Explain that you need to appoint a secret person before play can start.
Choose one or more methods as described in the Narrative and Variation tabs below.
Video Transcript for Appointing A Secret Person
presented by Mark Collard
So you would all have activities or experiences where you need to nominate one person who only that person possibly not even you, only that person knows that you… that that person is secret. No one else knows that they’ve been allocated.
There are lots and lots of different activities and I’ll leave you to determine where these techniques would be useful. There’s lots of different ways of doing it.
You could for example write down a series of numbers, or anything, just blank pieces of paper and on one of them say ‘you’re the secret person’. And so when people randomly pull it out of a tin, that person becomes the random person. So again that would be an example of you not knowing who that random person is.
That’s okay. That’s been around forever and I tend to enjoy inviting people to interact and also finding some fun ways for that to occur. Here’s one.
We’re not actually going to put it into an activity right now, but here’s an exercise that works really well. In a moment, but not yet, I’m going to ask you to place your hand and arm into the space here with your thumb in the air.
So when you come in your hand will be as close to other hands and fists as possible with your thumb in the air, and importantly you’re looking away. So effectively we created a real bunch of people, thumbs in the centre, everyone looking out.
At that point, I and only me will go in there and look for one thumb. When I find that thumb I’m going to squeeze it. That’s not the secret person. Even though I may not know who that person is sometimes I get a sense of that’s a really big thumb or that’s a really long nail. I might guess who that person is.
So you could stop there but in fact I recommend going the next level. The person whose thumb I’ve just squoozed pulls out, looks for another thumb which of course could be mine, finds that thumb and squeezes it twice. That is the secret person, the person whose thumb was squeezed twice.
Got the basic idea? So I’m going to go in. I will be squeezing one person’s thumb. That person and I’ll lead you through it will go find another thumb to squeeze twice. Got the basics?
Come on in.
(go into the middle.)
Yeah. Bunch on in. Remember you’re looking out but you want to be sure that your hand is in the centre. Now naturally if you don’t wish to have that important role of either picking the secret person or becoming the secret person, keep your thumb down.
So here we go. I’m going in. I’m looking for a thumb. Oh, there’s a juicy thumb. I’m going to take that thumb. I’ve squeezed it once.
Can I ask that person now to go off and find themselves another thumb and squeeze it twice. You have three seconds to do that, and one, and two, and three. Pull on out. Okay. Good job.
Tom Thumb you could call it if you like. So we now have a secret person. We would now use that in an exercise.
Here’s another way.
Very simple. In a moment I’m going to ask you to close your eyes. This would be a system where I actually end up knowing who the secret person is. You want to do it really quickly but rather randomly. Everyone’s going to close their eyes. I’m going to run on the inside of the circle. Ordinarily do it on the outside. It won’t matter. And I’m going to tap the shoulder of one person as I pass them. That person will become our secret person.
Got the idea? Alright. Just come in a little bit closer. In fact I’m going to actually run on the outside now I’ve got a little bit more room. So I’ll tell you when to reopen your eyes. Please close your eyes. Here we go, closing your eyes. Here we go.
Okay, you may now open your eyes. We now have a secret person in our midst, however that person and I also know who that person is. Congratulations, Rosa. In this case it was Rosa.
Okay, a pack of cards, again random, and this game would be a technique that you would use to appoint a secret person but where you again don’t get to know who that person is.
So randomly I’d like you now just to step forward, grab one card but do not look at it. Come on in and just go ahead. Don’t show it to anyone else. Just take one card but do not look at it. Take one card.
(I think of Dynamo when I see these cards. Markamo.)
Markamo. Nice. So randomly people are taking a card from a playing deck of cards. Everyone got their cards? Okay do your best so that it’s not possible for anyone else to see your card when you go to take a peek at it.
That’s why we do it this way because sometimes what happens just to let people know often when people take a card they go oh, and of course ten people around them notice what their card is. That isn’t going to work so well. So that’s why I always ask now people to hang on to their cards.
So go ahead now and look at your card. You may now look at your card.
In a good structure I would’ve placed a particular card in the pack. So I may have only had enough cards for everyone in my group and one of them was a particular type. It could’ve been the Joker. It could’ve been the Three of Diamonds.
It doesn’t matter what the card is but now that person because you’ve advanced… you’ve actually told people in advance what it’s going to be, if you’re holding that card guess what, you’re the secret person. And then I ask for the cards to be returned. Notice the randomness in there but also something that’s also a little bit fun. It’s a simple prop.
One more time. Again there are so many different ways of doing this but here’s another one that I really enjoy but, it actually increases the challenge and you’ll be able to work out very quickly why in just a second when I describe it.
I have sometimes a washer or I have a ring. What I plan to do in a moment is secretly place this into the pocket of someone. And then having gone all the way around the circle having placed this into somebody’s pocket… And it’s heavy enough. I don’t need to do much except just sort of place it into the pocket and it drops in. It’s silent. You can’t see it really from a distance.
But then I ask everyone to go into their pockets to see if they can feel either the washer or in this case the ring. You’re doing the checking, so not your neighbour. You are doing the checking. If you have that ring, guess what? You’re the secret person.
Where’s the challenge in that exercise?
(not all people have pockets?)
Yes, okay, or if not everyone does then perhaps I don’t choose that person. You have a pocket. I know it’s on your shirt. I didn’t actually indicate which pocket. You’re probably all thinking pants, right? There are a lot of people with pockets in their front so I could’ve put it there and you wouldn’t have even thought to look. So I guess you need to have at least one pocket in your group.
But where else is the challenge though?
(you end up holding up the ring afterwards)
You could, yes, and that’s a case, a point I get often.
(They might reveal, like they could be like… oh!)
Okay yes, there’s a bit of poker face involved. On a couple of occasions that’s happened I’ve had to redo it, which has been great because we talk about you know, what happens when we get surprised, what’s our natural reaction, how do we work hard to try and pull that back to resist.
(It could be problematic if people feel like they’ve been touched inappropriately.)
Yes, exactly. That’s where it is. It’s that personal proximity stuff. That’s why I talk about you know, where you could just lay it on… there’s enough weight in a washer or a ring for it just to simply fall.
Also if you’re concerned that there are one or more people who may be in that space, don’t pick them. Find someone where you know this is going to be okay.
Also it won’t be the first thing you’ve done. Hi, welcome, thanks for coming today. It’s going to be a big day but we’re going to have to actually identify a secret person. I know you don’t know anybody yet but I’m going to touch your pocket, and off we go.
Totally inappropriate. Yet we can laugh at that, and yet when we look at some of our programs it’s almost like we don’t understand that that principle applies all the time whether you’re working with a ring or not. We look at some really inappropriate opportunities for interaction early on in the program and we wonder why we meet resistance. That’s exactly why we meet resistance, because we’ve asked for too much too soon.
When you need this person to be secret, you can’t simply ask for someone to volunteer. So, how do you keep the appointment secret?
Here’s a bunch of fun, random ideas you could try:
Thumbs Up: Ask everyone to extend one of their arms with a thumb sticking up from their clenched fist into the centre of a scrum or circle. With everyone looking out from the centre (or closing their eyes,) you place your hand into the mess of thumbs and squeeze one of them once. You then instruct whoever belongs to that thumb to find another thumb in the group, and squeeze it twice. The person who has their thumb squoozed twice, is the secret person. Why do I suggest you go for the second squeeze – because it gives you a chance to be the secret person!
Pull Out of a Hat: Collect or tear strips of small pieces of paper, one for every person in your group. Write the role of the nominated secret person, eg Assassin, on one piece of paper. Place all of the papers into a receptacle of some sort, mix them about, and ask each person in your group to pull out a piece. This is also a useful technique if you need more than one person to assume a secret role.
Tap on Shoulder: Ask your group to scatter themselves within a designated area, each person situated some space away from the others. Everyone closes their eyes, and then you walk around the group for a few moments. At a random point during your wandering, gently (and silently) tap one or more people on their shoulder to indicate that they are the nominated secret people.
Washer: As above, but slip a round metal washer into someone’s pocket to nominate the secret person.
Deck of Cards: Distribute a deck of playing cards, and announce that whoever receives or picks a particular card (eg Ace of Spades) will be the secret person. If you have less people than a full deck of playing cards, remove the excess cards before distribution to ensure that the card you nominate is in fact distributed.
Practical Leadership Tips
One of the most powerful benefits of choosing a random method to appoint a secret person, or a volunteer, is that you can’t be accused of ‘picking on’ someone. For example, how often is the loudest or most dominant person in a group chosen to be the mute person? Not only is this method stridently obvious, it’s manipulative and picks on people.
If for no other reason, adopting a random method to appoint a secret person is fun and far more interesting than the boring alternatives.
You could integrate any of the strategies described here into a well-designed SEL program to help promote the personal and collective well-being of your group, ie see Health & Wellness Programming tab for more.
Specifically, these strategies offer opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Demonstrate Cultural Competency
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
Note the comment in the Leadership Tips tab. While there is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity, it is very clear that the simple act of appointing a secret person can be enacted poorly.
For example, in the absence of a ‘random mechanism,’ it is possible for some people to feel as if they are being targeted or that the outcome (of the activity) is being manipulated. This speaks to the exercise of effective leadership and emotional intelligence as much as cultural competency.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which these strategies could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
If you simply need to nominate a random person in your group, but they don’t need to be secret, here are a few ideas to add to your repertoire:
Pick A Number: Ask everyone to think of a number from 1 to 100. The person who chooses the number closest to the one you are thinking is the chosen one.
Short Straw: Collect a bunch of straws or sticks, and cut one down to half the size of the others. Hold them in your hand (or place them in a receptacle) and ask everyone to take one. The person who picks the shortest straw or stick is the chosen one.
Phone Number: Think of a number from 0 to 99, and announce it to your group. Then, ask your group to think of the last two digits of their mobile (cell) phone number, eg the two digits might be 2 and 7, or 27 when read together. The person whose number is the same or closest to the number announced is the chosen one.
Date of Birth: Nominate a day and month in the year, and the person whose birthday is the same or closest thereto is the chosen one.
Clothing Colour: Nominate a colour that is not too common for a particular garment of clothing, eg underwear or socks. Every person who is wearing that particular coloured garment is the chosen one.
Heads & Tails: Ask each person in your group to stand up and place their hands on their heads or their bottom (tails). Toss a coin and those who match the side which faces up remain standing. For each round, everyone who is still standing chooses either heads or tails before the toss. Keep tossing until you have one person left.
Coin: If your group happens to have coins on them (eg in pockets, purses or wallets), nominate a particular year, and perhaps a coin denomination (eg 10c), and the person who is holding (or the first to produce) a coin manufactured in that same year (or close thereto) is the chosen one.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Private message the person you wish to appoint as the secret person. Be sure to ask everyone to check their chat rooms to potentially see a message, and for everyone to put on their best “poker face” to prevent sending any inadvertent signals to the rest of the group.
Here are some unique online reference points you can use to appoint people randomly:
– When you start your online session, note the Xth video screen to appear on your monitor, etc.
– Think of a random date of the year (keep it secret) and then ask everyone to share their date of birth (not inc the year.) The person whose birthday is closest to your nominated date is the secret person.
– The first person you see appear on your screen wearing a red top or has a picture framed in the background of their video, or is holding a cup of coffee, etc.
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Over the course of a long career, it is impossible to recall where any one or more of these random strategies to appoint a secret person were sourced. Nonetheless, they are all gratefully received, most likely from the many experienced practitioners I have had the pleasure of working with over the years.