I am just going to call out a number now, and this is a very simple exercise. And what happens is that when you’ve heard the number you need to find a group with that number of people in it as quickly as possible.
So for example if I said Four, you’ve got to quickly go find three other people to find a group of four. A bit like these gentlemen over here. Fantastic, lovely demonstration.
So but you need to find it very very quickly. This is deathly competitive. Basically if you don’t find a group, if you are part of that long division where there is a remainder at the end, we have to send you home. No, we are not going to do that.
But that is how important it is. Some people would want to be last.
Now, ordinarily with large groups, it is not so difficult here, but with large groups let’s just practice this anyway.
That once you’ve found your group I invite you to bob down, just simply get down on the ground so it’s clear that anyone still standing is still trying to find a group.
Okay, got the idea? Five!
(People separate into groups)
Some are over here, hurry. Four, that’s good.
Here’s what happened. The next number, there will be a series of them. The kicker here is that anyone in your current group can’t be in your next group. This avoids what I refer to as the typical Year Eight or Year Nine dilemma.
That if for example, like we have just come from five, if I said the next number was four someone gets pushed out of the group. Or if I said six someone is physically grabbed from another group and brought over. Not generally a self-esteem building exercise.
So as best as is possible, it doesn’t always work out, but as best as is possible, anyone who is in the current group should not be in your next group.
(People separate into groups laughing.)
How To Play Narrative
Clumps is so simple, yet so powerful.
Gather your group around you, and explain that, in a moment, you will shout out a number – any number from, say one to ten (the bigger your group, the bigger you can make your biggest numbers.)
Immediately, upon hearing your call, everyone is invited to quickly form a group consisting of that number of people. In my experience, groups get very huggy at this point, and form little fortresses with their bodies to prevent others from joining their little huddle.
Naturally, you will often get a few poor souls left over, the so-called remainder, speaking in the language of long division. At this moment, you have several options. You could eliminate these folks, move them to the side, and continue with the next shouted number, and so on until you get the lucky ‘winners.’
Or, better still,, shout another number. It keeps the energy up, is much less competitive, and more fun for everyone. And the look on the faces of the ‘dejected’ when they hear the next number called (‘I’m saved’) is priceless.
Move from five to three, then up to nine and back down to four so that a high degree of mixing occurs. Shout “ONE!” just to see what happens.
Within a few rounds, you could stop when you believe you have created sufficiently random smaller teams, ready for their next challenge.
Practical Leadership Tips
For very large groups (in excess of 30 or more people,) ask newly formed groups to sit down together to make it easier for those still standing to see each other and form a group.
On the occasion you have ‘left-overs’ (those folk who are not part of a group,) don’t dwell too long before calling the next number. Or, simply ask these folk to join any group close to them to participate in the next task (see below for suggestions.)
Once formed, instruct the newly-created groups to complete a nominated task. For example, (a) introduce themselves to the group, (b) share their response to a question you pose, (c) use their collective bodies to make the shape of a letter of the alphabet, and so on.
If you notice a lot of ‘cliques’ developing, adopt the first variation described below. You won’t be able to ‘police’ the mixing as such, but it will encourage most people to find new groups with each number you announce.
Health & Wellness Programming
The flexibility and randomness of Clumps make it an ideal tool to use when exploring the development of social and interpersonal skills. There is no doubt that the more opportunities your group has to interact with one another, mix with unfamiliar people and get to know one another, the more they can establish and maintain positive and healthy relationships. It is also true that forming small groups to invite sharing can be a more successful (ie safer) platform to embrace vulnerability, empathy and responsible decision-making.
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Extending on the SEL discussion above, you can learn a lot by watching how a group and its individual group members move in and out of their various clumps. A group that feels safe will more likely see a majority of its members join any small clump, whereas a group that feels less comfortable will tend to stick to familiar groupings of friends and colleagues. To this end, you could invite your group to reflect on the impact of these decisions, and the environment in which they are made, on the establishment of positive group norms.
New People: Add the proviso that when a new number is called, a person cannot form a group with anyone who was in their previous group (as much as is possible – the larger the group, the easier this is to achieve.) This tweaking of the rules will spoil the plans of those crafty individuals who prefer to stick together – aka cliques – simply opting to ebb and flow in terms of their membership number at any point in time.
Sharing: Combine this exercise with Paired Shares to invite some valuable ice-breaking among the newly-formed members of your clumps.
Unique Categories: Form a group according to a simple, easily-accessible category, such as dark-coloured tops, brand of running shoes, gender, colour of eyes, etc. For more details, take a look at Categories.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
In advance, create a simple diagram of multiple shapes or circles on a slide. Instruct your group to use the annotate function of your video conferencing software (eg Zoom) so that they can type on the screen. When ready, instruct each person to write their name inside one of the shapes as quickly as possible, limited of course, to the number you announce. Tip: to prevent arguments, announce that a person must fully and accurately type their name to be entitled to remain in a shape.
Take a look at Jamboard, a free piece of software that is built into Google’s Chrome browser. It will permit you and everyone in your group to manipulate objects on a screen in real-time, ie as if they were people who could move. In advance, create one object (eg virtual sticky note) for each participant, then share the unique URL with all of them. When ready, announce a particular number and challenge each person to quickly form that number of people in a unique group by moving their object (possibly their name) until they have become part of a group.
Further to above, check out Padlet which is even more versatile and powerful. While is it commercial software, it does not require your participants to have to log into anything in order to interact with others online.
Use the breakout room function to randomly allocate your participants to smaller groups matching the number you have announced. Tip: you will need to announce what each (smaller) group is expected to do if anything, once they arrive in their room.
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Useful Framing Ideas
At any point in time, we may find ourselves in a situation which is unfamiliar. Consider this as an opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to others (rather than as a problem, or something to fear.) Sharing breeds understanding and growth, which helps us to stretch our comfort zones…
We all have to make decisions, but often, the biggest challenge is not to take the easy way out. In this activity, you have many opportunities to exercise that choice – what will you choose to do? Seek the safety of others you know, or stretch outside your comfort zone and join with others? What are the consequences of each choice?…
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 simple, group-splitting exercise:
What did you notice as the activity progressed?
What outcomes were achieved during this exercise?
What did it feel like when you could not form part of a group? How did you respond?
Where else do ‘clumps’ form in our lives?
Which ‘clumps’ do you wish you could be a part of, or choose not to be a part of? Why?
Fun & Interactive ‘Ice-Breaker’ Session 1
What You Need:
10+ people, 30 mins, ‘Ice-Breaker Question Exchange’ cards (Print+Play)