Experiential Education Blog

Elementary Students Go “GA GA” for Global Games-From Our Author Rich Keegan

Wood N Barnes recently published Rich Keegan’s new book Global Games for Diversity Education: New Ways of Learning in the 21st Century. Rich is a creative and perceptive teacher who loves finding ways to teach and learn from children. Here he shares a variation of Ga Ga (a game found on page 27 of his book) that he has developed to inspire and challenge youngsters in elementary school. We would love to hear how you have adapted any of his games to fit your needs!

Elementary Students Go “GA GA” for Global Games.
After 20 years of teaching High School Physical Education, I am now teaching, playing, and learning with elementary students from kindergarten to 6th grade. Teaching elementary physical education has always been on my list of things to do in education. With the new school year, I decided to see which activities generated the most excitement in my students and let those activities guide me through a new and exciting year.
To my surprise, one of the first games the students went crazy for was the game of GA GA. If you are not familiar, the game of GA GA is an Israeli dodge ball game played in a large 3-foot walled pit shaped like a hexagon or octagon. Participants hit a ball with an open hand, rolling it on the ground in an attempt to strike another player below the knee. More detailed instructions on how to play this game can be found on page 27 in the book “Global Games For Diversity Education.” What I really like about the game of GA GA with elementary school children is the unlikelihood of someone getting hurt followed by tears, apologizes, and time-outs because the ball cannot be picked up and thrown as it is in other dodge ball games. Our school doesn’t have a GA GA pit so we came up with some variations that would work in our gym or outdoors and that everyone from age’s kindergarten to 6th grade could play.

Elementary GA GA With No Walls
• Use poly-spots or other cones or markers to create a 15′ X 15′ “you’ve been hit area” to go to in the middle of your gym or play area.
• Instead of using one 8″ soft gator skin ball, put out the number of balls equal to half the size of your group. This will create more practice of children’s striking skills, more use of their agility, and more overall mayhem—if that’s one of the learning objects for your group. Less mayhem equals fewer balls. Gage your group on this one.
• Instead of being enclosed in a GA GA pit, students in this variation move around the play area and either strike or avoid balls in play.
• When someone gets hit by a ball they go to the “you’ve been hit area.”
• Since there are many balls moving around the area, when a ball enters the “you’ve been hit area” players in the area may attempt to hit a ball toward a player who is “out and about.” When a player is hit, the two players exchange positions, and the player in the “you’ve been hit area” is free.
• Students in K, 1, 2, 3 may be allowed to leave the area either when hitting someone with a ball below the knee or any time they strike a ball that comes to them.
• Students in 4, 5, 6 may only get out of the “you’ve been hit area” when they hit someone who is “out and about.”
• Regardless of grade level, students in the ”you’ve been area” always have the choice to re-enter the game on the outside or remain in the “you’ve been hit” area.

Elementary school children love to move and PE is one of their favorite “specials” during their school day. I’m sure they will continue to teach me new ways of doing things through their enthusiasm, energy, and love of play. I hope your groups do the same for you as well!

Virtual Juggle

Chris Cavert has offered one of his favorite group building activities for this week’s post:

Thanks to the experiential education community and Sam Sikes.

NEEDS and NUMBERS: No special equipment is needed for this one. Plays well with (no less than) 12 to 20 people.

TIME: 20 to 30 minutes

PROCEDURE: In my recollection, Virtual Juggle was a serendipitous event. Each part of this activity was floating around through the activity circles until one day they were brought together into one critical mass. (You can find additional write-ups in the books, Raptor by Sam Sikes and, The EMPTY Bag by Hammond and Cavert.)

Circle up your group and ask each player to hold up one hand. Establish a pattern by taking turns pointing at and saying, “YOU!” to someone across the circle (similar to how you would start Group Juggle if you know the activity). Once a player points and “Yous” someone in the group, the pointer should put his or her hand down. The first person to point and “you” will be the last person to receive a point (each player points and is pointed at just once). Practice this same pattern – point and “you” the same person – a few times. This will be considered the “YOU” pattern.

Now ask the group to establish a NEW pattern (we’re going to call this one the “FRUIT” pattern). Choose a starting player who will point to someone across the circle (not their YOU pattern person) and speak out the name of a fruit or vegetable. Each player will need to choose a different fruit or vegetable – no food repeats. Each player in the pattern passes and receives a fruit or vegetable just once. Practice this pattern a few times. For some fun (and an experiential moment) try the pattern once or twice after having all the players close their eyes.

At this point you can add some movement. (Ask the group to keep that FRUIT pattern tucked away in their brains for a minute – remembering the player to which they passed a fruit or veggie.) Let’s go back the YOU pattern – let the group practice this one again just to get the YOUs to the front of their minds. For the MOVEMENT pattern, each player is going to physically move to the spot where his or her YOU person is standing. For example, Tom says YOU! to Jen. As soon as Jen sees Tom moving towards her she looks at John (her YOU) and moves towards John’s spot – Tom in the mean time is now standing in Jen’s old spot and Jen eventually stands in John’s old spot and so on – John’s on his way to his new spot….. Move through this MOVEMENT pattern a couple times for practice.

The ULTIMATE challenge is to put all the patterns together. Before starting this challenge I will say to one of the players, “Tom, when you think the group is ready please start the FRUIT pattern.” (The group may want a practice of the FRUIT pattern once or twice before the ULTIMATE challenge. Also, keep in mind you can start the FRUIT pattern with anyone, right?). When Tom understands his role, I ask the group to start the YOU and MOVEMENT patterns. As the flow gets going, Tom starts the FRUIT pattern (I might have to remind Tom after a bit of time goes by……).

This is not the easiest task to pull off. It is perfectly okay to stop the action and go back to review the parts or clarify any questions. This activity uses all three major learning styles: The “YOU” pattern is a visual method because players have to see the person point at them to know that it is their turn; The “FRUIT” (and veggie) pattern is auditory because the group could do it even with their eyes closed; The “MOVEMENT” pattern is the kinesthetic or action part of the juggle. So, some players will have difficulty with some portions of the activity due to their learning preferences (I have found that the FRUIT pattern seems to be the most difficult for most groups – what does this tell us about auditory awareness?).

In most cases I challenge the group to get through the FRUIT pattern twice without any major breaks in the flow – this seems to qualify, for most, a success. Find out what your group will accept as successful.

• If you were to give this activity a “theme” what would it be?
• What are some of the qualities of the activity that you noticed? If you were to rank those qualities in order of importance, what would be at the top of your list and why?
• What feelings do you remember experiencing during the activity? What did you do with those feelings?
• Did your group reach a “flow” state? (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) What did it take from the group to reach this state?
• How can this information be helpful to you in the future?
• Sam asks, “What would need to happen if we added another person to this group?”

• For some groups you might not reach the FRUIT pattern. Assess the group’s “aura” to see if they might be ready for all three patterns. In other words, I might start with the YOU pattern, then move to the MOVEMENT pattern, and then determine from there if the group is ready for the FRUIT pattern and ULTIMATE challenge. (You could also ask them.) Note: This “determining” is part of what makes facilitation an “art.”
• Here’s a great variation from Sam. Instead of a FRUIT pattern you could establish a “meaningful theme” like team qualities, or specific leadership qualities, or qualities of friendship, or words of encouragement and so on.
• You could also try not-so-meaningful themes like animals, colors, movie stars, cartoon characters and so on.

More from Adventure, Play, Peace: Reflection

This week we are featuring another excerpt from our newest book Nancy MacPhee Bower’s Adventure, Play, Peace: Insights and Activities for Social Emotional Learning and Community Building With Young Children.


What makes experiential learning such a powerful tool? Obviously, the experience itself may be powerful on its own. And, adding opportunities to reflect on an experience can take the learning to a new level. Reflection is an opportunity to be honest about the moment. It is better to acknowledge feelings and frustrations than to let them go unnamed and unaddressed. Reflection or processing is about looking at what happened in more detail. Reflection happens when we take time to:
• digest what has happened,
• simply acknowledge an experience,
• name a feeling,
• be still,
• be together without doing,
• voice a thought,
• identify something we learned,
• process an event—come back to peace after a conflict, deal with frustration, analyze a complex problem, pause to appreciate a special moment.

Opportunities to reflect will occur as surprises, like most important learning. An event that triggers strong emotions will reap more learning when we take the time to process it. The time to process might be immediately after the situation occurs. Or, it may be important to wait until emotions have had a chance to settle. When you choose to wait, the message to the children can be: Let’s work this out after lunch when we have some quiet time. What happened is important so let’s make sure we do this.

How does reflection fit into a play experience? Here are a few ideas:
• Take a break when there are feelings and conflicts to be addressed.
• Take a moment after the experience to discuss thoughts, feelings and ideas.
• Invite each child to share what is on his or her mind, related to a particular experience or not, depending on your goal.
• Gather later, after the experience to reflect.
• Begin a new experience remembering what happened in a previous experience, letting that be the learning focus for the day.
• Reflect with one child or a small group.
• Reflect with the entire group.

Though processing and reflection are valuable tools, we don’t have to do this all the time. Having a variety of processing activities will keep the experience interesting. It is important that processing doesn’t feel like a chore to you or the children. At the same time, we need to be careful that we don’t dismiss the need for processing when all appears to be well. For example, after doing creative construction with buddies, we did a check-in so that children could share what they did with their partners. All had seemed calm and happy throughout the session, and I expected the conversation to be very positive. As we went around the circle we heard stories of great pride in the structures each team had built. When we got to Michael, he tucked his head into his knees and refused to talk. With gentle questioning, he let us know that he never got to use his ideas. Everything was done the way Annie wanted to do it. This was the beginning of a very educational conversation with the entire group. Other children completely understood how Michael felt.
Reflection With Young Children
Processing Stones

Holding a natural object can stimulate quiet reflection. One after-school program that I worked with couldn’t get enough of activities like this one. I expected that they would want to get to the running games and the group challenges. The children, however, lingered in our reflection time so consistently that I finally realized this was a need to which they were intuitively paying attention.

Space: small, room for all to sit in a circle

stones, one for each child and yourself

How to Play

• Sit in a circle. Make sure that everyone is comfortable and that they can see each other.
• Show the children the stones before giving them out. Explain that in nature, everything is unique and has its very own beauty. These stones may look alike, but as you look more closely, you’ll see that they have features that make them special. When you get your stone, hold it carefully, take a good look at it, and try not to drop it. And while you hold it, think about the question that I ask. Take your time to wonder what your answer might be. Everyone who wants to share his or her answer will have a turn.
• Have the children choose an object. Then ask the group a question. Possible questions could include the following:
What did you do today that was kind?
What do you love about this group?
What was your favorite part of adventure play/the day?
What is special about you?
How did you help the group or another person?
• When it’s your turn, tell us what you have to say and then put your stone into the basket. Set up a way to determine whose turn it is. I can call on you when you are ready (sitting calmly and listening to the person sharing). Or you can make your way around the circle. Or the person sharing can choose the next person to share.

Instead of stones, choose from a variety of things from nature: shells, sea glass, leaves, etc.

Trust and Challenge: More from Adventure, Play, Peace

In this week we are offering another great lesson from our newest book Nancy MacPhee Bower’s Adventure, Play, Peace: Insights and Activities for Social and Emotional Learning and Community Building With Young Children.

The level of trust in a community takes decidedly more time and energy as each individual has a relationship with every other person in the community. Each of these relationships needs to be attended to and nurtured. Picture trust as a well that you can continue pouring more and more water into. As each relationship grows stronger, the well rises a little. Our actions and reactions can raise or lower the level of water in this well. The level of trust is high when children treat each other with kindness even when the teacher is not there to facilitate every action.

Children will thrive in an environment that is full of trust. Trust and challenge go hand in hand. When a foundation of trust exists, children will feel comfortable challenging themselves. When children feel safe, they can
• branch out and try new behaviors;
• say what they think;
• express their feelings, knowing that they will be affirmed;
• be creative;
• feel honored for being just who they are.

Trust begins with us—the parents, teachers and caregivers. We are the ones who create an understanding of how things work in this community. Children are expert observers. Any interaction that you have with one child will be observed by other children. Even when children do not witness every interaction, they can sense a trusting atmosphere with a sort of internal radar. Likewise, children can sense the opposite—an unsafe or unkind environment—with that same internal radar. We build trust when we

• use behaviors as opportunities to educate rather than opportunities to punish;
• take time to let feelings be expressed;
• support children as they attempt a challenge;
• encourage children to make decisions and be as independent as they can be (appropriate to their development, of course);
• create safe and clear boundaries for children.

Children will bond to their parents and teachers if we invite this comforting and safe connection. When children feel a strong sense of trust in these relationships, they might branch out and connect with other adults and children. Trust will grow slowly in one-to-one connections.

Play can be a wonderful entry into a trusting relationship. Young children can be uncomfortable with someone who is new to them. Sometimes simply rolling or tossing a ball to the child can be that first, friendly opening to the relationship. This becomes a conversation without words. It is easy. There is no pressure. We are connected but still have some physical distance. Play is a great connector of people.

Filling the well of trust within our families and communities is the essence of our work. This work requires us to pay attention to the words and actions of each member with an eye for what we all want our community to be like.

Sticky Buddies
All ages seem to have fun with Sticky Buddies, toddlers to adults. I believe this game’s popularity is largely based on the fun sound of unsticking.

Space: minimal

How to Play
• Do a random matching game to create buddies (see Buddy Games on page 35).
• Demonstrate with a child or fellow teacher. Imagine that there is a giant clump of super glue right between your elbow and your buddy’s elbow. That is called sticky elbows. Dramatizing the sticking together is a critical part of the fun. Test that super glue and you’ll see just how difficult it is to separate. If we really focus on unsticking, we could just get ourselves apart.
• Now with the unsticking there is a very special sound (like masking tape being pulled off the roll), sucking air in and across your tongue. Demonstrate how to unstick by counting, One, two, three, schlwerk (the unsticking sound).
• Now let’s all do the unsticking together. Check that super glue. Is it really working? Okay, let’s unstick. One, two, three, schluoukg (also the unsticking sound)”!
• Move on to sticky knees, sticky toes, shoulders, backs, wrists, etc.
• If the group wants an added challenge, stick two body parts together at the same time, then three or four body parts.

The way to be safe in this game is to be careful as you unstick so that arms and bodies don’t clash. Sometimes children are so enthusiastic about unsticking that they move into a body roll or arms and legs go flailing. I avoid doing sticky heads, cheeks, noses for health reasons. When the children suggest one of these, I just tell them we don’t do that body part so that we don’t share colds. They get it.

How You Play Is More Important Than What You Play

This week we are sharing another excerpt from our newest book: Adventure, Play, Peace: Insights and Activities for Social-Emotional Learning and Community Building With Young Children by Nancy MacPhee Bower.

Learning Through Play Excerpt Nancy Bower's New BookHow do we add peace to our lives through play? We can develop our skills for peacemaking. Peacemaking is the ability to find and create peace within yourself and within your relationships. This is an important building block for success in life—success in school, play, friendships, families, and work.

Peacemaking and compassion work are more important than the games. How you play matters more than what you play (safety concerns aside). The games are the means to learning skills for life, the avenue to the expression of creativity. When I starting doing this work, I spent more time on what to play. Over time, I began to realize that the peacemaking aspect of my work was absolutely vital. The children showed me just how much they wanted, needed and welcomed the time we spent working on interpersonal skills and conflict resolution… how to play.

What happens when peace is the primary intention in a family, school or classroom? Peace becomes an underlying guide for the way we deal with decisions, challenges and education. Since embarking on this mission, I have found that there are many schools and programs in which peace is the core of their objective. The concepts of peace have gradually seeped into my work and my personal life. Ever so slowly peace became central in its importance, in every part of my life. Play is the tool, one very effective tool, which facilitates the discovery of our power to be peacemakers.

Back and Forth
This game is really a hundred games in one. You can play back and forth with all kinds of objects. Play in teams of two, three or four—mix it up. It will be new every time you introduce a different tool. For fun and excitement, give it a new name with each variation.

Space: medium to large

Props: scarves, balls, trash balls, foam paddles, noodles, etc.

How to Play
• Demonstrate the back and forth action with a buddy. While you’re at it, talk about how to be safe when playing:
The way to be safe in this game is to make sure you and your buddy have your own space to play. Sometimes people get distracted when trying to catch the scarf (ball, etc.) and forget to look out for others. So, keep an eye out for friends.
• Talk about creating new ideas for tossing and catching (i.e., under the leg, spin and catch, backwards toss over their heads). Invite the children to come up with their own challenges.
• Create random pairings.
• Send the pairs off to an open space to play.

Facilitation Note
If you are using paddles, or noodles, show the children how to make an imaginary circle around their bodies to judge the safe space needed to swing their paddle. I only use foam paddles with preschoolers and kindergartners.


Choose from a variety of props: trash balls, vinyl balls, beach balls, and different tools for hitting balls such as noodles (cut them in half for preschoolers), foam short-handled paddles, etc.

Excerpt From our Newest Book: Adventure, Play Peace by Nancy MacPhee Bower

We are thrilled to announce the release of our newest publication Adventure, Play, Peace: Insights and Activities for Social Emotional Learning and Community Building With Young Children by Nancy MacPhee Bower. As one of our reviewers states:
“We have been anxiously waiting for Nancy Bower’s second book. Incorporating peace with play and adventure is a powerful and timely idea. Nancy gives practical advice and makes the big idea of peace tangible in activities for children of all ages. The lesson plans are easy to follow and offer a variety of ways to play each game, encouraging creativity from the participants. We have used the games with our teachers for team building and staff development. Nancy’s work encourages children and adults to accept and appreciate each other with peace as the goal.”
—Michelle Vogel, Owner and Director of The Winfield Children’s House, Falmouth, ME

This week we are offering an excerpt from her book:

Buddy Games

Playing games with young children has given me the chance to witness the progression children make from being solo operators to genuine, interactive members of a group.
The first “group” for a young child is that child plus one other person. Buddy games have become a critical component of Adventure Play programs for this reason. Playing with one other child is a huge leap toward being an interactive connected member of a community. Stepping out of the comfort zone of their own world, in which they are the center, is a gradual process. Early on, parents and teachers are their safest buddies. As a sense of community, trust and safety grows, children can branch out and play with other buddies.

Build Your Compassionate Community One Relationship at a Time

The community grows stronger and more connected as relationships develop. We feel safer and more trusting in our community when we have many safe and trusting one-on-one connections. Very young children develop friendships in brief moments of fun. At a minimum, a friendly connection with someone they don’t know very well can begin with a short, playful experience. As the children feel more comfortable, these brief moments can become longer.

In Adventure Play, we add excitement and mystery by playing matching games to create random pairings. Pass out objects that each have a match. Once all the children have an object in their hands, play the matching game. Their buddy is the one child whose object matches their object.

Here’s how it usually goes:
• Demonstrate the upcoming game before passing out matching objects, include how to be safe when they play.
• Then I’ll say, Did you know that one way to make a new friend is to play a game with them? We’re going to play this game with one buddy.
• When I play with preschoolers, I often lay out the matching objects so that they visually understand the matching game.
• Then I’ll pass out the objects saying, Who will you get to play this game with?
• Next, I invite them to, Find the person who has the same object as you.
• That’s who you get to play this game with.

If the child isn’t comfortable with his or her buddy, you can use it as an opportunity to talk about it. That may be all that is needed to move the child to feel ready to play. If it seems that the child is nervous about stepping out of his or her comfort zone, I ask if I can play with them. Or, if there is a child who just wants to watch, that is perfectly fine, too.

Ideas for matching objects:

• gems, rocks, shells, or other items from nature
• nuts and bolts
• wooden or plastic fruits and vegetables
• numbers or letters
• faces
• animal puzzle pieces
• opposites cards
• color paint chips

Jog Switch

Follow the Leader seems to be more fun if you are the leader. And it can be downright miserable if you are way in the back feeling like all the fun is happening far away from you. Here’s a game that gives everyone a quick turn-around on being the leader.

Space: large open room or playground

How to Play
• Create buddies with your random and oh-so-cool buddying items du jour.
• To decide on a leader, invite the buddies to ask each other: “Would you like to be the leader first?” If they get right on that task, then the hardest decision gets made right away. This doesn’t always work. You may have to help some buddies work through this decision.
• One of the buddies will be the leader. The other child will follow, going everywhere and doing everything like the leader. Leaders can be creative—moving arms, running sideways or backwards, hopping, leaping, babysteps, spinning, etc.
• You or an appointed child begin the game by calling, Jog. When the children hear, Switch, they trade places, and the follower becomes the leader and the leader becomes the follower.

The way to be safe in this game is to keep an eye out for your friends who are all jogging in this same space. When it gets crowded, use your reflexes and be ready to “stop on a dime.” Demonstrate quick reactions and moving out of the way of other moving people. It gives the children a visual of what I mean by using their quick reflexes AND it invites them into a new challenge.


• Play on spots, facing each other. The leader creates the moves, the follower imitates.
• Add a third person to the group.
• Shrink the playing space.
• Expand the playing space.
• Use a music maker instead of the switch command.
• Add tunnels, hoops and other obstacles.
• Add “side by side” to your commands so that they jog shoulder-to-shoulder, but not touching.

The Association for Experiential Education Journal Review of the Chiji Guidebook

The Chiji Guidebook: A Collection of Experiential Activities and Ideas for Using Chiji Cards

Book reviewed by Blair Niblett
Journal of Experiential Education • 2012, Volume 35, No. 3, pp. 482-483

Cavert, C., & Simpson, S. (2010). The Chiji guidebook: A collection of experiential activities and ideas for using Chiji Cards. Bethany, OK: Wood N Barnes. 112 pages. ISBN: 9781885473844

An exciting part of reviewing Cavert and Simpson’s The Chiji Guidebook is that the book, and the cards it describes, represents a convergence of my two practices of education. As an experiential educator, I always have Chiji Cards on hand; of the three decks I own, I try to keep one crisp and clean, while the other two are dog eared and faded from frequent use and many young hands. As a Ph.D. candidate doing research, I find that story and metaphor are important ways teachers and students can draw educative meaning from experiences of social activism, and I recognize how the cards and the book can support this process.

For the uninitiated, Chiji Cards are “a deck of 48 cards originally designed to spark/enhance discussion during a processing session…. When a facilitator asks the group a question … the pictures provide a starting point from which to formulate a response” (p. xi). The Chiji Guidebook has been written in two sections. The first provides a quick background on the creation of Chiji Cards, the intentions that the developers had for them, and the explosion of uses invented by experiential educators thereafter. The authors offer an effective, if basic, outline of the theory behind intentional processing as a key component of experiential education—just enough to help a novice facilitator. Given the purpose of Chiji Cards, it is not surprising that Cavert and Simpson focus their discussion of theory on making a transition from didactic question-and-answer debriefing toward participant-centered processing, where group members hold some or all of the control in debriefing their experiences.

The second section offers Chiji Cards aficionados 25 activities (plus variations) organized by the nature of the activities: processing, getting to know you, frontloading, object lessons, initiative activities, and fun with Chiji Cards. For Experiential Educators, the primary value of the The Chiji Guidebook lies in the opportunities it provides for rich meaning-making through participant-centered processing. A quick outline of how I use two of the book’s activities illustrates this.

During a ropes course experience with grade 5 special education students, I have used the “Picture Processing” activity, which involves picking “a card that, for some reason, describes your feelings about the last activity” (p. 15). Using this strategy, I have frequently been reminded that metaphor and story are fundamental building blocks of meaning—even for very young students. As a second example, I have used the activity “Relationships” in an educational law class for pre-service teachers to preface a module on student-teacher relationships. This activity involves students choosing pairs of Chiji Cards between which they identify some kind of relationship. For example, the lightning bolt and the fire cards might be paired as related. I use the activity to open discussion on the notion of “being in relationship.” Sometimes the activity is simply a fun “hook” to start thinking about relationships, but other times the Chiji Card relationships actually crop up as a meaningful part of class discussion on ethical professional conduct. In both examples, the Chiji images create a powerful experience by inspiring the framing metaphor invented by the students, rather than imposed by the facilitator.

Readers who approach this as a sourcebook of activities will not be disappointed. More importantly, however, many readers will find value in the interstice of theory and activity. Cavert and Simpson contribute to the field of experiential education by inviting readers to facilitate in ways that blur traditional lines between experience and processing. That is to say, The Chiji Guidebook could be used by practitioners who want to make experience more thoughtful and processing more experiential. This emerging direction in our field is worthy of consideration across academic and practical contexts.

Blair Niblett is a Lecturer in the School of Education at Trent University, a Ph.D. Candidate at the Lakehead University Faculty of Education, and a Senior Consultant with Adventureworks! Associates—all in Ontario, Canada. Email: bniblett@lakeheadu.ca

Visit the Association for Experiential Education at www.aee.org We will be at the annual AEE conference in Madison, Wisconsin this week. See you there in the bookstore!

Another Great Resource for Teachers: Leslie Rapparlie’s Recent Posts on the Value and Process of Writing

This fall we have been offering a number of “Back to School” resources and activities for educators to increase engagement, build a classroom community, and explore experiential approaches to delivering academic content. Our author Leslie Rapparlie has been offering some great activities and resources for writing teachers on her blog.

Leslie Rapparlie's Writing and Experiential Education
Here are two of our favorites:

Working on Revision: New Song/Old Song

To any fellow teachers out there who might be working with students on some kind of revision to a paper or response, I am here to share an idea with you. I learned this from a colleague of mine but I think it’s great, and also experiential! Just before I sent my students off to do a revision of a recent paper, I played a version of a song for them. I happened to play Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown,” mainly because I have two versions of that song (you can do with any songs that you have two versions of–and I did not play video, just the music). Before I began playing the song, I told them to take note of what they heard. I mentioned that while everyone in the class might have differing music vocabulary, we all notice something and can make a list of whatever it was that they noticed while the song played. I played a minute and a half of the song.

After that, I transitioned to Pentatonix’s version of “Love Lockdown” and asked the students to do the same thing. I just called it a “second song,” they did not know ahead of time it would be a different version–a revision–of the first song. I played the same length of the second song. At the end, I asked them… to read more click here.

Teaching Students to Value Reading and Writing:

If you are looking for an activity to teach students how to value reading and writing or to help them understand that they already know how to analyze texts because they analyze things thousands of times every day without thinking about, flip to “Lesson 7: Using Observation to Make Reading and Writing More Accessible” in Writing and Experiential Education (Rapparlie 65).

In brief, the activity asks the students to go for a walk and observe things around them using their senses. They record these senses (without any comment, just noting what they hear, see, feel, taste, smell) and then return to class and talk about how that helped them understand how a place was used or how that helped them make assumptions about certain people. Then, I ask them to make connections between that and the reading and writing process.

I just completed this activity with a few sections of my introductory writing class and, after completion, they reflected on the activity with responses… to read more click here.

Check out Leslie’s Book for more great lesson ideas: Writing and Experiential Education: Practical Activities and Lesson Plans to Enrich Learning.

Combining Group Building, Problem-Solving and Academic Review

This fall our author Jen Stanchfield has been contributing a series of posts on engaging participants from the start of a program, building community, and enhancing reflective practice. She is currently working on a new book The Inspired Educator which explores the connection between experiential education and brain-based learning and offers activities and approaches to combine group building, problem-solving and academic review. She has been sharing some of these activities on her Inspired Educator Blog.

Here are a few of our favorite posts:

Group Building, Problem-Solving and Academic Review: Zoom and other Sequencing Challenges

The teachers, corporate trainers, high school advisors and other educators I work with are constantly trying to create a balance of learning in their classes and groups. The challenge is to stretch their time to include building group relationships, facilitating reflection, and promoting important life skills such as communication, problem solving, empathy and understanding different perspectives along with the requirements of covering academic or training curriculum content.

Layers of the Atmosphere Line Up and Other Sequence Challenges:

Experiential Learning and EngagementOver the past few months I have been sharing ideas for making the most of your time and combining academic or training content review with team-building and social-emotional learning. This week I am offering my take on the popular team-building activity “Zoom” with variations that connect this great communication, problem solving and group building activity with academics and curricular content review including “Layers of the Atmosphere Line Up” and a “Historical Time Line Shuffle” among others… To read more click here

Another Brain-Friendly Strategy for Blending Community Building, Academic Review and Social-Emotional Learning: Charades Race

This time of year many of us are returning to the classroom or kicking off training programs. We often start by facilitating community/team building activities with groups to build positive rapport and buy in as they start the semester, training or course. As the program or school year progresses the pressure to reinforce and assess academic content increases and sometimes the focus on group work, social skills development and team-building goals gets moved to the “back burner”. I encourage educators to think of blending together academic, social-emotional, and group building/school climate goals throughout their whole curriculum or program.

Active Academic Review

Interactive approaches to practicing, recalling, reviewing and discussing academic material increase engagement. According to new research on the brain and learning using a variety of teaching and review methods that involve multiple senses helps learners retain and recall information by promoting multiple “learning pathways” for storing and accessing information (Willis, 2006, 2011).

In past articles I have offered some of my favorite group building, communication and problem-solving activities that double as “brain-friendly” interactive approaches to review and reinforce academic content. They also make great formative assessments to check learners understanding of content.
These include “Have You Ever” Upcycled as “Anyone Who”, Handshake Mingle and Play Dough Pictionary. Another of my favorites is “Charades Race”.

“Charades Race” is just as it sounds. It is a team relay race involving participants in small teams taking turns as actors to help their teammates understand a list of words or concepts. Because this version of charades is played as a relay race with multiple groups simultaneously playing many find it less intimidating than traditional charades. There is no one person in the “spotlight” by themselves in front of the whole group and everyone has a choice about whether they want to be an actor…to read more click here.



More Ideas to Engage Learners From the Moment They Walk in the Door

This week our author Jennifer Stanchfield follows up on her August 25th post by offering more ideas to engage learners from the moment they walk in the door.

Strong Beginnings: Engaging Learners From the moment they Walk in the Door Part Two:

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task, which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” -William James

Starting Off with Style:

Jennifer Stanchfield's Blog Post on Reflection

The first few minutes of an experience or lesson are a key time to hook and engage learners. Evidence shows that people remember most about the first few minutes of a learning experience, and secondly the last few minutes of learning experience. (Sousa, 2006, Medina, 2008). Some educators and cognitive neuro-scientists call this the primacy-recency effect (Sousa, 2006). This validates the importance of facilitating an engaging opening activity as well as providing some reflective prompt to “tie it all together” or “bookend” a learning experience. This research suggests it also might make sense to create as many introductory and closing moments as possible in your teaching and group facilitation.

Engage learners from the moment they walk in the door. Rather than using these precious moments for focusing on taking attendance, collecting homework, or other “administrative” duties, involve students in an activity that helps them transition into the learning environment, make positive connections with their peers, explore or review the academic material at hand and most importantly shift their focus to the “here and now.”

In workshop or group situations or when a classroom group is coming together for the first time, participants can feel awkward. Providing an activity for them as the group gathers together prior to a session or meeting can create a welcome focus and a way for them to connect with each other. A novel activity engages learners right away and helps draw learners into a positive experience and create buy-in to increase engagement.

In last month’s post I shared about using Dominoes, Postcards and Quotes as a way to draw learners into a lesson or transition into a classroom space. Here are a couple more of my favorite approaches for engaging groups from the moment they walk in the door:

Pin Back Buttons “Conversation Starters”

Conversation Starters From Experiential Tools

This is one of my “tried and true” activities for engaging educators, college leaders, business groups and other participants in laughter and dialogue together during a professional development session or meeting. I use pin back buttons from my collection of “Conversation Starters” with witty sayings such as “Same old circus different clowns,” “As is,” “Turn it up to 11,” “Keep Calm and Carry On,” or “It’s never too late to learn playground skills.” Lay them out on a table as participants enter for the program or meeting and ask them to choose one that represents their mood or attitude. The buttons are a way to transition into a classroom or workshop space. They also bring humor into group settings where individuals are reluctant to participate, helping them buy into the group process through humor. Resource: You can make your own buttons with a buttonmaker, or my own “Conversation Starters”  kits of 50 buttons are available at  www.experientialtools.com.

Computer Keyboard Keys
A few years ago, Andy La Pointe from You Inc. (a therapeutic youth residential treatment and school program in Massachusetts) was inspired after one of our workshops on processing/reflection tools. He walked by a stack of keyboards in the recycle bin, and it sparked an idea.

When I arrived at his site for another workshop, he handed me a bag filled with the pieces of the keyboards that he had recycled. He said, “I bet these would be interesting to try with a group.” We tried them that day with his colleagues. After engaging in a problem-solving activity we asked group members to choose a key that represented their role in the process. I was impressed with the conversation the keys initiated and the connections group members made to various keys. It can be surprising where conversations go using such a simple tool.

Jennifer Stanchfield's Experiential Learning Post

Since that time, I have used them for an introductory or transitional activity as well as a processing tool. On the first Monday in January, after holiday break, I was working with middle school students. I asked them each to pick a keyboard key that represented their new years resolution as they entered the classroom. The way the students used the keys to represent their hopes and goals was creative and memorable. (For specific examples from the classroom see my “Inspired Educator” April 2011 post click here.)

At the very least take the time to greet your students/participants at the door. There have been a few interesting studies about the positive effect on student outcomes in classrooms where teachers greet students at the door upon entering the classroom (Allday & Pakurar, 2007, S. Patterson, 2009 and Weinstein et al. 2009). These studies involving both college students and middle school students suggest that when educators take the time to say hello students as they entered the classroom on-task behavior and performance can be positively impacted.

There is great opportunity for positively influencing learning outcomes by intentionally designing a strong beginning or “hook” for your lesson or group experience. Whether it is the start of a new program, the first day of the school year, the start of a single classroom session, or the beginning of a unit, the tone we set in the classroom and the frame and context we set for a lesson can greatly impact student engagement and retention.

Stanchfield, Jennifer Tips & Tools: The Art of Experiential Group Facilitation. 2007 Wood N Barnes Publisher, Bethany Oklahoma

Medina, John. (2008). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.

Sousa, David. (2006). How the Brain Learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

R. Allan Allday and Kerri Pakurar: Effects of Teacher Greetings on Student On-Task Behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analaysis. Summer 2007; 40(2) p317-20

Patterson, S., The Effects of Teacher-Student Small Talk on Out-of-Seat Behavior. Education and Treatment of Children Vol. 32, No. 1, 2009.

Weinstein, L., Laverghetta, A., Alexander, R. & Steward, M.:Teacher Greetings Increase College Student’s Test Scores. College Student Journal Publisher: Project Innovation (Alabama) June, 2009 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 2



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