Randomly distribute a collection of coins to your group, one per person.
Ask each person to identify the year of the coin embossed on the coin.
Taking turns, invite each person to share a story about something that they experienced in that year.
If the year occurs before the birth of the person holding the coin, invite them to share something they can remember about that year in history.
Continue until everyone has shared.
How To Play Narrative
The source of this fun, get-to-know-you game is literally sitting in your pocket, or perhaps, even hidden at the back of your couch.
Gather a bunch of coins, any value, enough for one for every person in your group. Then randomly distribute such coins to your group.
Next, ask each person to look and identify the year stamped on the coin they are holding.
With this information in mind, invite each person to reflect on at least one thing they experienced in that year.
For example, if the coin I am holding was made in 2001, I am invited to think of something that happened to me in that year.
When at least a few people in your group appear ready, invite the first person to share their story.
Typically, these stories will range from short to long, dramatic to humorous and everything in between. Unless you have a specific educational objective, the content is less important than the sharing, not to mention the atmosphere in which it is shared (see Leadership Tips tab for more.)
Invite each person to share, one at a time, until your whole group has shared.
Practical Leadership Tips
If necessary, you can ‘manipulate’ the selection of years to match the age(s) of the people you are working with. For example, if you are working with a group of middle-school students, only distribute coins that were in circulation over the most recent 14 to 16 years. Likewise, if you work with older adults, seek out coins that have been in circulation for 30 or more years.
Given that reflection is a key component of the exercise, it works particularly well when you have, first, created a really positive and safe environment in which to share. Otherwise, you are unlikely to enjoy the full benefits of this activity. To be fair, this is true of any ice-breaking experience.
Note, it is possible that the year on a particular coin may evoke a very negative memory for an individual. To keep the sharing as safe as possible, you may allow the opportunity for anyone to swap their coin with another person (or from the collection of coins leftover.) This also permits any person who may struggle to think of something useful to say about the coin they are holding, another option.
If you can, source a collection of coins from many different countries. Their value is irrelevant for the purposes of this exercise but the level of interest in the coins (and hence the activity) will certainly rise.
Just in case, use a bunch of low-value coins. It has occurred that not all coins were returned at the end of the game if you know what I mean.
You could integrate Year Of The Coin 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 ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Linking Feelings, Values & Thoughts
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 to one’s wellbeing of interacting and sharing with others
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to invite people to share something about themselves may speak to the benefits of having developed a positive and supportive environment in advance, ie clear and coherent behavioural norms. That is to say, if people do not feel comfortable sharing in front of others for fear of being ridiculed or threatened, this exercise will not be effective at inviting interaction.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Year Of The Coin could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
BYO Coin: Ask each person to pull one coin, any coin, from their purse or wallet. Saves you the trouble of sourcing the coins.
Number of Shares: Look at the last digit of the year of the coin, eg it would be 9 for 1989. Invite each person to share that number of ‘things’ about themselves to a partner or small group. Note, if the year ends in a zero, this will be deemed to be a ten.
Group Experience: Form small groups of 3 to 5 people, each holding one random coin. Ask each group to identify the year embossed on one of the coins as the one year in which everyone in their group can share an experience (that occurred in that year.)
Narrow Your Focus: Adopting any variation, direct all sharing to be framed with a particular focus, eg what happened at school in that year, or share something that surprised you that year, etc.
Year Of The Coin Line-Up: Holding one coin in their hand, ask your group to form one straight line according to the chronological sequence of the year of manufacture. Employed as a group initiative, challenge your group to complete this task without any forms of verbal communication or showing their coin to any other person.
Coin Change-Up: Ask your group to randomly re-distribute all of their coins, so everyone ends up holding a different and unknown value coin (instruct your group to not look at the coins as they are being passed.) When ready, say “GO” and challenge your group to quickly re-assemble in one straight line according to the year of the coins. Repeat several times in the interest of continuous improvement. Take a look at Change Up for more details.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
In advance, ask each person to bring, or (at a moment’s notice) pull a coin from their wallet/purse. Invite a series of volunteers to share, as per normal.
For large groups, divide into small groups in their own breakout rooms to share.
In the highly unlikely situation it is not possible for anyone to grab a coin, bring a selection of your own coins and invite your group to share what happened (to them personally, locally, globally, etc) in the various years displayed on your coins.
Creative & numerical strategy to get to know people.
Simple & wonderfully random strategy to invite sharing.
Simple, interactive ice-breaker with many variations.
Useful Framing Ideas
Does everyone have their wallet or purse in their possession? Alrighty, randomly take out one coin and identify the year of manufacture…
Reflection is one of the most powerful mediums for learning, indeed, it is scientifically proven that there is no learning without reflection. In this exercise, I would like you to reflect on a particular year in your life. You don’t know the year just yet but I am particularly interested in focusing on something you learned in that year…
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 interesting icebreaker game:
How difficult was it for you to reflect back on the specific year indicated on your coin?
What type of memories flooded back to you – positive, negative or both?
Can you identify why you recalled these experiences?
Did you notice any themes about the types of sharing within your group?
Did you learn something about another person? Provide an example.
The inspiration for Year Of The Coin was sourced from a Facebook post shared by Shoba Chandon, a group facilitator based in Singapore.