So right now think of your middle name, and I’d like you to think of the first letter, the initial, of your middle name.
Without talking, with any form of verbal communication, which includes writing in the air, pointing at a letter, or any of that type of stuff. It’s completely non-verbal.
Form one straight line according to the sequence of your middle names, and as I said of you don’t have middle name think of just any name and line up according to that.
(No air writing, no…)
Nothing, that would be considered… That wouldn’t be considered verbal?
So that’s okay, but talking, air mouthing, pointing to the, all that’s considered verbal. So no talking from now on. Game has started, go.
One straight line according to the alphabetical sequence A to Z, A to Z, no talking, no talking, of your middle names. Often one of the hardest we ask our adults to do is to not talk.
(Group tries to communicate their letter as part of mute line-up)
I am going to continue the exercise, but there’s this one question.
If you believe everyone, that is all nine of you, are in the correct sequence according to the alphabetical order of your middle names, please raise a hand.
Okay, not all hands are up. So that’s okay, put your hands down. The game continues. Do whatever you need to do now as a group so that the next time I ask that question you feel confident to put your hand in the air. Go.
Still no talking, nothing verbal.
(Group continues to get into alphabetical order as part of Mute Line-Up)
If you believe everyone is in the correct alphabetical order according to their middle names please raise a hand. Fantastic, excellent. Alright, first of all you’ve all got your voices back. Can you all point now to A end of the line. That’s a good, there’s none of this going on. So that’s good.
If you feel comfortable to give us your name, your middle name, and we’ll just work down the line and see how our sequence runs.
(Ann – Brian – Duffy – Elizabeth – Jacques.)
Oh that was a J, right.
I’m thinking T, hmm. Oh I got a J. It’s alright I was too busy talking. Could you say it again Teck Kwan?
(K, Kwan – Louise – Pious – Vincent.)
Fantastic, alright you’ve got it. Fantastic!
Clearly and this is an exercise that’s been around as old as the hills, brilliant for highlighting communication particularly when you are restricted to the types of communication methods that you can use. I won’t go into this, but there’s clearly lots of different ways you can invite people to line up.
For those who are familiar with the exercise, what are some of examples of different ways you can do that?
Sibling, number of siblings in a family you mean? Oh I like that, good.
Shoe size is one I done.
Month. I’ve done that last two digits of their mobile or your home number, zero to ninety-nine. For example and so on, and the street number, and all that sort of stuff.
(discussion continues of the Mute Line-Up exercise…)
How To Play Narrative
One of the all-time classic no-prop initiatives, with a gazillion variations.
Without saying too much up front, tell your group that from this moment on they are all mute, ie no verbal communication whatsoever.
Then explain that you would like them all to stand as part of one straight line according to some criteria, for example, their height or date of birth. For more ideas, check out some popular options in the Variations tab below.
There is often some confusion or halting questions at first because some folks simply can’t stop themselves from talking, or they can’t imagine how they can communicate without opening their mouth. Be firm, restate the problem, and continue to remind the group not to talk.
After some initial stumbling, ideas will begin to emerge and progress will slowly be made.
Clapping, stomping, drawing pictures (not words or letters) in the air all have their place as legitimate forms of non-verbal forms of communication. Offer encouragement at times when it seems people are getting frustrated.
When the whole group is looking at you, the task is probably complete.
Giving them their voices back, ask the group to whip down the line to evaluate the sequence. Then allow a few moments for the explosion of conversation that predictably occurs as a result of pent-up who-did-this and you-did-that’s.
To squeeze extra value from the exercise, be prepared to discuss how issues of communication, leadership and problem-solving were managed during the exercise, and how these principles relate to the real world.
Practical Leadership Tips
Beware in your briefing of the problem not to inadvertently indicate where the start and finish of the line could be situated, ie by pointing as you describe the problem. This issue should remain part of the problem your group needs to solve, too.
Note, that while talking may not be permitted, laughter is OK.
For the record, non-verbal forms of communication are defined as sending and receiving wordless cues such as visual cues (body language,) proximity (distance) and physical environments and appearance of voice and touch. Guided by this definition, you may need to alert your group that, strictly speaking, drawing letters or words in the air, or mouthing them, is considered verbal communication, and therefore not kosher.
Mute Line-Up is a great exercise to use if you need a straight line to segue into your next activity.
To form a random set of pairs at the end of this exercise, fold the resulting line in the middle, so that each of the two ends meet to pair-up, and so on down the line.
You could integrate Mute Line-Up 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:
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
This simple, introductory group initiative will invite group members to interact and engage with each other in a manner that would necessarily speak to the benefits of having developed a set of supportive and healthy behavioural norms in advance. Or, if not, you could focus on any less-than-desired interactions or outcomes to explore what sorts of behaviours your group would prefer to see and commit to in the future.
In addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on a range of interpersonal skills including:
What were the most effective methods of communicating with others?
What types of leadership showed up during the exercise?
Did everyone understand a common goal?
In what ways did you have to exercise your resilience while communicating?
Can you think of a time when you had to adapt your communication style?
Advanced Challenge: Ask your group to wear blindfolds (and not talk) to limit another useful faculty.
Alternate Criterion: Here is a non-exhaustive list of some popular mute line-up criteria:
– shoe size
– date of birth (not including the year)
– date of a particular event or memory
– street address number
– last two digits of home telephone/mobile number
– middle name (alphabetical order)
– year of manufacture of coin randomly passed out
– number of years employed, schooled, married, etc.
– favourite animal (size or alphabetical order based on charade)
– size/length of random object just picked up, eg a stick
– deck of playing cards (alphabetical, as you would describe the card)
– number of letters in full name (first, middle, last.)
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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…
It is said that approximately 70% of all communication is non-verbal. That is, our brains are wired to absorb and assign a higher priority to lots of non-verbal forms of communication, such as body language, than the spoken word. Yet, our ability to communicate when forced not to speak is severely hampered. Let’s test that theory, and explore how much non-verbal communication cue we pick up on…
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 classic introductory group initiative:
What did you notice as the activity progressed?
What was the most challenging part of the exercise? Why?
What principles of effective communication are featured in this activity?
Provide some examples of ineffective communication.
Broadly speaking, can we apply any lessons from this exercise to our group communication?
Simple, Introductory ‘Team-Building’ Program
What You Need:
8+ people, 60 mins, UBUNTU cards, hula-hoop, stopwatch
UBUNTU Cards– non-threatening, interactive activity which focuses on the common bond which exists in your group
Me You You Me– unique, hilarious name-game for new and existing teams
Mute Line-Up– simple challenge which focuses on effective communication