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Ice-breakers, Team Builders and Games
for Public Achievement
Partner Drawing
1. First I had the students the directions. I partnered them up and told them that they had two minutes to draw a picture using one piece of paper, one pencil, and they each had to have one hand on the pencil at all times. The first time around there would be absolutely no talking.
2. Afterwards, we discussed what our drawing ended up looking like and how we felt about not being able to verbalize our ideas of what to draw. Most students talked about feeling confused and frustrated. None of their drawing turned out the way that they had originally thought they would look like.
3. Then I had them turn the paper over for a second round. This time I told one of the partners that they could talk, but the other person couldn’t talk. Afterwards we discussed how our drawings were better, but only after the idea of one person. The person who could talk usually felt uncomfortable with their power. They felt bad because they pretty much told the other person what to draw. The person who couldn’t talk felt frustrated because they weren’t able to voice their opinion.
4. In conclusion, we learned how important it is for everyone in a democracy to have the ability to verbalize his or her wants and desires. Everyone should have a say on how the picture should be drawn. In order for our team to draw the “big picture” together, we’re going to have to cooperate and allow everyone to talk during our meetings. By respecting whoever is talking, we’ll work a lot better as a team.
-Erica Demmer, Mankato PA coach. Source: Bambhava & Luvmour, Everyone Wins!

Name Circle
This is a name recall activity that seems difficult in large groups. It is surprising how many names can be remembered by the end. It is a good way to get a jump on remembering names. Seat everyone in a circle. The facilitator introduces himself/herself first with "Hi my name is Bob." The next person is instructed to introduce the previous persons and then give their name. "Hi, this is Bob and I'm Jill." Each person then has to add the previous names. "Hi that's Bob, that's Jill and I'm Elaine." It is important for people to speak loudly and slowly. Everyone in the circle should be instructed to ask people to repeat and speak slowly if needed. The people at the end will get nervous. The facilitator is last so needs to repeat all the names. The activity can be varied by asking participants to give an adjective that starts the same as their name, "I'm bouncing Bob." Or it can be done as in the Memory Game below.

Memory Game
This is a variation on the Name Circle and also teaches listening skills. Pick a question (Favorite color, how many people in your family, why the group’s issue matters to you etc.) and have everyone introduce themselves and answer the question. Go around in a circle, and have the students repeat what the people ahead of them have said, so that the last person in the circle retells the entire group’s answers. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

All My Friends
This activity can help people get acquainted and definately gets them up and moving around. It is a variation on musical chairs. Everyone sits in a circle, except for one person who stands in the middle. The facilitator or coach can take this spot initially. There are only enough chairs for the other people. The person in the center begins the game by saying something that all the participants might (or might not) have in common. "All my friends (or all good citizens?) wear tennis shoes." At that all who are wearing tennis shoes must get up and move to a different chair. The person in the center goes to one vacant chair, if she can. One person is left standing. They are then in the center and can choose what characteristic to call on; e.g. "All good citizens have been a facilitator!" or more likely, "All good citizens have blonde hair." The game continues as long as the coach wants. It could be debriefed by discussing what they learned about similarities and differences.

Tarp Island
Use a plastic tarp barely large enough for all the participants. For a large group of 10-15 you can use a larger tarp. For smaller groups, smaller tarps. Everyone is instructed to stand on the tarp, that the tarp is an island and that the floor off the tarp is "hot lava" or "filled with alligators" or some such idea. The goal for the group is to turn the tarp over, without stepping off. This works well for large groups and when you set up two or more groups to compete. Groups will find different solutions. This activity gets people up and moving as they work together, awkwardly to solve a problem in different ways.

The Maze
Use masking tape to draw a set of squares on the floor; three by four or four by four. Participants are instructed that they cannot speak. Each is to take a turn and begin at the square the coach/facilitator designates as the beginning and step on squares until they come to the end point. The coach/' facilitator has "map" on a piece of paper, kept secret that shows the order in which the square must be crossed. The first person enters the maze by stepping on the beginning square, then they move on to another. If this square is not the next one of the secret map, the coach/facilitator shakes his head negatively. Then the next person tries, usually with a similar result. Eventually someone gets the second square right, but eventually makes a "mistake." No speaking. The group may start to help out the person in the maze by nodding or suggesting where to go. Set up two mazes to see which group gets done first and why. Debrief by talking about how even if you know the beginning point and where you want to go you may not know how to get there. Also even if a person doesn't remember where we've been go the group may be able to help. It's important to remember what we have done so we can know how to proceed.

Concept Pantomime
Form groups of two or three persons. The coach or facilitator writes concepts on large index cards or pieces of paper (democracy, dictatorship, freedom, equality etc..). The gorup sits in a circle and the concepts are laid out so everyone can see what the possibilities are. Then the concepts are turned over, shuffled or handed out in such a way that only the small group knows what their concept is. Then the groups take turns acting out the concept without speaking or writing. (No charades-style sign-spelling) The other participants must guess. After each one is guessed, or after they are all over the coach can ask some questions about how the concept was presented and what aspect of that idea is emphasized and whether there might be other aspects of the concept. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Ball Toss
Each group member greets another person as they toss a ball to them. Variations: the ball goes around in the same pattern, but silently. Another ball (or two or three) can be added. Reverse the order of the greeting. Have the group problem-solve: How could we make the pattern go faster? (Move closer, abbreviate the greeting, silently pass the ball etc.) Time the group. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Memory Game
(Listening skills) Pick a question (Favorite color, how many people in your family, why the group’s issue matters to you etc.) and have everyone introduce themselves and answer the question. Go around in a circle, and have the students repeat what the people ahead of them have said, so that the last person in the circle retells the entire group’s answers. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Follow the Leader (Leadership, Teamwork) One player goes somewhere she cannot see the others. A leader is chosen, who starts a simple movement that the others follow. The leader changes the movement regularly. The hidden player comes back and tries to guess who is the leader. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Where is it? A variation of Follow the Leader, where a pebble is being passed around a circle, and a students in the middle of the circle tries to determine who has the pebble. The other players in the circle continue passing the pebble or pretend that they are. The pebble can be passed either way, but must always be kept in motion. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Incorporations (Teamwork) This game involves forming and reforming groups as quickly as possible. A leader calls out a variety of different groups. For example, “Make a group of three, find another person older than you and shake hands, form a group of three with people wearing the same color as you etc.” The leader doesn’t need to wait until each group is formed to call out the next category. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Guess the Number (Questioning, Listening, Teamwork) Pick a number between 1 and 50 ( can be larger to make the game more challenging) and write it on a hidden piece of paper. Each group member takes a turn asking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions to try to determine the number. Encourage questions that give information, rather than just eliminate one number (Is it a two-digit number? An odd number? Etc.). The ultimate goal of the game is to see how many numbers the group can guess in a certain period of time, rather than to have one student “win” by correctly guessing the number. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Obstacle Course

(Cooperation, Teamwork, Communication) Demonstrate the different ways that a person could be an obstacle. Have one player be an obstacle, and explain to the next player that she will either need to go under, over, around or through that obstacle. The obstacle will tell her which way to go, and position himself so that the movement is possible. The player who goes through the first obstacle then becomes the second obstacle. Another player goes through the first two obstacles to become the third. After all the players have become obstacles, the player who was first goes through the course and then stands off to the side. Continue until the obstacle course unwinds itself. Activity can be repeated and timed to encourage students to work quickly together.
source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

Description Game
(Listening, Naming the Problem, Communicating) Have two or three people pick a visible object in the room and give different, brief descriptions of the object to the other members of the group. (A bulletin board could be: something with writing on it, something that is a rectangle etc.) Have the other members try to guess the object, or ask yes and no questions to get more information. This can illustrate how different people may see the same object very differently. Students can role-play different stakeholders who are involved in their issue, and predict how they would see the same issue in different ways. source: Terri Wilson, PA Coach Training Workshop, 10/13/01

The Human Pyramid (for 10 people) The only instructions you give your group, is they need to use ten people to make a pyramid. They can make it “cheerleading style,” on hands and knees building up, or they can make it by standing in the shape of a pyramid. Evaluate the game by highlighting how the team worked together, how they came to define what a human pyramid is, and how they defined success.

Everybody Up
Ask two people (of similar size) to sit on the floor facing one another so that the bottoms are their feet are opposed, knees bent, and hands tightly grasped. From this position ask the group to pull themselves up. After each successful attempt, add an additional person. An alternate game is that people must use non-verbal communication. (Warning, do not inter-lock arms, this may cause shoulder dislocation).

All Aboard
On a 2x2 platform, or on a 2x2 area marked out on the floor, try to see how many people you can fir on this space (12-15 people are possible). You can use different sizes of platform or space depending on the numbers in your group. Be careful to safety issues—having everyone lie on top of one another like a stack of wood is not a good idea. Also be cognizant of different people’s comfort levels of bodily contact and personal space.

The facilitator begins by giving an example of a time when they were distracted when trying to listen to someone. The next person paraphrases what the facilitator said and asks for confirmation. This person then gives an example of when they were distracted and the person to their right paraphrases, and so on round robin style. The main point the group usually picks up on is how hard it is to really listen when they are trying to think of their “own” story, which they must tell next. This in fact what we as humans do most of the time. We forget that it is okay to listen first, take time to thing of our response, and then reply. Instead we are always thinking of our “rebuttal” as the person is talking.

Human Scrabble

Each team member is given a letter to post on his or her chest. The group must then form as many words as possible by lining themselves up in different configurations. The facilitator keeps track of all of the words on the board or flip chart. At the end, each person must make a sentence using one of the words from the activity. This can be used as an evaluation tool by making sentence that uses one word from the activity that describes how each member felt they were growing by participating in PA. Source: Erlanson, Bridget and Robert Hildreth. 1998. Building Worlds, Transforming Lives,Making History: A Coaches Guide to Public Achievement. Center for Democracy and Citizenship. Minneapolis.

Human Knot
Everyone in the group stands in a circle facing each other. Have people take their right hand and grab the right hand of another in the circle. Continue by joining people’s left hands while making sure each team member grabs right and left hands of two different people. There should be a tangled web of arms amongst this circle and the goal is “unwind” this knot, without letting go of hands, until everyone is once again standing in a circle still holding hands.

Team Jigsaw Puzzle
On a large piece of art paper or poster board, write the name of your team with a black marker in big balloon letters. Then with a pencil divide the paper up into jigsaw pieces (one for each member of your team). Cut the jigsaw pieces. At the meeting, give each team member one piece, have them color it with the theme of your team’s issue or project. Then have the team put the jigsaw pack together. Evaluate, paying special attention to diversity and teamwork.

I’m going to mail a letter

Everyone is in a circle sitting on chairs where there is one less chair than the number of people in the group. The extra person stands inside the circle describing the group of people to whom he will mail a letter. All those for whom the description applies must get up and attempt to get the few chairs available. The person must move if the description applies and go at least two chairs away. For example, “I’m going to mail a letter to everyone that has spoken in front of a group.” All those in the group who have publicly spoken, and the person that chose that particular group, volley for the available seats. The person left standing is in the middle giving a new description of the people to whom he/she sent a letter. While playing, try to encourage leadership skills.

Rotating Chair

Everyone in the group sits down on chairs in a circle. One person volunteers to be in the middle, leaving an extra chair. The person next to the open chair is competing with the person in the middle for that open chair so that person moves to fill it and the next person moves to fill that open chair. Consequently, the chair is rotating around the circle while the person in the middle is trying to beat the circle in filling it.

Pair Up
People begin by pairing up leaving one extra person who is the leader. They call out two body parts that the two people should have connected. Every time there is a new call, group members must switch partners. For example, if the leader calls out, “ear to elbow,” the ear of one person should find an elbow of a new partner.

Double Statue
This activity is good to try before brainstorming as a way to get creative juices flowing. It requires each team member to create something visual from an idea quickly and without any pressure or expectation to create a masterpiece work of art.
An important lesson that can come out of this exercise is that what we do or say isn’t always interpreted the way we intended. The group divides into pairs, in each pair one person is a lump of clay and the other person is the sculptor. The whole group plays at the same time, so there are several groups of two scattered all over the room. The coach says “sculpt” and the sculptors have one minute to create a sculpture out of their partner. The clay’s responsibility is to remain very pliable and just allow themselves to be sculpted. There should be no conversation during the sculpting. After a minute, the coach yells “freeze.” At this point the sculptures give a good hard freeze- no eye movement or motion whatsoever. In the beginning, stop the game here and go around and have the sculptors name their sculptures. The quicker this game is done the more creativity it calls for. For the double version of the game, when “ freeze” is called the sculptors switch to a different statue and become sculptures that fit with the other sculpture, guessing at what the other is supposed to be. For example: I have just sculpted an anteater and freezer is called. The coach says “switch” and I go to another statue that looks to me like an airplane. I become a double sculpture by becoming a parachuter five feet away from the airplane. Meanwhile, another sculptor sees my anteater, thinks it is a person bowling, and becomes a bowling ball. In the end the coach goes around and asks each person who switched to name the double new sculpture, and asks the original sculptors what their sculptures were supposed to be. The game can be played twice, the second time the sculptors and the lumps of clay switch so that everyone gets a chance to play both roles.

Who starts it?
Form a circle and have one person leave the area. Choose one leader who will make different motions that are repeated by others in the group. The person who left the area returns and tries to guess which person is the leader.
What did it feel like to be the leader, follower, person guessing which is which? How is this applicable to the issue your group is working on and the role of leadership?

Blind shapes
Clear a big area and blindfold everyone in the group. Tie rope ends together and have each person hold onto a piece of the rope. Ask the group to make geometrical shapes. Suggest they do it again without talking or with one person talking.
How did leadership emerge in this activity and why? What is the correlation with leadership and team work?

Life Stories
Provide paper and drawing utensils and have the group individually work on a drawing or representation of their life. It could be a time-line with significant events or just a picture of their favorite memory. Some groups may need more direction than others so be prepared with some basic questions you are interested in knowing. For example, how many people are in your family? If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be? What do you think aliens look like? Etc.

Create a Citizen or Create a Good Team Member

Have some butcher paper and some markers ready and discuss what makes a good citizen. Ask one of the kids to lay on the butcher paper while somebody traces their image. Have the kids, each using their own pen color, fill the inside of the tracing with the desired characteristics of someone who thinks and acts civically, and fill the outside of the tracing with characteristics of bad citizens. Upon completion, discuss each individuals contribution and how the group has already exemplified these characteristics or could strive to be more civic minded. The kids should see that they have the characteristics of a citizen despite their age or income.


Use a home version of scrabble to have the kids create words associated with citizenship. As they form the words they have to defend its connection with their issue and work in Public Achievements before gaining points.

Citizenship Land
Create a board game where the object is to learn from experience and exercise the skills and concepts behind Public Achievement. For example, everyone has a game piece and they roll the dice to see who goes first. Group members advance in squares according to the numbers on the dice. The squares may be as follows: you didn’t do the work you promised the group-go back four spaces, you rehearsed your interview-go ahead three spaces, go ahead one space if you can give an example of public, etc.

Public Achievement Bingo
Design bingo cards with words associated with active citizenships. Choose someone to call off definitions or examples of these words while students silently put markers on their respective cards if they have and know the answer. When one line is completely filled, they yell “Bingo!” and recite their list of terms to ensure they coincide with what was previously defined.

Write blanks for the number of letters in a word or phrase having to do with Public Achievement. Hive each student a chance to guess a letter until they miss. Take turns suggesting the words and phrases.

This game may be challenging for younger ages. Brainstorm as a group themes, words, or phrases that are related to the work of citizens. Divide the team up into pairs and have them pick one of the suggestions out of a bowl and act it out.

Think of certain situations that could be improved on through the skills and concepts discussed in Public Achievement. Use a public forum in your group to solve these scenarios and debate the issues. For example, One Public Achievement group has one member who is incredibly shy and never speaks out or voices her opinion. What should the group do?

Public Achievement Jeopardy

Just like the television game, except for the categories have to do with your public achievement project. Suggested categories can include: core concepts, public skills, public or private, names of stakeholders, or things we need to do to accomplish our project. Make up five answers (questions) for each category on index cards with their corresponding values. On the board, draw in the category titles and dollar amounts just like the televisions show.
Pick on person to keep score. Divide your group into two teams. Have each group take turns picking the question they want to answer (I want core concepts for $200). If they do not get the answer, let the other team try. If neither answers correctly, give them the answer. Erase the amount on the board.
Include a final jeopardy answer were they can wager the amount of money they have won so far. Have them write their questions on a piece of paper while you hum the jeopardy tune!