In order to become educators, each of us must do our time as students. Slowly, but surely, the student becomes the teacher. Let us hearken back to our days of sitting amongst the members of a classroom, rather than standing boldly in front of them.
Imagine you are seated at a terribly uncomfortable, ridiculously tiny, irrationally shaped desk. It probably doesn’t even have enough table surface for you to securely set your laptop. Instead it balances precariously while you try to arrange your limbs into a bearable configuration. Ugh.
The flourescent lights are blaring down upon you and your peers. Class starts in just a few moments and you wonder, with a twinge of annoyance, if the professor is going to be late. You managed to be here on time! Certainly, he should-…He darts into the room, just in time, with a shuffle of papers under one arm, and a beach ball under the other*. The beach ball has inky, swirling questions scribbled haphazardly across its surface. You groan, silently, inwardly. Some of your classmates don’t even bother and just groan outwardly instead. You roll your eyes and exchange a knowing look with your neighbor. You know what this means…
*Author’s Note: The item and activity in question needn’t be a beach ball. Feel free to substitute in any tired, old team-building activity of your choice, such as Find Someone Who (students chat with their peers to find people who can sign off on certain items listed on handed-out sheets of paper), Memory-style Name Chain games (students say their names and recite the names of all the people who spoke before them), or the ever-popular Plain Old Introductions (students simply go around the room and spout off some information about themselves, such as where they were born or what degrees they’re working towards). These activities may get the job done, but there are many more to choose from that may work better for you and your group. When teaching about sexuality, it is especially important to ensure that your students are at ease and feel safe with one another and with you. An icebreaker or team-building energizer will work wonders.
Now, contrary to many student experiences with the often painfully dull cliches of some of the most common icebreakers and energizers, such as those listed above, these activities truly do serve a fantastic purpose when used correctly. In order to use them well, you must consider the timing of the activity and the audience. Should you open with an activity? Close with one? Before or after lunch? Consider how the timing will affect your group. Choose activities that are appropriate to the developmental stage of the learners with which you are working. Many theories about human development exist, including Freud, Erikson, Bandura, Piaget, and many others. Use these theories as your guides when choosing an exercise for your facilitation.
For the purposes of this post, we are primarily talking about activities which perform on an interpersonal or individual basis, as opposed to strictly introducing a topic or conveying information. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory and Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, among others, support the use of icebreakers and energizers to enhance the learning experience. Both of these types of activities serves a different core purpose, although certainly some of them do double duty and there is bound to be some overlap. An icebreaker serves to reduce tension and nerves, helping people become more comfortable with one another. An energizer serves to refresh, refocus, inspire, motivate, and otherwise control the mood of the room in a positive manner.
Bear in mind that, while choosing a developmentally appropriate activity suitable for your group or class should be a priority, so should the inclusion of different types of learners. Although these activities are intended simply to get the blood flowing, to lower inhibitions, or to create connections between students, among other things, some activities will still appeal more to certain students than others. Browse through the resources for information and inspiration. If you find something suited to your learners, make use of it. If not, adapt it or create something new!
The internet is a treasure trove for the educator seeking new activities to try. A simple keyword search turns up a variety of websites, many of which feature extensive lists of options. Don’t forget to check out social media platforms as well. For example, Youtube, where you can find videos of activities being executed, and Pinterest, where educators have been known to collect ideas and resources on their public pages. Although the internet is a valuable resource, I’ve found that word of mouth works best. Ask fellow educators what sorts of activities they use and find most enjoyable and effective. I have included links to a number of web resources at the end of this post.
It is important for us as educators to remember how it felt for us to be students in any variety of settings and circumstances, whether we are teaching kindergarteners or adult learners. You were there on the other side of the desk not so long ago yourself. You have a whole World Wide Web filled with fun activities, just waiting to be used in your classroom. If you still insist on clinging to your beach ball, the Toss’N Talk About Movement Ball by S&S Worldwide is a perfect example of how to get creative with a familiar idea, making it new and exciting and better able to reach your participants! S&S Worldwide has replaced questions with actions in their charming take on the beach ball activity.
Here’s a handful of resources to get you started with hunting down new ideas or becoming inspired to adapt that old standby: