Here is your first task, first of all I would like you to just buddy up with one other person. So just buddy up with one person first of all.
Identify who is the tallest in your group. Just you David, and I think it might be you Megan.
Could I ask for all of the tallest folks to stand over to my left and all those folks who aren’t in that group to stand over to my right.
Okay, here’s your first task. So there should be what seven on each side? Perfect, but the numbers actually aren’t quite so significant as the fact that we now have two teams. We have the tall folks and we have the less than tall folks over here, but you are actually doing the same activity.
Your objective is to get as much done as possible over the course of the next four to five minutes. I’ll grab my watch in a moment, but we are looking to time this.
To begin each of you in a moment, secretly that is the other team will not know, you are going to develop a list. And I am going to ask that you develop a list of at least five, six, or seven four letter words. You are going to develop a list of four letter words. So salt, YMCA, head, sock any of those are great examples of four letter words.
Don’t spend too long thinking about this. This is not meant to be a test, but it does need to be secret. That is the other team will not know what you have written down. So your first task is get a piece of paper make sure the other team doesn’t see the list of your four letter words. Go.
You have 30 seconds to develop that list.
(group’s preparing for Body English)
Hold it there. Draw a line under the end. Whatever the last word was, draw a line. Okay can I quickly check in with each group? Does the less than tall group, do you have at least five words?
Okay do my tall group have more than five words?
Can you now move away from each other and move to opposite ends of this space that we are working in. Now on occasions, I actually provide the list of words. What I have found though is that actually, it’s far more fun to actually get the group to develop their own set of four-letter words.
Here’s how the task works. Remember even though I know you are geographically opposite each other it’s almost like A versus B, you are actually on the same team. This is how you cooperate.
To begin, this group over here you are going to take the first word on your list and using just your bodies without any verbal forms of communication you are going to physically represent the letters of that word. Not the action. Not the action, that is a whole other activity.
Just the letters. So if it happens to be the word ball, the B A L L as they would view it needs to be seen.
Now if it’s possible to have the whole word actually set up all four letters at the same time, fantastic. If you find that you can’t do that, then make it clear that you obviously have more letters to come. So without ever indicating to them the word verbally set yourselves up.
In a moment you will have a chance to identify what that word is going to be.
(Does it matter the caps of the letters?)
Well it matters in so far as can they understand it.
Okay, good so we’ve now started. Here’s what’s going to happen. So you’ve got the first word. Everyone listen up. So you’ve got the first word.
Now ideally you want to wait for the whole three or four letters to have formed before you actually guess, but sometimes just through a process of elimination, they might have the first two letters, you kind of guess where they’re headed and you actually say it out loud.
The object over the next four to five minutes, between the two teams, how many four letter words can you physically align your bodies with and have guessed as quickly as possible.
So there’s our first one. That’s our practice run, but it’s actually going to start here.
With the first word on your list working through your list. It’s possible that you have the same one, but your object it to be able to do it as quickly as possible. You want to be able to watch what’s happening over here. Alright the time starts now.
Alright you got it now over to you.
(group playing Body English)
How To Play Narrative
Divide your group into smaller groups or teams of say 5 to 10 people.
The number in each group doesn’t really matter, but if you have a very large group, ensure that you end up with an even number of groups so that you can pair them off.
Set up an area where two teams can stand at least 50 metres (165′) apart from each other within clear view of each other.
With a ‘message’ in mind (see Resources tab for some pre-prepared message ideas,) each group will attempt to communicate with their paired team in the quickest and most effective manner possible using their bodies to form the letters of the alphabet.
The message to be transmitted can be created in several ways. You may choose to make it in advance and deliver it in written or verbal form, or give your groups the freedom to develop their own.
In each case, the message should provide an instruction for the other group to do something, such as “Stand on one foot singing Jingle Bells” or “Build a tall tower made only of shoes.”
On “GO” one group will start by relaying their message one letter or word at a time, depending on their technique and the number of people in their group.
The groups should be encouraged to be as quick as possible, but the most important factor is that the message is effective, and it successfully sparks the other group into action.
This exercise clearly focuses on effective communication, but issues of teamwork and perspective will also give rise to a valuable discussion at the end.
Practical Leadership Tips
You’ll save a lot of time if you prepare a set of messages in advance ready to be communicated by your groups. However, if you’ve got the time, allow your groups the freedom to create their own.
To get you started, a dozen short Body English messages (prepared as a PDF) are available for download in the Resources tab.
Most groups will think to produce their letters/words on the vertical plane (standing up,) however, lying on the floor is equally effective if the receiving pairs can see the letters.
To reiterate, there are many parallels which connect this exercise to real-world communication, eg misunderstandings, too much information, keeping it simple, common language, etc. This would be an ideal exercise to conduct with a group that is having difficulties communicating effectively.
Keep in mind that the pairings of two smaller groups actually benefit when they work together, rather than in competition with one another. Observe these interactions with a view to processing these relationships at the conclusion of the activity.
If you wish to introduce a competition, award prizes to the pairing of two smaller groups which manage to communicate their message (or a set of messages) more accurately and faster than any other group.
You could integrate Body English as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop the abilities of your group to understand the perspectives of others including those from diverse backgrounds, and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
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 inherent challenges of working together to achieve a particular outcome will always provide opportunities for a group to reflect on and develop their social and interpersonal skills. In this particular exercise, you can expect to focus on cooperation, perspective, conflict, and leadership themes.
In addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could also pose the following questions to focus on SEL competencies:
In what ways was leadership expressed or demonstrated in this exercise? Was it effective?
Was it difficult for you sometimes to gain an accurate perspective on what your team was creating?
How did you solve any obstacles or problems? What’s an example?
Were we living our full value behavioural norms? In what ways did we let ourselves down?
Precision Challenge: Challenge each pair of groups to transmit and receive a precise message, where they aim to communicate every character and punctuation mark.
Alpha & Numeric Characters: Devise a series of messages that feature alphabetic and numeric characters. Throw in a few $, % and @ for good fun too!
Time Trial: Each group is challenged to ‘relay’ as many four or five-letter words as they can create in four minutes. In this case, the groups can be situated closer to each other so that they may shout the ‘word’ (to check its accuracy) as they see it develop before them.
LOTE: Naturally, use any language other than English, eg French, Italian, and ask the receiving group to decipher the message.
Funny Bodies: Take a look at Butt Charades for a completely comical method of communication using one’s body.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Ask each person to prepare their space so that they have a bit of space to move, often several metres back from the video camera. Use the private chat function of your chat room facility to transmit the word or message you want a particular individual to communicate, and then let them start.
If your group only has access to your (primary) video screen, you will be the one who is transmitting the message. This can be a team effort whereby everyone is entitled to decode and respond as quickly as possible or challenge each individual to watch your entire message before typing (in the chat room facility) their understanding of what you intended to transmit.
Use whole bodies to communicate one letter at a time, or just the fingers on one or both hands. Naturally, it is crucial that all movements are captured within the parameters of what can be seen by one’s video camera.
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Useful Framing Ideas
One of the hardest things for people to do, especially adults, is to not talk when they want to communicate. It’s natural to want to talk out loud when working with others, but what happens when you can’t? This next exercise will test your discipline…
Long before telephones, the internet and radio frequencies, some primitive communities used smoke signals to communicate over long distances. It’s hard to imagine today how that might have worked. This next exercise will invite you to do the same thing – communicate over long distances – but without the smoke…
In a moment, one half of you will deliver a short message to the other half of the group. While you may be geographically separated, you will belong to the same team. Even so, you have a couple of choices – each pairing of small groups can choose to work together to assist the most effective delivery of the message, or you can operate as if you were in competition with one another…
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, problem-solving communication exercise:
What challenges did you encounter either sending or receiving messages?
How did you solve these problems?
Were there times when you were misunderstood? What did you do in these situations?
How might this exercise mirror communication in the ‘real’ world?
The inspiration for Body English, and many more team-building activities which focus on the development of communication skills, was sourced from the following publication: