Distribute one (or two) alphabet cards to each person in your group.
Invite each person to form into pairs or small groups of 3 to 5 people.
Announce one of a series of topics or categories connected to your group’s experience, eg a skill, highlight, strength, limitation, etc.
Using one of their alphabet cards, ask each person to share as many words as they can that starts with this letter to reflect something about their experience.
Allow 1 to 2 minutes for each person to share.
Repeat with one or more perhaps more challenging topics.
How To Play Narrative
Sometimes people need a prompt or a clue to help them make sense of what they are feeling or have observed in an experience. This strategy is ideal.
When ready, randomly distribute one or two alphabet cards to each person in your group. Use the tiles from a regular Scrabble set or make your own if you wish (see Resources tab for a ready-to-play set.)
Owing to the ‘random’ nature of this distribution, it is often useful to give two cards because letters such as J, Q and Z can be tough to work with in this exercise if you happen to be lumped with them on their own.
Next, ask your group to form into pairs or small groups of 3 to 5 people – not too many, otherwise, some people can feel unnecessary.
When ready, announce the first of (perhaps) a series of topics or categories which relate to your group’s experience. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but to get you thinking:
Most enjoyable part of the experience
A specific challenge
Most difficult part of the experience
Necessary skills to be successful
A feeling you experienced or observed
An improvement the group needs to attend to
A group member whom you observed doing something significant
A behaviour that delighted you
A behaviour that concerned you
The purpose of the chosen topics or categories is to narrow the focus of your group as you ask them to reflect on their experience. Which is both a blessing (some people need guidance) and a challenge (some people will find it difficult to search for a response.)
Ordinarily, most people will be lost in deep thought as they start to reflect on their experience and connect it with one or both of their letters. Which is exactly its purpose. Sooner or later, someone – often blessed with a frequently used letter such as S or D – will kick off the sharing.
Ordinarily, your first topic or category will be relatively simple. Aim to make each successive topic a little deeper or more challenging to focus your group’s energies.
As with all reflections, choose to invite people to share with only their partner or small group members, or to the whole group.
Practical Leadership Tips
Beware the inclination for some people to ‘cheat’ the system and use their letter to commence their opening sentence (the beginning of their response.) Ideally, you want the letter to represent the initial of the primary focus of their response, but to be honest, the fact that they are prompted to share is the most critical element of this exercise.
In an effort to make a letter fit their response, expect some humour. Which is perfectly fine. Again, your initial focus of this technique is to stimulate sharing. Naturally, once you have achieved this aim, it is easier to guide your group as required.
To give you options, two unique ready-to-play sets of alphabet cards can be downloaded from the Resources tab – one which features one of each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet, and another which contains all 100 letters as featured in the commercial board game Scrabble.
Full Alphabet: Lay all 26 letters of the alphabet on the floor/ground in front of your group. As above, announce your particular topic and seek responses from your group which focus on a word or a phrase which starts with any of the letters. I know this sounds odd, but the sheer presence of the letters in front of your group can sometimes prompt people to share more quickly than without them. Bizarre.
Endless List: Ask each person to share as many words as they can which start with the letter(s) they are holding related to the announced topic/category. With thanks to Matthew Broda and Trevor Dunlap who developed this variation as part of their Crowdwords resource.
Simple ice-breaker to connect group members to others.
Useful Framing Ideas
I WANT YOU TO THINK ABOUT THE CHALLENGES YOU ENCOUNTERED IN THIS MOST RECENT EXPERIENCE. USING ONE OF THE LETTERS YOU ARE HOLDING, I’D LIKE YOU TO THINK OF A WORD OR A PHRASE THAT STARTS WITH THIS LETTER TO BEGIN OUR DEBRIEF OF YOUR EXPERIENCE…
WHEN YOU THINK BACK OVER OUR ACTIVITY, CAN YOU THINK OF SOMETHING SIGNIFICANT THAT OCCURRED INVOLVING ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE GROUP? TO NARROW YOUR FOCUS, I’D LIKE YOU TO FIND A WORD OR A PHRASE THAT STARTS WITH ONE OF THE LETTERS YOU ARE HOLDING TO DESCRIBE A TIME WHEN YOU SAW THIS SIGNIFICANT EVEN INVOLVING THIS OTHER PERSON…
The inspiration for Starts With was sourced from a conversation I had with a fellow conference participant following a session I had just delivered about debriefing techniques (circa 2008.)