Form a circle, standing and facing into the centre.
Everyone closes their eyes and clenches both of their hands behind their backs.
If someone is willing to receive the ‘rock,’ they should open one of their hands in a receiving position.
Walk around the group and secretly deposit a small stone into one person’s open hand.
Next, everyone brings their clenched hands in front of them, opens their eyes, and quietly and comfortably sits down with their hands visible to all.
Everyone starts observing others in the group, silently, with the aim to identify the person who is holding the ‘rock.’
After 20 seconds of silent observation, invite one or more people to raise their hands, and nominate who they think is holding the rock.
Each person gets one chance to make a nomination.
If the guess is correct, the game is over. Otherwise, the guesser is eliminated from the group and will depart the circle.
At the conclusion of each round, pause for a brief reflection to review successful nominations.
Play as many rounds as your group has interest.
How To Play Narrative
I just love this activity.
So will your group once they understand what is happening and how rewarding it can be.
I picked up this exercise in acting school, and after playing it for an hour every day for 2 weeks, I got really good at it. It’s very simple, but the connections and metaphors you may draw from this gentle game to your group’s development are astonishing.
While called the ‘rock,’ your prop need only be a small stone. Whatever it is, it must be small enough to conceal inside someone’s hand, but large enough, it could be fumbled.
Start with your group standing in a circle, all facing into the centre. Ask them to close their eyes, and place both of their hands clenched behind their backs.
Then, if they choose, a person may open one of their hands with palm cupped upward behind their back as if they might receive something in it. Honouring Challenge By Choice, only those who wish to receive the ‘rock’ should have their hand in this ready-to-receive position.
Next, walk all the way around the outside of the circle, as quietly and steady-of-pace as possible, and silently and secretly place the ‘rock’ into one of the opened hands.
That person will automatically clench their hand around the stone and then predictably start saying to themselves “OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH, OH MY GOSH….”
You will often see a very visible change come over the recipient as they begin to contemplate how they will successfully hide the fact that they are holding the ‘rock.’
Once you have returned from whence you came, ask everyone to bring their clenched hands in front of them, open their eyes, and quietly and comfortably sit down with their hands visible to all. Remind people that they should sit in a way that each person can see everyone else without having to crane their necks.
Now the fun begins…
Every person, even the one holding the rock, will start looking, looking, all the time looking. Their task is to accurately guess who among their number has got the ‘rock.’ There is absolutely no talking, just looking and being open to what is so.
Meanwhile, the rock-holder is ‘spinning wheels’ inside to make it look like he or she doesn’t have the rock, when in fact, everything about who they are being in this moment is screaming “look over here!” It’s an absolute classic.
After 20+ seconds of silent observation, invite one or more people to raise their hands, and when called upon, point to and call the name of the person they think is holding the rock. If they are correct, then congratulations are in order. I strongly encourage a moment or two to enquire as to how they knew.
But, if the guess is wrong (because the target opens their palms to prove they are not concealing anything,) the guesser is eliminated from the group and will leave the circle, ie each person only gets once guess.
Make time between rounds to review how some people manage to identify the holder of the rock really quickly or successfully. There is a lot to be learned here. So many teachable moments.
Continue for as long as your group wants to keep playing. If you spot any signs of fatigue, stop.
This activity teaches people to trust their gut instinct, or put in another way, they already ‘know’ the answer – they just have to trust themselves to look and commit.
If the connection within your group is real, then you can expect many people to quickly develop an ability to guess who is holding the rock. If this connection is developing, you will notice an increasing pace at which your group gets it. Otherwise, it just becomes a task of elimination.
Observe and note the ‘connection’ that will become very evident within the group at the end of the activity. Invite your group to enquire why this is so, and what impact this sense of the group can have on their performance.
Practical Leadership Tips
You can perform this exercise sitting on the floor or in seats, it doesn’t matter – provided everyone can easily see every person in the circle.
As secretly as possible (so as to not reveal anything,) observe the behaviour of the person who received the rock. And, also look for people who appear initially drawn to focus on this person. These initial moments speak very loudly soon after the recipient is revealed. Many people will suppress their initial instinct because they don’t trust their gut.
You can expect that the first couple of rounds may stimulate a lot of awkward laughter. Expose this as simply avoiding the task of truly connecting with others, ie often when someone feels vulnerable or exposed, they will laugh to relieve the tension. Nothing wrong with this experience, but expose it for what it is.
Yes, you can present this exercise to a small group, but in reality, with too few people, it’s too close to a game of elimination. However, that said, any more than 25 people is just too difficult to really ‘observe’ others.
Don’t be tempted to give people two or more guesses before they are out of the game. If you do, the exercise will surely become a process of elimination.
It stands to reason that the holder of the ‘rock’ should refrain from making a guess.
You could integrate The Rock as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
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 is such a fun exercise to play as part of a program that explores the development of emotional competencies. Helping your group to practice managing their emotions, as much as observing a change in the demeanour of others when they are trying to manage their own, are valuable skills to master. All of this takes time, and in my experience, The Rock is a game most groups love to play over and over. For example, invite your group to reflect on what it took for the person holding the rock to control and regulate their thoughts and behaviours and relate these efforts to other areas of their lives, eg school, family, sport, etc.
The more relaxed one’s mind is and focused on the present, the more likely it is that your group will be able to pick up on the subtle signals of the person holding the rock. While this is not a meditative exercise, there is a lot of silence, contemplation and effort focused on being present to what is happening at the moment.
Most group exercises can be linked to the development of behavioural norms in some manner. In the case of The Rock, you could present this fun game as an opportunity to explore the benefits of developing empathy for others as well as the ability to read a variety of social cues such as a change of eye contact, shallow breathing and posture.
Alternate Object: Use a ball-bearing, a marble, or even a coin or button.
Rock or No Rock: In advance, tell your group that you may or may not deposit the stone in someone’s hand. With each round, every person aims to identify (a) if the stone has been deposited in the hands of a group member, or not and (b) who is holding it, which of course, now includes you.
Active Spotting: Take a look at Follow The Leader to explore a more physically-active game in which the subtleties of behaviour are still on display.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
In advance, announce that you will send a private message using the chat room facility to alert one person to the fact they have the rock, ie only you and they will know. Ask everyone to check their chat room feeds and to keep a ‘poker face’ if they happen to discover they are the leader. Play as per normal. As with many virtual activities, this variation may demand high-quality video camera technology to highlight the subtleties that can sometimes be missed across average video connections.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Did you know the body consists of three primary concentration of neurons? The largest and arguably most important store of neurons is in our brain. The second largest collection of neurons is in our heart, and the third little-known aggregation of neurons is in our stomachs, or our gut. This next exercise will provide an opportunity for you to tap into the knowledge and expertise you hold in your guts…
You will have heard the schools of thought that suggest people make their decisions predominantly from one of three areas of their body – from their head, or their heart or sometimes from their gut. As a society, we tend to focus a great deal on our ability to use our heads and hearts to make decisions, yet we all know of times when our guts are calling out to us to make a particular decision. Little is understood about this phenomenon, but this next exercise will provide an opportunity to learn something about it…
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 powerful, trust-building fun group game:
What were you thinking in the first few moments of silence?
Did you notice that there was laughter at times? What might this mean?
What sorts of changes did you observe that may suggest someone was holding the rock?
Did your senses sharpen as each round progressed? How?
What difference can you feel in the group at the end of the game, compared to the beginning?
Do you normally trust your ‘gut feeling’ or not? Why?
What’s an example of where your gut instinct was correct?
What might this exercise teach us about our connections to others?
The inspiration for The Rock, and many more simple, yet powerful and rewarding group games, was sourced from the following publication: