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In this activity, the class sits in a circle while the facilitator poses a discussion question or questions. A ball of yarn, twine, or string is passed to each person who speaks. After a participant speaks, they hold on to part of the string and pass or toss the ball to the next speaker. By the discussion’s end, the string will form a web between the students, showing who spoke. This can be used as an icebreaker activity with a low-stakes question like “what is your favorite hobby?” or to track the discussion of more course-centric topics.
The goals of this activity can shift depending on how the instructor chooses to implement it. Its primary goal is to encourage participation.
- In classrooms where the instructor finds they are having to drive discussion, the activity can be used as a way for the instructor to step back from the discussion by letting students initiate the passing of the ball of yarn.
- If used during regular course-content discussion, the activity can make students more aware of how much they are speaking in class in comparison to their peers. Instructors can encourage students to step-up (speak more if they aren’t frequent participants) or step back (speak less if they are frequent participants).
- At the discussion’s conclusion, the web will help students visualize their and their peers’ contributions to the exploration of the topic at hand. The web symbolizes the complex understanding on the topic as arrived at through the sharing and discussion of everyone’s perspectives.
- The instructor will need a sizeable ball of yarn or twine. Remember, the thread will likely cross the length of the classroom many times. The more students in the class, the more twine will be needed.
- Remind students to hold on to their thread tightly.
- Prepare students for what role you will play in this activity; let them know if you will only ask the starting question, or if they should pass the ball to you when you speak.
- This activity is often used at the end of the term as a way to affirm students (whoever the students throw the string to they should say some way that person’s participation aided their learning) or collective reflection (each person shares one take-away from the class).
- This activity will only work in smaller classes. Keep in mind the diameter of a circle that would fit all of your students and whether or not the room you are in will be big enough for them to arrange themselves in a circle.
- This activity requires that participants be able to hold the yarn/twine and throw it. If any students have disabilities that affect their ability to participate in this activity, the instructor could alternatively map the conversation on a board or overhead by writing the student’s names in a circle, arranged how they are seated in class, and drawing lines between them as they speak, showing the same web that the use of string would
Web of Connectedness Activity
- 1 large ball of string (size depends on # of participants)
- 1 or 2 questions to discuss
- Have all participants sit or stand in a circle.
- Ask a question for each participant to answer (i.e. “what did you enjoy most about this retreat?”).
- After sharing your own answer/thoughts, hold one loose end of the ball of string and throw the ball itself to another participant across the circle. This participant will do the same (respond, hold part of the string, throw the ball to a new person), and so on.
- After each participant has shared their response, point out the web of string that connects all the participants to one another.
- Debrief as necessary.
Adapted for use by The Program on Intergroup Relations, University of Michigan 2003.
Resource hosted by LSA Inclusive Teaching Initiative, University of Michigan (http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/).