Friday Lesson: Adapting Group Activities for One on One Settings

Courtesy of Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez|

A question that we are frequently asked is, “I understand the power of activities with groups, but I am only working with one person – how do I adapt an activity for this situation?” The Power of One: Using Adventure and Experiential Activities Within One on One Counseling has already adapted more than 30 activities that can be used by counselors, teachers, coaches, or supervisors – anyone who is interested in activities for a one-to-one setting.

The key response to this question is that there is never really only one person. Because YOU are there, too. So, essentially, you have a really small group (of two!). Thus, we believe that it is imperative that we engage in the action with our clients. The shared nature of the activities used during individual sessions requires that we take on an involved, interactive style of facilitation. This creates dynamic interactions between learner and facilitator as well as learner and environment.

Many of the same considerations that you have for a group, you will have when you are working with an individual. Rules, guidelines, safety considerations, available space, and time, are all issues that you can adapt to meet the needs of your clients. Christian Itin (1995, 2003) refers to this process as “tailoring.” We also tailor the activity to fit the specific needs of the participant, from the learning goal, to the words that we use, to the developmental stage of the participant.

Pair activities (which we call “Dyad Challenges”) are some of the easiest activities to begin with when you are working in a one-to-one situation. The theme of competition comes up in many of these and can be easily applied to situations in a classroom, a boardroom, or a family room.

Dyad Challenges Activity


Laser Finger: Hold hands (handshake style) with your client and extend index fingers toward each other. The object is to touch your partner with that “laser finger” more times than you get touched by it. Although we generally abhor the introduction of competition into our activities, this activity can breathe new life into a session with some of the less-motivated youth that frequent our offices.

Sum Totals: Face your client and with your hands (both yours and the clients) behind your backs secretly choose how many fingers to put up and then present them to each other simultaneously (e.g., on the count of three). The first one to announce the correct total of fingers presented by both partners wins that round.

Stand Off: Place the palms of your hands flat against the palms of your client as you face one another. Keeping your feet planted in one spot, the object from this position is to push the other person off balance, forcing him/her to move one or both feet.

Matching Activity: Potential Themes or Metaphors for Learning
• Making Decisions: What were your strategies? How did they change with the different activities? What factors helped you make changes to your strategies?
• Relationships: How might your behavior change if you did this activity with your friend? With your family? How would your behavior change if I wasn’t your therapist? This question is often a good assessment of client comfort with the therapist: are they ready and willing to beat you in a game, or have you beat them? What is the significance of winning and loosing for this client?
• Competition: How does competition relate to achievement? How does this show up in your school (or at home, etc.)? What causes you to compete rather than cooperate?

Facilitation Considerations:
• Easily applicable to: Asperger’s Disorder, ODD, Conduct Disorder. In the Stand Off activity, brute force is seldom the winner. Going with the force and not rigidly resisting the other person is usually a winner. These concepts are significant for all of the externalizing disorders.
• Most common age range: 10 years through adult.
• Typical level of risk: Low. The nature of the activities may bring up school achievement issues. It is also possible to stimulate some issues about competition or aggression.
• Level of personal skills required from clients: Minimal in almost all areas.
• Level of client buy-in required: Minimal. The activities are generally intriguing and engaging to clients.
• Personal and physical space issues: Moderate physical space required. Laser Finger and Stand Off also require touching and the use of aggression or force, which can be a trigger for some clients.
• Sequencing of the activity: Can be used as soon as the client has some comfort level with the therapist.

Adapting Facilitation
• Try rewarding touches with a piece of candy. How does this change from competition to cooperation?
• Use foam noodles instead of fingers for the laser tag.

J. Gardiner at the AEE Heartland Region Networking Day in Flint, MI.

This lesson is compliments of Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez. To find more information and to contact the authors, please visit:

Thanks for joining us in February, 2010 for Friday Lessons. Maurie Lung, Gary Stauffer, and Tony Alvarez are the coauthors of The Power of One.

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