Distribute a set of blank index cards to your group, one per person.
Ask everyone to write their first name on a card, in large letters.
Pose three questions and invite everyone to consider their responses, eg favourite movie, ideal holiday location, and what they would do if they won the lottery.
Over the course of the next few minutes, invite everyone to have a short conversation with a partner introducing themselves, especially sharing these three bits of information.
After this mutual exchange, instruct everyone to swap (name) cards and identities, ie each person assumes the identity of their partner, including the three bits of information they just learned about their partner.
Each person then seeks a new partner, and introduces themselves using their new identity.
Continue playing for 10 or more minutes, inviting each person to complete as many exchanges (and swaps of identity) as possible.
To conclude, form a circle, and invite each person to introduce the person named on the card they are holding to the group.
Video Transcript for Identity Crisis
presented by Mark Collard
You’ll note that I have in front of me a series of little index cards. What I would like you to do in just a moment is to grab one of those index cards and you’ll need to share the pens, but once you’ve got a pen mark your first name. So in my case it’s Mark.
You’re going to actually write that as big as you can on the card. Don’t be meek and mild and just put it in the corner. I want you to actually fill as much of the card as you can with your first name. Go.
This is not an art class. We do not need perfection. We need you to spend no more than five seconds writing your name.
So each of you now has an index card which has your first name on it. So for example if Stevo and I were partners he has a name tag, let’s call it, and I’ve got the same thing.
This is going to happen over and over until I say stop, but you’re going to have a series of conversations with people with the card, but I want you at a minimum to share just two things. I want you to share with them what’s your favourite film. Now if you have lots of films you love then pick a genre and pick the favourite among that genre, so whatever that favourite film is.
And describe to your partner which part of the world would you describe as paradise, that part of the world that you would describe as paradise. You might not have actually been there, but I want you to share with your partner that part of the world, wherever that may be, would be paradise.
So for example I would share that with Stevo, Stevo would share those two things with me. We may have chitty-chat about a few other things, where you’ve been, blah blah blah. At some point though once you’ve covered those two items you then swap cards.
And now Stevo becomes Mark and he has a crisis of identity because now when he moves on to a new person he introduces himself as Mark. I introduce myself as Stevo and I share Stevo’s favourite film and I share Stevo’s favourite part of the world that’s regarded as a piece of paradise and he does the same for Mark.
Of course naturally at the end of that next conversation that Mark has, the cards are swapped again and Mark is now assumed by a whole new person. You could probably fill in the gaps of what happens from there. We’ll do this for several minutes and then I’ll tell you what happens after that.
So clearly you’re needing to work hard at remembering the information that you’re being shared because how often, let’s be honest with this, are you in party situation you greet someone and literally three seconds later you’ve forgotten their name. That’s often happened. Try to hang on to it for a little bit longer. If nothing else, you’ll remember their names because of the name written on the card.
So to repeat, you’ll start with your own card. You’ll share those two things, favourite film, paradise. Swap cards. You then assume the personality and the person of the card that you’re then holding, and each time you share you end up swapping cards. Keep doing that probably for three, four, five or six times. Got the idea? Go.
We will not have enough time to have every person share because it will take a long time for a group this size, but I want to give you a sense of what happens next. In a moment I’m going to ask for a volunteer, one person who will be the first, often the one who thinks they’re about to forget everything they’ve just been learned, to introduce the person that you are holding the card for.
And then having introduced that person we will actually go find that person in the circle and first of all check, does that sound like you. It’s a bit like Chinese whispers where sometimes the information gets lost in translation. And then hand that card to the person to whom it actually belongs and then they will introduce the person of the card that they are holding.
And we’ll just keep going around the circle for a minute or so. We’ll get a sense, a flavour of what actually happens. Who would like to start? Okay, you’ve got it. So, James.
Hey James. Introduce us.
(I’m really into The Lion King, and just sandy beaches are the best.)
(I’d love to wind up on a sandy beach.)
So James, where’s James? Does that sound like you, James?
(Sunny beach but very close)
And Lion King? Hakuna matata? It’s your favourite film. Fantastic. So pass the card over to James, and James will now introduce himself as…
Lucy. Okay Lucy, introduce yourself.
(Favourite movie is “Man on Fire” and paradise would be Switzerland.)
And where is the real Lucy? Okay Lucy, does that sound like you?
Terrific. Okay. Lucy. We should just give a little hand to all… those first two people, I forgot for the first person. So Lucy, who are you?
(I’m Reilly and my favourite movie is Harry Potter and paradise is Bora Bora.)
Okay, good job, Reilly.
(I’m Rob. Your favourite movie is Boondock Days and rainforest is your paradise.
Okay, a little clap. A couple more.
(I’m Brianna. My favourite movie is Deadpool and I really like the Maldives.)
If your group does not already have individual name-tags, start by distributing a set of index cards and pens and ask everyone to write their names really big on a card.
Next, invite each person to think of their response to a number of specific questions. For example, you could ask each person to think of:
Their favourite movie;
What they love most about where they live;
What they would do if they won the lottery; or
What was their first paid job as a kid.
Having thought about this information, ask everyone to start mingling and greet one other person (to form a pair.) If you have an odd number of people, a group of three works fine.
Explain that you would now like each pair to get to know one another by sharing anything that is of interest, but at a minimum, they must cover the responses to the three questions you announced.
Encourage each person to pay particular attention to these three bits of information about their partner. No need to say anymore just yet.
Allow a minute or two to pass, then halt the conversation and explain that you would now like each person to swap their ‘name-tag’ with their partner. And – here’s the fun bit – each person will now assume the identity of their partner, and share only those three bits of information they learned about their ‘old’ partner with a ‘new’ partner (plus anything else they may remember.)
After a few groans and feverish re-checking of data, the process resumes, but this time, each person assumes the identity of their most recent partner.
Permit the banter to flow for 10 minutes or so, inviting each person to complete as many exchanges (of identity) as possible. By this point, everyone is thoroughly confused as to who they truly are.
To conclude, circle up and ask one person to start the naming process by ‘introducing’ themselves, using only the information they can recall about the person named on the tag that they are presently holding.
People rarely get it 100% right, so there’s always a lot of laughter as the ‘real’ person identifies him or herself and reworks the data. This person goes next, introducing him or herself as the person named on the name-tag they are holding, and so on.
Continue until every person has been introduced.
Practical Leadership Tips
It sometimes occurs that an individual will receive their own ‘name-tag’ back during the exercise. On these occasions, it is best to suggest that people actively avoid ‘meeting’ themselves, so as to keep the data of their identity intact, ie one is likely to revert back to the original (correct) information if they receive their original card.
Encourage people to write their name very large to fill as much of the space on the index card. Nothing worse than greeting someone who is wearing a name tag with very small writing.
Sometimes people feel the urge to get the information right, and seek out the person belonging to the card they are holding. Discourage this behaviour. Half the fun is found in the genuine reporting of incorrect information about others.
Further to the above point, people often want to write down the information they receive from their new partner to help them remember the correct data. Again, actively discourage this (unless you have a reason to allow this to occur) – better to be wrong and get a laugh, than to introduce everyone correctly and only get a smile.
You could integrate Identity Crisis as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of ample social interaction and enjoying a few laughs.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully recall the details of one’s ever-changing identity may speak to the benefits of developing mindfulness, resilience and adaptability skills.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Identity Crisis could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Make Notes: If memory-recall is an issue for your group, allow each person to write down the three (or more) bits of information about their partner (new identity) on the back of the card. Exchanges proceed as per normal, but this time, people have a crutch to lean on. Although this version tends not to be as much fun as the original (because the number of memory recall errors plummet,) it will still serve as a useful get-to-know-you exercise.
Deeper Dive: Take a look at Partner Introductions for a simple, yet powerful framework for partners to get-to-know one another more significantly.
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Useful Framing Ideas
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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 fun get-to-know-you exercise:
What did it feel like to forget or tell the wrong information? Why?
Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to remember people’s names?
What strategies do you use to remember names and information about others?
The inspiration for Identity Crisis, and many more fun ice-breaker games, was sourced from the following publications: