Encouraging interaction

One key role of a facilitator is knowing how to bring people together and get them talking and sharing with each other. This section explores how to do this through icebreakers, group work and feedback. Remember that you may need to reemphasize the norms you have set with the group before starting any group activity. Intended outcomes for any activity should also be clearly stated so that everyone knows what is expected and what they will be asked for at the end of the session.

Overall Task: Sharing what has worked for you
We ask that you add to each section of this page by editing this wiki, adding your activity or idea and saving the page. There is also a discussion thread you can be part of to share some of the best and worst experiences you have had with each kind of activity.



Teachers may initially groan when asked to participate in a warm-up activity but it is amazing how many times doing a quick and simple activity can lift the energy and mood in a room. Remember, adults need to see that activities they are being asked to participate in are relevant and useful so outlining what the activity is designed to do and what you hope the group will get out of it will make people more likely to engage. There are some useful guidelines on icebreakers from the Buzzle.com that you should have a read through before looking at the examples below.

Possible icebreaker activities

These activities have come both from facilitators telling me what has worked for them and from researching icebreakers on the web.

  1. People bingo - participants have to find people from the group to record on their Bingo sheet that match different criteria e.g 'Someone who has a blog'. It is good to have a fun criteria rather than keeping it too serious.
  2. Two truths and a lie - People write down two truths about themselves and a lie about themselves. The group then is encouraged to walk around joining up to talk to others to share their statements while the other person tries to guess which one is the lie. It is not revealed at that time which is the lie. To finish, each person reads their three "facts" to the rest of the group and there is a vote on which one is the lie. The person then reveals which was the lie.
  3. My life as a movie - Give your participants a few minutes to imagine what kind of movie would be made about their life, and who would be cast as them. Ask each person to give their name and share their movie fantasy. Would their life be a drama with Meryl Streep as the lead? Or more like a Jim Carrey comedy? Alternatively, have everyone up and moving around to talk to each other about their choice to encourage discussion and be less threatening.
  4. Maths game - Have everyone in your group pair up and introduce themselves to each other. Facing each other, each person then holds up zero to ten fingers behind their back. On the count of three, have them pull their hands from behind their backs. The first person to yell out the correct sum of all the fingers wins. Swap to a new partner and repeat. Variation is to change the type of maths operation each round moving to multiplication etc (using only one hand). Each person keeps count of the number of wins they have - see who has the most wins at the end.
  5. Who am I? (or What am I?) - Prepare a sticky note for each of your participants and write on it the name of a famous man or woman OR an object or idea related to your workshop. On arrival, stick the note on the back of each participant who must then ask questions of each other in order to find out what is on their note. When they succeed, the sticky note is moved to their front.
  6. What's in a name? - Ask people to move around the room and on a cue (i.e music stops) find a partner to discuss background of their name. Were they named after someone? Is their name misspelled often? Do people mispronounce their name? Is their name a nickname i.e. different from their birth name? Does their name mean something in a different language? This icebreaking exercise helps everyone to remember names as the stories provide a memory hook.
  7. The Bucket List - Have participants write a short list of five things they want to do before they die. Walk around the space and share their list with others and see if they can find others that have similar goals and record that person's name next to that goal. See how many matches they can find. At the end, ask for the most interesting goals people heard about as they were moving around the group.
  8. Would you rather... Would you rather find true love or win the lottery? Would you rather be bald or completely hairy? Would you rather tell your best friend a lie or your parents the truth? Ask participants to make up a question like this and then move around the group introducing themselves and asking their question. You could have a variation on this where you get them to make up two scenarios related to the workshop topic e.g if they are lead teachers, make up questions like 'Would you rather deal with a teacher that wants you to fix a computer during class time or try to find where a missing cable has gone from the laptop bag? You could have some cards made up with scenarios that teachers pick out to give the two options to save time.
  9. What we have in common - People pair up and have time to find four things in common with each other. Then get into fours and try to find two things in common as a group.
  10. Expectations - Tell the group that you would like them to introduce themselves, share their expectations of the session and then add a wild prediction of the best possible outcome should their expectations be met. Ask them to be as specific as possible, and encourage silliness or fun if you want. e.g Hi, my name is Deb, and I’m expecting to learn how to handle difficult or challenging people, and my wildest expectation is that if I knew how to do that, nobody would ever get under my skin again. Ever.

Even more icebreakers
Tools for trainers
Icebreakers for small groups

LuMaxArt_GREYGUY016_lumaxart.jpgGetting people into groups

There are often times when we need to manage people into smaller groups for collaboration purposes.

While letting people find their own groups can be OK, it often helps participants get to know each other better and have more wide ranging discussions if the groups are formed in other ways.

Here is a list that we can all add to!

  • Grouping circles - each of these sets of circles have been designed to get people into groups of three swapping groups three times by participants finding others who have the same animal, number or sweet item as they have.Grouping_circles.png
15 people grouping circles.pdf
18 people grouping circles.pdf
24 people grouping circles.pdf
30 people grouping circles.pdf

  • Lining up - get participants to line up in order using different rules e.g by height, by birthday, by length of time in teaching, in alphabetical order by surname, by number on their car registration etc Then count people off to make the group sizes you are looking for.
  • Coloured squares - as each participant arrives for the workshop, they take a coloured square of paper. You can then group people by the same colour or ask them to make a group with a mixture of colours. An alternative to this can be to ask people to brainstorm some ideas - give them the coloured paper to write on. After a set time, ask people to find people with the same or rainbow style groupings and share their findings or use for next activity.
  • Double brainstorming - Have sets of cards with a letter and number on them. Get people to get together with the same letter and then get together with the same number.
  • Jigsaw - cut up pictures into the same number of pieces as you want the group sizes to be. Hand out the pieces and the participants have to find the rest of the people with the pieces from the same picture to form their group.
  • We had 'thinking sticks' - these are ice cream sticks (the $2 shop has neat coloured ones) and everyone wrote their name on one when they arrived (keep them and reuse them at additional workshops). When it came to grouping I would put a pile of the sticks (say four if I was wanting groups of four) in a space and continue around the room. Teachers then had to find where they were randomly put and that was their group! (this works great with kids too!!) - Deirdre Senior >
  • I like to see more informal groups ie at the end of a session, 'all those ppl who want to talk about wikis over here, all those interested in web design here, all those...' and just group people with other interested people for networking and story sharing purposes - Kate Fuller from Birkenhead College.
  • Have one person as the observer passive and outside of the group reflecting on what is happening within it - Dave Winter from Southwell.
  • A cognitive way to group people is to hand out words or images on cards which have something to do with the session you are running. People have to find partners by making some connections between their words. Partners then tell the group how their words or images relate to each other. This can be also be done using random objects for fun, some of the rationals for linking objects are very creative and humorous - Jane Nichols

Keeping groups on task

MEL__056_torres21.jpgAt times, groups can find it very easy to stray away from the task that has been assigned to them. An effective facilitator knows how to keep the focus on the task at hand.

Here are some possible strategies (please add to this list):
  • Before setting the group to work, ask if there is "anything that you have not explained fully" - NB not that "they don't understand" as this puts them in the position of feeling uncomfortable that they have not listened or are slow to catch on.
  • Keeping the group informed about the time remaining before the task needs to be completed (or having a visual of this up on the screen - check out http://www.online-stopwatch.com/full-screen-stopwatch/ )
  • Recognising that it is important for the group to just 'chat' for a while so allowing time for this first
  • Breaking the task up into smaller steps and keeping groups informed when they are supposed to be moving onto the next step.
  • Stopping the activity and refocusing the group
  • Being willing to be flexible if the activity needs to be adjusted or even abandoned - perhaps the design of the task did not match the needs of the group.
  • Moving around the groups and being available to answer questions or to join in discussions to help keep the group on track.

Feeding back from group workexternal image 2451310531_a2c4348cfc.jpg?v=0 or collecting thoughts of individuals

After groups have worked together, you often want to bring together the results of the work or conversations within those groups so that other groups can also benefit from this work. Here is a place for you to add in your ideas on how to do this:
  • Have people write comments on sticky notes and then have places for everyone to place these sticky notes under topic headings at the end of the session.
  • Have someone in each group recording the key points of discussion onto an online space such as a wiki page, Google Doc, Etherpad etc. Share these using a data projector at the end. Bonus is that they are then available for people to revisit in their own time.
  • To create a quick 'picture graph' to guide a session or give you more information - write up choices for your participants on a big piece of paper and then given people coloured dots to come and place next to their selection.
  • Have smaller pieces of paper for recording of ideas. have participants blue-tak these onto a window or wall, perhaps in categories or priority rankings, and assemble at that spot for viewing and comment. A camera can be handy for capturing this for further reflection or review when put into a wiki or other online area.

Situations to avoid

Stressed?_Librarian_by_Day.jpgWe have all seen situations that do NOT encourage people to collaborate and which should be avoided where possible. Here are some of them (let's brainstorm as many as possible):
  • Overly large groups are formed when it would be more efficient to work in smaller teams.
  • Large groups can't view effectively the activity or sheet they are expected to contribute ideas to.
  • The groups do not see how the activity relates to what they expected the outcome of the day to be.
  • Instructions are wishy washy and no-one is sure how to proceed.
  • Not enough time is given to the activity so groups feel harried and give up.
  • The timeframe is not shared at the beginning of the activity.
  • The technology that the groups are expected to work with does not work, needs time consuming logins where you need to check your email for confirmation, or the group doesn't have the skills to use it.