Lay a large sheet of paper (approx 2m x 800mm) on the floor/ground.
Gather your group around the outside edges of the paper.
Draw the outline of a large fictitious person on the paper, eg head, torso, limbs, etc.
Instruct each person to grab a marker and write on the inside of the outline (body) behaviours or qualities that are safe and respectful of self, others and the group, eg trust one another, cooperate, be on time, etc.
Invite several volunteers to share what they wrote and why in the context of the task.
When ready, instruct each person to write on the outside of the outline behaviours or qualities that would damage or limit the group’s ability to achieve those attributes listed inside the body.
Invite volunteers to share what they wrote and why with the rest of the group.
If desired, seek consensus or some form of agreement from your group about the commitments written on the inside of the being.
Display this ‘being’ in a prominent position so that your group can view it and refer to it easily.
Reflect on the ‘being’ and your group’s discussion throughout your program.
How To Play Narrative
This is one of the earliest tools I recall being introduced to in my first year of training as a budding adventure programming leader. Thirty or more years later, I still use it regularly.
You’ll need to get your hands on a large sheet of paper. Either sticky-tape a whole lot of smaller sheets together or access a roll of butcher’s paper. You need something the size of approx 2 metres x 800mm.
Quite honestly, the paper does not (strictly) need to be this big, but there are benefits, which will soon become more evident.
Lay the paper on the ground in front of your group and invite a volunteer to draw the outline of a very large person showing their head, upper torso, arms and legs. Make it big and dispense with any of the finer details, we just need something that reminds your group of a human being.
In case what I’ve described does not make sense, take a look at the illustration for this activity, or indeed, download the Virtual Being supplied in the Resources tab to grasp what I’m talking about.
You will now want to frame the creative process of your group to help you (and them) achieve the objectives of this exercise. There are many options, but one of my most popular frameworks is to help my group create a common, shared and conscious agreement that will guide or govern their social interactions.
Or, in other words, your aim is to discuss and agree to a set of behaviours and characteristics that are acceptable, and not acceptable, that will help your group be successful. Take a look at the Leadership Tips tab for a bunch of “success” parameters.
There is no limit to the number of ideas that may fit this description, so distribute the markers and invite each person to kneel down towards the paper and write one or two important behaviours or qualities – inside the outline – that reflect their thoughts and values.
Help your group to understand that these commitments are ideals, aspirations so to speak. There is no such thing as the perfect group, but identifying a set of attributes to aspire to will provide a lens through which your group can view their success (or otherwise.)
When ready, or perhaps as some are still writing, invite a couple of volunteers to share what they wrote and, importantly why. From a facilitation point of view, listen carefully to help these volunteers connect what they wrote to the overall objective (framing) of the exercise.
Now, if this first part of the exercise is akin to waving a magic wand, then now is the time to brandish the reality stick. By this, I mean, switch the conversation to help your group identify those attributes or behaviours that stop or get in the way of the group achieving their desired behaviours.
For example, turning up late to class, or cussing, or being selfish are all behaviours or ways of being that do not contribute towards success.
So, armed with a pen or marker, invite each person to kneel down again and write one or more obstacles or behaviours that do not help the group be successful. And this time, write them outside the outline.
Once done, I would strongly encourage you to invite one or more people to share what they wrote and why to the rest of the group.
Your final task ideally is to seek some form of consensus or agreement from your group. That is, seek a commitment from your group that they will work towards these attributes and behaviours to help the group be successful. There is no shortage of ways to seek this agreement – thumbs-up, nodding of heads, signing one’s name onto the being, etc.
Practical Leadership Tips
If you’re interested to learn more about the benefits of creating full value agreements with your group – sometimes referred to as the Full Value Contract – click here and here.
If your framing is related somehow to success, please know that this can mean LOTS of things, so make it really clear from the start before you dive too deep into this exercise. For example, success could mean:
Creating a safe, supportive environment in which learning can flourish;
Identifying acceptable behavioural norms;
Creating an environment in which the group can support individual goals;
The ways in which we respect ourselves, others and the group;
The key elements of a high-performance team; or
Identifying a set of markers that measure success, etc.
Note I suggest writing the ‘desired’ attributes inside the outline of the being. To this end, you could encourage your group to write certain attributes or qualities on the relevant places of the being, eg the quality of ‘communicate clearly’ could be written where the mouth would appear. Or, ‘be helpful’ could be written on the hands.
Note, if you work with young people, they sometimes want to give the ‘correct’ answers without giving too much thought to them, ie buzz words. If and when this occurs, I like to introduce a practical matrix that seeks to know what [ enter typical response ] looks like, sounds like and feels like. Not only do responses to this matrix make the idea more concrete, but it often serves to quell my group’s inclination to use buzz words over time.
You could integrate The Being as part of a well-designed SEL program to help your group establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
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
The Being is a very explicit tool you can use to invite your group to explore and create their own full value agreement or any goal for that matter. The task of discussing and then writing the various attributes of the agreement on paper will keep these ideas in existence for your group to refer to long after the activity is complete.
Also, depending on how you frame this exercise, you could also invite your group to focus on the development of their emotional literacy skills. For example, the tactile outline of one’s body could invite your group to consider where certain cognitive and emotional attributes would be located on the body, eg empathy could be written close to the position of the being’s heart.
Tactile Being: If appropriate, invite someone from your group to lie on the paper (facing up) and ask the others to draw an outline around this person’s body. Note, while this is clearly more fun, it also makes the volunteer lying down more vulnerable to silliness, so consider this option carefully.
Small Beings: Form small groups of 4 to 6 people to produce multiple ‘beings’ representing the thoughts and values of your larger group.
Alternate Beings: Metaphorically speaking, you could embed your full value conversation in the context of many other objects, such as a house, car, building, a legal document, etc.
Take a look at Palm Tree, a similar reflection tool that comes in a smaller, often more manageable package.
If you have access to a virtual whiteboard or annotation feature in your favourite video conferencing software, you can present this exercise. Start by downloading the Virtual Being outline from the Resources tab and share it virtually (on screen) with your group. Armed with their choice of annotation tools, lead your group through the steps as described above. Note, as a smaller version of the real thing, encourage your group to write/type small and/or keep their comments brief.
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Useful Framing Ideas
If it was possible for you to create the perfect human being, what sorts of attributes or characteristics would you design into this being to make them super-effective when it comes to social interactions…
In a moment, we are going to have a discussion about the sort of group we’d like to be, in the true sense of the word. That is, we are human ‘beings’ not human ‘doings.’ So, I’d like you to start thinking about the sorts of behaviours and characteristics that would be acceptable to you, and not so acceptable. Think in terms of what would make this group super-effective and successful…
In this exercise, we’re going to create a tool that works a bit like our largest organ, our skin. Our skin creates a space for all of the good things inside our body to keep us healthy and a wonderful barrier to keep out all of the nasty things like germs and diseases…
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 leading this creative goal-setting exercise:
What do you think are the most powerful or significant attributes that were listed? Why?
Did you observe any themes to the characteristics that were added inside or outside our being?
How can we use the inside attributes to diminish the impact of the outside attributes?
When one or more of the outside issues are present, what shall we do?
How might this conversation make a difference to our group’s performance?
If our group embodies these positive attributes, what would it look like, sound like and feel like?
What could be the result if we do not focus on the positive attributes?
Does it matter to you that we do or do not achieve these goals? Why?
The inspiration for The Being and many wonderful group processing tools were sourced from Jim Schoel, co-author of Islands of Healing, Exploring Islands of Healing and Gold Nuggets.