Invite one person to act as the ‘Bunny’ and ask them to either leave the space or close their eyes so that they do not witness what’s about to happen next.
Invite a second person to be chosen or volunteer to become the ‘Instigator.’
When ready, ask your group to start walking randomly about the area.
At the same time, ask the Instigator to start making specific and deliberate moves, inviting the rest of your group to mimic their moves as quickly and accurately as possible.
At this point, ask the Bunny to return to the space (or open their eyes) and begin to observe the group.
Encourage the Instigator to alter their moves or actions frequently, ie every 10 seconds or so.
Over the course of the next minute or two, challenge the Bunny to identify the Instigator within 4 attempts.
Once the Instigator has been identified, choose a new Instigator and Bunny to play a new round.
Continue play for many rounds.
How To Play Narrative
Instigator is perfect to fill a couple of minutes with some playful banter, or more seriously, if you want to develop and/or sharpen your group’s focus and observation skills.
Form a circle and explain that one person will soon be designated as the ‘Instigator’ whose role is to initiate a series of movements which the rest of the group will copy. Explain that it is critical that the others follow the Instigator’s movements exactly, and adopt any changes as soon as they become aware of them.
The trick is – the identity of the Instigator needs to remain secret because a second person who will volunteer to be the first ‘Bunny’ will not know who the Instigator is. Once nominated, the Bunny will either leave the room, turn around, or close their eyes while the group nominates who the Instigator will be, ie this can be done silently by simply pointing at someone.
To start, invite your group to mix and mingle within a defined area. No talking, no touching, just moving about the area. Then, just prior to the Bunny entering this realm (or perhaps simply opening their eyes,) the Instigator will begin a series of movements, such as flapping his or her arms, poking out their tongue or walking in a particular way.
At this point, the rest of the group is obliged to start mimicking the actions of the Instigator, as quickly and as accurately as possible. They will continue to mix and mingle while secretly stealing a glance at the Instigator (or other early adopter) from time to time to pick up any changes in the movement.
Meanwhile, the Bunny is watching all of this and working hard to identify who is instigating the moves.
The Instigator should try to change his or her movements every ten seconds or so. Big moves are best and the most fun to watch. Naturally, the best time to make a move is when the Bunny is watching.
Advise your group to be careful not to make their glances at the Instigator too obvious too early.
Give the Bunny four (or more) ‘official’ guesses. Once the Instigator is correctly identified, ask for a new person to volunteer to be the next Bunny.
Play as many rounds as your group has enthusiasm for moving and guessing.
Practical Leadership Tips
Don’t allow the Instigator to keep the same movement or action for too long, lest the game becomes boring. A quick game’s a good game.
Some people playing the role of the Bunny find it very difficult to identify who the Instigator is. On such occasions, encourage the Instigator to make quicker and more brazen changes to their movements.
Tiny changes in appearance and movement are fantastic, but beware that these can sometimes be too subtle or small to be observed by the rest of the group.
This exercise is very similar to Follow The Leader. The primary difference is Follow the Leader is played in a circle, so in effect, Instigator is a more active variation.
You could integrate Instigator as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Controlling One’s Emotions
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Setting Personal & Group Goals
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Demonstrating Empathy & Compassion
Recognising Strengths In Others
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
This activity is nothing if not a wonderful opportunity to explore how to read and navigate social and emotional cues. The volunteer will need to be highly attuned to a variety of social cues not just from the secret ‘bunny’ person but the group as a whole. For the purposes of developing emotional literacy, be sure to invite your group to reflect on the presence and display of these social and interpersonal skills by reflecting on these questions:
What signals did you see or perceive that helped you identify the leader?
Provide an example of an action or emotion that communicated something to you.
What subtle actions or emotions did the group observe in the volunteer? What did you make these mean?
Do you notice these types of behaviours and emotions in day-to-day life?
Are these observations useful in developing positive relationships?
Twins: Identify two Instigators, each with their own set of unique movements and actions. Other group members may adopt the moves of one or both Instigators. One instigator may adopt the moves of the other if they wish (meaning everyone now is doing the same movement.) The game continues until both Instigators have been picked.
Statues: If you have a high-performance group, ask the Instigator to be a ‘statue’ moving from one frozen position to another. Hint – the best time to move is when the Bunny isn’t looking.
Guessing Game: Take a look at Follow The Leader to enjoy another equally interactive, head-scratching game.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Ask a volunteer to switch off their video and audio for 10 seconds or, if possible, place them into the meeting Waiting Room for a short while (so they can not see or hear what’s about to happen.) During this time, ask one other person to clearly nominate themselves as the ‘bunny.’ Immediately, ask everyone to start moving in front of their screens (mimicking the bunny’s movements.) Ensure all moves are within the scope of the camera. Per normal play, invite the observer to identify who the leader is in as few guesses as possible. Repeat for several rounds.
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Useful Framing Ideas
A favourite pastime of mine while waiting in public areas is people watching. People are just so fascinating, especially when they do not realise that they are being watched. Have you done this, too? If you have, then you’re well-equipped to play this next exercise…
A good facilitator or program leader is adept at observing their group and looking for little changes in behaviours, mood and energies. These changes, often very subtle, can help a facilitator make necessary changes in their program, or ask insightful questions, to guide their group. This next exercise will invite you to hone your observation skills…
There’s a wonderful scene in the famous movie Dead Poet’s Society in which a group of young men start walking about an outside area. In the beginning, each young man does their own thing, but over the course of less then a minute, almost all of them conform and begin to walk in-step with one another. It is difficult to know when and who starts this phenomenon but it’s there and it’s real, a little bit like this next exercise…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this engaging and fun energiser:
What were the easiest changes to observe or identify?
What were the most difficult changes to observe?
Describe your experience of conforming to the Instigator.
Describe one or more experiences in which you conform to the actions of thinking of others in your life, by choice, culture or law.
What are the consequences of conforming?
The inspiration for Instigator, and many more fun and highly interactive energisers, was sourced from the following publication (now out of print:)