Assemble your group in an area with ample room to move in front.
Ask two volunteers to leave the space, so that they cannot hear or see what is happening.
While the pair are absent, ask the rest of your group to agree on a unique physical position involving two people, eg standing back to back with hands on heads.
Invite the volunteers to return in front of your group.
The pair now work together as they move their bodies to discover the unknown physical position.
The group is not permitted to speak to the pair.
Use only the group’s applause to encourage (and discourage) the pair as they get closer (and further away) from the desired position.
Faster, more enthusiastic clapping means the pair is getting closer, and slower, less energetic applause means they are not close to the desired position.
Allow up to five minutes of trial-and-error before introducing subtle clues to guide their efforts.
As soon as the pair achieve the desired position (or close thereto,) lead the group in wild ecstatic applause.
Continue play with more volunteer pairs.
How To Play Narrative
In a moment, you will ask for two volunteers to leave your playing space, so that the rest of the group can work on a problem. There are no tricks up your sleeve, but you are well advised to explain everything to everyone before the first pair departs.
The aim for the two people who will soon leave the space, is to correctly demonstrate the exact physical positions of two juxtaposed people, as identified secretly (in advance) by the rest of the group. For example, two people may stand back to back, each with their right feet being held by their partner’s left hand.
While the pair are absent from the space, invite two volunteers to come before the rest of the group and display what the initial ‘desired position’ looks like, so everyone has a very clear idea about what they want the unknowing pair to achieve.
When everyone is ready, invite the pair to enter the ‘performance area,’ and work together by means of trial and error to discover the desired position and/or movements.
The group cannot speak to the pair, nor can they answer any questions. The only feedback the pair will receive from the group is their applause.
When the pair ‘do’ something that resembles one or more elements of the desired positions – for example, one of them suddenly turns their back to the other – the group will increase the pace of their applause. It’s a lot like the ‘getting warmer’ game you played at school.
The closer the pair get to the exact position, the warmer and more joyous the applause.
Most pairs will ‘get it’ within five minutes. Beyond this, if there is a risk the pair will simply throw in the towel, feel free to offer a few hints such as what part of their bodies they should focus on moving.
If the clapping is subdued, encourage the pair to do anything that is different to what they have already done.
Because truth is always obvious to those who know it, expect some classic moments of humour and side-splitting laughter from the audience as the unknowing pair struggle to find the ‘answer.’ And be sure that when they do, the group offers their most frenzied applause.
When ready, introduce a second pair of candidates to start a new round of BF Skinner antics. Continue play until you sense the energy of group is starting to wane.
Practical Leadership Tips
As facilitator, err on the side of ‘structural ease’ when guiding your group to create their desired ‘secret’ position. If it’s too complex, with too many refined positions, the pair may never ‘get it’ and that’s not fun for anybody. Keep it simple.
As this exercise is not far off a performance, ask your group to applaud as the unsuspecting pair first enter the room. And again, of course, when they finally accomplish their task.
While I suggest 12 is a minimum number of people to make this activity worthwhile, the more the merrier.
As suggested, if the pair is struggling to discover the desired position, given them a few clues so the exercise doesn’t end up as a down-and-out struggle. It’s mean to be fun, not a trial. To this end, if several more minutes passes by without resolution, reward the pair when they get ‘close’ to the final result.
Be sure to honour Challenge by Choice and always seek volunteers – lest you coerce two people into an embarrassing situation, and then no one will want to go next.
This game is ideal for those community-building, night-time entertainment moments of your program.
By the way, BF Skinner was well-known for his study of human behaviour and movement. Does the name of the game make sense now?
You could integrate BF Skinner as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage healthy social interactions as much as understand how their emotions and thoughts influence their behaviours in different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
The manner in which group members interact with one another during the game (the performing pair and the audience) will provide you with many opportunities to explore emotional literacy. For example, it is absolutely necessary for all participants to read a variety of social cues and respond accordingly. And, as a facilitator, you must be acutely aware of the level of frustration that may build in the chosen pair and provide a series of gentle clues to keep events on track, if necessary.
Also, owing to the challenge presented before each pair, there are many opportunities to reflect on what it takes to demonstrate initiative and be adaptable. Lead a discussion about the types of environments that support (and do not) these skills.
Group Formations: Involve three or four people to create a position in which every person is physically connected in some way to the others.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Have you heard about the famous human movement behaviourist, Doctor BF Skinner? He developed the principle of reinforcement, that is, his studies showed that humans could be encouraged to do something if their actions were reinforced, and conversely so. This next game celebrates the findings of his work…
When you were young, do you recall playing the game ‘Getting Warmer?’ You know, the game your parents possibly played when they hid something and coached you as you got closer to it by saying “You’re getting warmer/hotter/colder…, etc.” Keep that in mind as we play this next game…
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 intriguing partner game:
How easy was it to generate a constant series of ideas?
What emotions did you experience during this activity?
Did you get frustrated? If so, how did you respond to this feeling?
Describe your experience of being coached by the applause of the group. Was this useful?
How many different social cues can you recall during the game?
Provide an example of what you understand a particular social cue to mean?
Did everyone see and respond to these cues/situations in the same way?
Can you think of an example of when a cue was overlooked or misunderstood?
Where and when do we see these sorts of cues expressed in our ordinary lives?
Where else in our lives are we influenced by non-verbal behaviours?
Fun ‘Evening Games’ Session
What You Need:
8+ people, 60 mins
Buzz – silly counting game that is guaranteed to stimulate bursts of laughter
King Frog – animated circle game that involves good memories & sharp reflexes
BF Skinner – classic audience game in which two people volunteer to work together
The inspiration for BF Skinner, and many more fun, large group games, was sourced from the following publication: