Top 6 Introduction and Stage Setting Activities for Building Community in the Classroom


Top 6 Introduction and Stage Setting Activities for Building Community in the Classroom Camp Manito-wish Leadership Program

Here is Part 1 of a two part series on activities that can be adapted for any classroom or other small group/small space situation. Some of these activities are also repeatable, and all are very adaptable for many situations. I also tried to include activities that have applications across the curriculum as processing, debriefing or discussion starters.

The activities are grouped by category and organized in the way a standard activity sequence would typically be done.

  • Introduction Activities
  • Stage Setting
  • Problem Solving/Application Activities
  • Processing and Transfer Activities

It is important to note that this process is not necessarily linear. There are many times when a teacher or facilitator will go back to introduction or stage activities to review or focus more on relationship development or awareness before returning to more advanced activities. It is important to read your group, and also be clear on your goals and outcomes as you move through this process.

Creating a Safe Space for Learning and Exploration and the Challenges of Choice

A statement on risk and choice: One of the foundational beliefs in the field of experiential and adventure education is the idea of free will of choice in the level of participation, the level of transparency and the level of risk that people take. What risk is varies from person to person. Note that for some participants the Introductory Activities alone have in incredible attachment of risk. There are many things we do not know as educators and facilitators–past trauma, other past negative experiences, life situations, past issues and challenges with other participants, etc. all play into the perception of risk attached to any experience. With this in mind, it is vital that we pay attention to our own words and actions and guard against any hint of coercion or external pressures with regards to participant involvement or transparency. This is a challenge obviously and, without a doubt, we cannot see everything or always understand how words, actions or experiences can be perceived (based on the things mentioned above).  It is important that we are vigilant and aware of participants and our own agendas, prejudices and desires, as well as our words, actions and even well intended words of support.

For additional information on best practices in the industry and related thoughts and discussions on choice, challenge and related topics, feel free to contact us at Camp Manito-wish, and also visit our Manito-wish Youth Leadership blog. Here are some articles from our blog on these topics.

Industry best practices

Resources and ideas

Additional thoughts on outcomes and big questions to ponder

Group Agreement: A critical foundation for any experiential work, is the establishment of a safe space for all participants to feel that they have the opportunity take risks. One thing that is helpful in the development of a safe space is the establishment of a group agreement that insures a set of standards and operating procedures to protect all participants. This “Safe Space Agreement,” should be something developed by participants and facilitated or guided as necessary by teachers and facilitators. Ownership is important and experience has shown that participants are more willing to take the standard of conduct they have agreed upon more seriously if they have had a significant hand in the creation of those standards.

An agreement does not have to be the very first thing that a group does. In fact, sometimes doing a few activities is a great way to jump start a real and honest discussion on the road towards an agreement.

Group Contract Activity:

            Materials needed: Large sheet of paper, markers, small pieces of scrap paper, pens or pencils

  1. Give each participant a piece of scrap paper and a pen or pencil
  2. Instruct the group that they will have a minute (more time if necessary) to quietly and silently write down one answer to each of the following questions:
    1. What do you need from others in order to be successful and take risks in this group?
    2. What is the biggest threat to your ability to be successful and take risks in this group?
  3. Choose someone in the group to be “scribe” for the next part of the process
  4. Get out your large piece of paper. Draw a large circle (big enough for each answer to question a) to be written within the circle).
  5. Ask for any additions that people can think of now that everyone has shared (some people need more time to observe and reflect)
  6. Choose another “scribe.”
  7. Have each participant (one person at a time) share their answer to question b) Write the answers to this question around the outside of the circle.
  8. Discuss and add additional “threats” as needed.
  9. Have each person sign this agreement somewhere around the outside of the circle.
  10. Hang the agreement somewhere in your classroom or other facilitation space so it can be referenced as needed.
  11. Add to the agreement if other issues arise

A Quick Processing and Debriefing Idea (using the information from the group agreement):

  • Write all of the answers to question a) on a board (or on a separate people piece of paper) in list form
  • Prioritize the answers in order of importance by using a ranking system. All participants get 3-5 votes depending on the size of the group. They vote by making a mark with a colored marker by each choice until they have used up all their votes. Participants can put all votes on one item or spread them out). The voting process can take place over a day and participants can make their votes during break times or other “free times.”
  • Re-order the answers on a board or other sheet of paper based on the results from the prioritizing process
  • After activities, refer to the list and have the group score themselves in how well they applied the items on the list during the activity (Usual a 1 to 5 scale with 1 being low, 5 being high).
  • Note: Sometimes a discussion like this can work best if either done silently, with each person rating the activity in each category on their own, or have chosen partners work on this together. Each participant or partnership shares their results and why they rated things the way they did.

What to do if more anonymity is required in a group:

Process #1: Have the group stand in a circle facing outward, one hand in the air and eyes closed.

  • Option 1: (facilitator statement) Answer the following question by closing your fist all the way if your answer is “no” or “ not at all,” opening it all the way for “yes,” or having your fist half closed, fingers pointed forward for “somewhat.”
    • Facilitator can give the group a report on this feedback
  • Option 2: Give a ranking on the following question by rating it on a scale of 0 to 5 with fist closed (meaning zero) or numbers of fingers for higher rankings, 5 being high.
    • Facilitator can give the group a report on this feedback

Process #2:

  1. Give each participant a piece of scrap paper and a pen or pencil
  2. Write 1 to 3 questions on a white board or large piece of paper
  3. Participants answer the listed questions silently and privately
  4. Each participant folds their paper and puts it in the center of the circle or in a container
  5. Once everyone is done, each participant draws out a paper randomly.
  6. One at a time, each participant reads the answers on the paper
  7. Answers to the questions are written on a board or additional large sheet of paper
  8. Results discussed and process (large group or small group)

A Few Points about Activity Programming:

How to use these activities:

  • Know the group
  • Adapt activities to the group and their needs
  • Sequence your activities (refer to the section on activity sequencing below), but know that this is not a linear process. For example:
    • It is fine to go back to introduction activities at any time
    • It is fine to repeat lessons using different activities to clarify and spark additional discussion
  • Not every activity needs to be processed and discussed
  • Some activities can spark many lessons and tie in to a host of other classroom lessons
  • Think about additional ways to connect activities to classroom lessons across the curriculum. For example:
    • Problem solving Initiatives can be used to illustrate the scientific process. Set up the processing and debrief process at the end in the same way.
    • Literature connections to books, stories, poems, etc. These things can also be great things to introduce as a processing activity (see below)
    • Activities can be set up to illustrate cultural differences and challenges, mirror historical events, etc.

Sequencing Activities:

The activities below will be grouped in 4 categories. These categories are also written here in an order that is usually considered the “classic group building sequence.” This is often how it is taught too:

  1. Introduction Activities: Sometimes called “ice breakers.” Activities to begin the interaction and relationship building process.
  2. Stage Setting Activities: Sometimes called “trust activities,” but are activities to set up language, skills and concepts used with more advanced experiences. For more background on the challenges and realities of building trust in adventure programming, read this blog post.
  3. Problem Solving Activities:
  4. Sometimes referred to as “application” or “testing” activities, as this is really what these activities do—they allow participants to apply and test concepts that they may have encountered in previous parts of the sequence.
  5. Processing and Transfer Activities: Activities designed to help participants synthesize, make sense of, establish perspective and consider ways to take these lessons into their lives in other situations.

There are many approaches to setting up a proper sequence for a particular group or situation. Experience has shown that:

  • Starting simple in the beginning is usually best
  • Use activities to build a solid foundation and a set of group standards—especially in the beginning. A contract as described above can be a helpful thing to start with. Display that contract and refer back to it as necessary. Add things as needed.
  • Repetition and application are key aspects of any effective pedagogy. It is recommended that you review concepts with new activity even though you may already have addressed and introduced those concepts with earlier activities
  • Meet the group where they are. Example: If the next activity in your planned sequence is a problem solving activity, but the energy level of the group is such that this may not work, do something else
  • This is often NOT a linear process—especially in a classroom setting. It is just fine to return to Introduction or stage setting activities if that is what you need to do to meet the group where they are.
  • Build sequences of activities based more on concepts and lessons rather than activity sequence grouping.
  • Give participants breaks frequently, or move onto something else in the class. This kind of programming can be hard work—especially for some participants.
  • Stay open. Often we do activities with one intended outcome, only to have a group take that activity in an entirely different direction.

With everything I have mentioned in mind, here is an approach I often take as I move a group through the learning sequence.

  1. Introduce your concepts and/or lessons with an activity
  2. Follow that introduction with an activity that allows that lesson or concept to be applied
  3. Process briefly what happened and what it might mean
  4. Test everything with a more involved activity Do a more involved processing session
  5. Take a break
  6. Repeat

As you work with a group for a longer period of time, this learning sequence may change a bit and look like this:

  1. Revisit concepts introduced earlier from a different perspective using another method. Example: a story, poem, other activity, etc.
  2. Test where the group is with a more involved activity that relates to the activity just completed
  3. Process
  4. Break
  5. Test with a more involved activity

A word on framing activities and working with activity themes:

It is usually important to introduce a theme as a central concept or overarching theme for activity sequences like this. In the classroom this can be a fairly easy thing and involve other specific cognitive information or other classroom work. For example, maybe your theme is “working on personal challenges” or “finding who you are” and you have literature, or lessons from social studies curricula that applies to this. Use those texts to frame the activities you are doing and give some central context to them. This makes processing and discussion sessions after activities have more direct application and can make those additional lessons come alive in more direct ways—especially for more concrete learners.

Specific Activities

Here are specific activities that can be incorporated into your activity sequence. Contact us for information on additional activities and for other resources that may help as you continue this work. The activities are grouped the categories listed above and there are a few activities that have a Part 1, Part 2 or even a Part 3, as you can take the activity and use it as an introductory activity and as a problem solving activity.

Introduction Activities

Introduction Activity #1: Speed Rotation

Materials Needed: None

Space Requirements: Any space where a whole group can stand up and move from partner to partner.

Activity Level: Introductory/basic

Activity Description: A quick and adaptable intro activity that gets everyone moving and involved and helps participants learn about each other in a safe way.

Set up process: Have all participants stand up and find a partner. Warn the group about any physical hazards in the room to be aware of.

Running the Activity:

  • Have each participant think of “the number one thing everyone needs to know about you if they are going to get to know you.”
  • Practice process with current partner: Shake hands, share your name, share the thing you just thought about.
  • Get the group’s attention and let them know that in the next few minutes their task is to meet and share with as many people as they can.
  • Remind them of what they need to do: Shake hands, share names, share the thing
  • Ask for questions
  • Start the activity
  • Go for a couple of minutes
  • Get everyone’s attention and stop the activity

Activity Variations/additions:

  • Put a time limit on it to speed things up
  • After doing initial rounds of this, change the “thing” that needs to be shared to things like “number one accomplishment this week,” “top goal for this week,” the most important thing you learned about__________,” etc.

Post Activity Processing: It is not always necessary to process activities like this. Often though, I will simply do a show of hands for how many people learned something new about someone in the group.

Introduction Activity #2: 1 Minute Interviews

Materials Needed: Group contract

Space Requirements: Enough space for a group to stand or sit comfortably with a partner Activity Level: Introductory

Activity Description: In simple versions of this, participants will just interview their partner with a series of basic questions for 1 minute. I will describe alternate versions or ways to adapt this activity below.

Set up process: Have a list of suggested questions available and maybe displayed. Bring in the group contract (if you have completed one) and display and talk about things that might apply in the contract to the activity they are about to do.

Running the Activity:

  • Each participant gets one minute to interview their partner
  • Refer to the group to question ideas and suggestions
  • Start the timer
  • Tell the group to switch at the end of 1 minute
  • End the activity

Activity Variations/additions:

  • Have a written list of specific questions for each participant if you are doing this activity with a specific outcome in mind (concept review, processing of a situation or conflict, etc.)
  • See below for other ideas on this concept

Post Activity Processing: Similar to other introductory activities, there is no need to process an activity like this, unless there was a very specific set of questions related to a topic you are addressing in class. In this case it is usually best to let the group know that they will be sharing parts of the things discussed in their interviews with the whole group.

Introduction Activity #3: Group Juggle Name Game

Materials Needed: Stuffed animals, yarn balls, or other light, soft objects that can be thrown from person to person in a group, Group contract

Space Requirements: Enough room so that groups of 6-10 participants can form a circle with elbow or arm’s length distance between participants

Activity Level: Moderate

Activity Description: The small groups of 6-10 stands in a circle facing towards the center with approximately arm’s length distance between them. One member of the group is given an object and that person tosses the object when ready to another participant. The object makes its way from person to person in the group establishing a pattern until everyone has had the object and it ends up in the hands of the first person that started. Prior to throwing the object, everyone says the name of the person they are throwing the object to. The object goes to one person in the group each round.

Set up process: Once the group is set and ready it is best to have the whole group watch as one small group goes through the process as described. Let the group know that the ball goes to each person in the group one time each round and that they need to remember the person they got the object from and who they throw it to as the order will not change with each round.

Running the Activity:

  • Have the group contract available. Review in the beginning and as needed through the activity
  • Have everyone stop and start the first round at the same time
  • Once the objects are back to the starting place in the order check with all groups to see how it went and if there are any changes the group needs to make
  • For next rounds, let the group know that the next challenge will be to see how long they can go and how many full rounds they can do before an object is dropped

Activity Variations/additions:

  • Use a number of commands with the same rules and same pattern. Examples include: switch (reverse the order of the pattern so now everyone is throwing the object to the person they used to receive it from still saying the name of that person), slow motion, super-fast, etc.
  • You can refer back to activity #1 and have everyone use the “one thing everyone needs to know about you” synthesized to one word. Review what everyone’s “thing” was in the group. Say the “thing” instead of the person’s name before throwing the object to them

Post Activity Processing: This is a great activity to use as a way of reviewing the group contact and starting to work on basic communication, focus and problem solving skills. Process around those things as needed

Stage Setting Activities

Stage Setting Activity #1: Comfort Zone Line Up

Materials Needed: None

Space Requirements: Enough space for groups of 6 to 10 to move around and get in lines based on specific instructions

Activity Level: Moderate

Activity Focus/goals: Beginning the process of exploring personal comfort zones, styles of group interaction and group diversity. This is a foundational activity for many things that will be done after and is a set up for Stage setting activity #2.

Activity Description: Divide your large group into groups of 6-10. This activity is a silent activity and participants are asked to line up silently in their small groups by birth date.

Set up process: I ask people to pay attention to their roles during this activity. This really depends on the group though. Sometimes I give very little instruction with this activity other than that it is a silent activity and without talking the group needs to line up by “birth date.”

Running the Activity: I usually let this activity go until all small groups are finished and then allow them to talk and check out they did.

Activity Variations/additions: You can run this activity with multiple rounds with different ways groups need to line up or setting it up as a race with time to strategize between rounds. Usually I run one round if I am using this activity to set up #2

Post Activity Processing: The use of “birth date,” rather than “birth day,” is intentional. Birth date adds a degree of ambiguity that causes some participants to be unsure what to do because of lack of information (Are we supposed to do this by year and then month, or just by month?). This relates to certain ways people relate to the world and “currencies of exchange” some people need to feel comfortable. We refer to this as styles of interaction.

  • Processing activity: Use a rope, a piece of tape or a piece of webbing to make a line on the floor that divides the room. Ask the group to think about their roles during this activity. Were they “organizers,” or were they unsure what to do and were either watching or not able to get enough information to act, and were those that were “being organized (at least initially).” Have people move to one side or the other based on that. At this point I usually give my observations because usually this is very clear. You will have participants moving others, sometimes physically, from one place to the other, flashing fingers in numbers and directing traffic, etc. You will also have people standing around unsure where to go, OR even trying to ask for clarification.
    • Once the group is divided, ask the group about challenges and potential conflict between people whose comfort zone is “doing and acting” vs. those who “observe, think and analyze” first.
    • Have some stories and real world illustrations ready to spur discussion

(Note: This activity can move into a more involved set of 4 different styles and comfort zones that can add another dimension to discussions and have deeper application for other activities. Contact us directly for more information on this)

 Stage Setting Activity #2: Forced Choice/Comfort Zone Styles

Materials Needed: A list of choice questions (see below)

Space Requirements: Enough space for groups of 6 to 10 to move around and get in lines based on specific instructions

Activity Level: moderate

Activity Description: This activity can be done as a follow up to line-ups or as a standalone activity. Essentially participants are asked to choose one side of a line over the other based on the answers to a range of questions.

Set up process: Put a line of rope, string, webbing or tape on the floor or ground to divide the room in half. The facilitator usually stands on one end of the line to give instructions and information.

Running the Activity: After initial basic set up and instructions, the facilitator begins reading a list of choice topics. Participants move physically from one side of the line to the other depending on where they think they personally fit best.

It is best to start with silly simple things like, are you more like ice cream or cake/ lake/mountains, swimming/hiking, pitcher/batter, chicken/egg, etc.

Next go to more purposeful choices like: active/passive, rigid/flexible, talk/observe, leader/follower.

Activity focus/goals: This is a self and group awareness activity that focuses on how we interact, make choices, take on roles and responsibilities. It is also a way of looking at our personal talents and abilities and how they work in a group setting. Why is it that some people always talk first? Ask questions first? Organize first? Have fun first?

Activity Variations/additions: This can be a very powerful activity and there are ways to add other challenges to this in order to examine other concepts, etc. Examples include:

  • Set up the choice, not between one side or the other, but how you would place yourself on a continuum along the line itself from one extreme to the other
  • Add an additional challenge to the continuum of having participants have opportunities to step out of line after everyone has placed themselves, adjust where they think (from their perspective) people should be on that continuum and then place themselves back in line.
  • Note: This is a much higher level risk activity and should only be done with the right group with the right set up and follow up discussion

Post Activity Processing: A facilitated discussion on the challenges of being in groups of people with different comfort zones, needs, expectations, perspectives, goals, etc.

  • Potential conflicts?
  • How does a group use all perspectives, talents, etc. while addressing comfort zones and challenges?

Stage Setting Activity #3: Group Juggle-variation 2

Materials Needed: Several balls or other soft “throwables” per group

Space Requirements: Same as initial Group Juggle introduction activity

Activity Level: Moderate

Activity Description: This activity builds on the previous Group Juggle introduction activity. This more advanced version requires groups to juggle several objects and is a perfect metaphor for many real life situations

Set up process: Set up the activity doing a few rounds as described in Variation 1. Add in new objects usually started in different places and with different people in the sequence.

Running the Activity:

  • Begin simple and increase challenge and complexity
  • Have the order switch from time to time to shift people’s focus
  • Give time for planning and strategizing at intervals, emphasizing the basic rules each time
  • Refer the group to the Group Contract as needed

Activity Variations/additions:

  • Have the group set goals for:
    • The number of times the group can get all objects around without dropping
    • Speed of one complete rotation through the sequence
  • Have the group name each object with a real life thing they “juggle.” Example: job, homework, family, friends, etc.
  • Introduce other challenges and complexities. Examples:
    • A backpack or other similar object passed clockwise around the group that needs to be put on as it comes to you
    • A random object that can go anywhere in the group and does not need to follow the established sequence. What does that represent? How can you deal with that challenge and distraction?

Post Activity Processing: In partners or small groups:

  • How did the challenges and solutions you encountered in this activity apply in real life?
  • Are there lessons you can take to our next activities?
  • Are there things you wish you had: Done differently? Said to the group? Suggested during planning time?

Feel free to contact me at if you need more information or assistance on setting up experiences, running activities or anything related. Part 2 will explore Problem Solving Activities and strategies for processing and transferring these experiences.