goals in one session.

Turn Something into a Debate: Young people generally like to talk to each other. Use this to create healthy dialogue. Have participants take sides on an issue, and debate with their peers. Alternately, have young people represent the other side of the issue to make the activity more challenging.

Get Participants Moving: If you find that energy is low, you can ramp up participants’ energy with a quick activity. You can do this a few ways. Stop and encourage young people to get up and stretch. After they’ve stretched, tell them to walk around and find at least three other people and give them a ‘high five’ before going back to their seat. Or, identify three to five things in the room (they should be apart from each other) that participants should touch and then get back to their own seat, by the time you count down from 10.

Get Artistic: Rather than having participants write down their answers or shout them out in a typical brainstorm fashion, have them create a collage to express their ideas. You can even add a ‘think-pair-share’ element to this by having them start their own collage based on some ideas then have them add their collage to someone else’s and together they build from their now shared collage. Then have them report out to the larger group. Or post them on the walls and do a ‘gallery walk’.

Read Aloud: If you have a lot of material to read, consider breaking the reading into smaller parts and having a participant or group be responsible for understanding that section. When they’ve finished reading, each participant or group should report what they learned about the reading. This is sometimes called jigsaw style. When they’ve finished reading, each participant or group will report what they learned about what they read. NOTE: If you use jigsaw style, be sure to have youth report sequentially in the order of the reading. Otherwise, it will be confusing for them. You may want to consider having some questions for them to respond to. You can use this as a way to pull the reading together and to make sure nothing gets lost.

Tell me about your favorite or go-to types of activities. How have you switched them up to keep your participants engaged and on their toes?




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