Group cohesion in the classroom is not automatic, and leaving group dynamics to chance makes space for students to create bonds based on prior affinities and biases. These activities help students to examine group relationships and learn about each other beyond appearances on their own terms.
This page provides a collection of vetted activities that will assist instructors and students in developing group cohesion, thoughtful engagement, and reflective responses to challenging material. The activities are divided into four types: Icebreakers, Group Maintenance, Dialogue Starters, and Reflection. The activities are designed to help instructors and students build an inclusive classroom.
In this activity, the class sits in a circle while the facilitator poses a discussion question. 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 the ball to the next speaker. By the end of the discussion, the string will form a web between the students. 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 web in this activity represents the students’ collective understanding of the topic that is derived through the sharing of everyone’s perspectives.
In this activity, students spend five minutes writing a brief four-stanza poem about where they are from. Poems can then be shared in a large group, in pairs or small groups, or posted to a class website. This activity can serve as a starting ground for students to reflect on how where they come from impacts their learning experience in the classroom.
The Spectrum Activity uses the Questions of Identity to engage students in discussion or reflective writing. The Questions of Identity prompt students to critically consider their identities and the relationship between identity and context. Example questions include “What part of your identity are you most proud of?” and “What part of your identity did you struggle with most growing up?”. This activity can be done in conjunction with the Social Identity Wheel and Personal Identity Wheel to encourage students to think about their identity and the identities of their peers.
The Social Identity Wheel is a worksheet that encourages students to identify and reflect on the various ways they identify socially, how those identities become visible or more keenly felt in different contexts, and how those identities impact the ways others perceive or treat them. This worksheet asks students to fill in various social identities, including race, gender, sex, ability/diasbility, and sexual orientation. Students then categorize their identities based on which matter most in their self-perception and which matter most in others’ perception of them. The Social Identity Wheel can be used in conjunction with the Personal Identity Wheel to help students reflect on the connections and dissonances between their personal and social identities. The Social Identity Wheel and the Personal Identity Wheel can be used in small or large group discussions or as a part of the Spectrum Activity.
The Personal Identity Wheel is a worksheet that encourages students to reflect on how they identify outside of social identifiers, such as gender, race, or sexual orientation. The worksheet asks students to list adjectives they would use to describe themselves, skills they have, favorite books, hobbies, etc. Unlike the Social Identity Wheel, the Personal Identity Wheel does not emphasize perception or context. The Personal Identity Wheel can be used in conjunction with the Social Identity Wheel to help students reflect on the connections and dissonances between their personal and social identities. The Personal Identity Wheel and the Social Identity Wheel can be used in small or large group discussions or as a part of the Spectrum Activity.
“Who Owns the Zebra?” is an activity involving a logic puzzle and a debrief discussion. For the logic puzzle, students are divided into groups, and the groups have to determine which of the fictional characters in the puzzle owns a zebra and which of them drinks water. Each student in the group is given a vital clue that is needed to solve the logic puzzle, necessitating everyone’s participation. During the debrief discussion, students reflect on the impact of individual behavior on group learning, thinking critically about participation and barriers to participation.
In the Core Values Exercise, students will rank a list of values, such as self-acceptance, authority, health, stability, service, and belonging, from “always valued” to “least valued.” They will then translate their “always valued” category into a chart of their own core values. Students will share their core values with the rest of the group and generate a list of shared values together. This activity is designed to engage students in self-reflection and evaluation.
BARNGA is a simulation game that encourages students to critically consider normative assumptions and cross-cultural communication. BARNGA was created by Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan in 1980, while working for USAID in Gbarnga, Liberia. He and his colleagues were trying to play Euchre but all had different interpretations of the instructions. He realized that conflict arises not only from major or obvious cultural differences but often from subtle, minor cues. He created BARNGA to tease out these subtleties. In this activity, students play a card game silently, each operating with a different set of rules, unbeknownst to them. Following the game, there is a 3-part debrief: Descriptive, Applied, and Takeaways. Descriptive focuses on students’ feelings and frustrations throughout the game, Applied focuses on the real-life situations that BARNGA simulates, and Takeaways asks students to consider important lessons from the game.