blog entries related to facilitation

Ice-breaker for facilitation skills workshop

Team Building & Leadership w LawNY...Rochester, NY. Canandaigua, NY (16)

Last week, Lucas Wright and I co-facilitated a session titled “Facilitating Teaching: Approaches and Skills”.

For our ice-breaker, we led a speed-friending* activity in which participants had 45 seconds each to respond to the questions below before they switched partners and answered the next question with a new partner. The questions we developed all pertain to the theme of facilitation. (We used only 5 questions because of time limitations).

  1. What are 2-3 ways you help learners get to know each other?  
  2. What are 1-2 things you currently do in your teaching that you think draw on “facilitation skills”. Which ones come most easily to you?
  3. Do you have any words you’re careful with when you teach? Say more…(if you don’t have any particular words you’re careful about, talk about that)
  4. Do you like moving fast or slow when teaching? Say more about your pace as an instructor.
  5. These words are often heard in the context of teaching and learning: “I want my classroom to be a safe space for learning”. What is your reaction to these words?
  6. As a learner, what do you like most about the use of discussion as a teaching approach? What do you like least?
  7. What are some techniques you use to memorize your learners’ names?
  8. How, if at all, do you use silence, pauses, and/or or reflection in your teaching? (pick one or more. If you don’t use any of these approaches, consider how–as a learner–you use silence, pauses and reflection to further your learning).


The full workshop plan, including all our resources, can be found here.  Everything is in the open so you are welcome to use this.

*Called “speed-friending” only because I have a reaction to the words “speed-dating”. But, on thinking about this more “speed-friending” isn’t much more palatable!

Photo credit: Mike Cardus (cc-by-2.0) https:  //flic.kr/p/8FmMaN

Using stick figure narratives in educational development

This blog describes how we can use stick figure narratives in our educational development (ED) work.

My thoughts on this were inspired by a workshop facilitated by Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane who presented at Symposium 2018.  Dr. Motherwell McFarlane uses stick-figure narratives in her role as an instructor and counsellor to explore resiliency.

One of the premises of her work is that everyone can draw stick figures; consequently, it is not something that needs to be taught. Brain researchers, she explained, show that we instantly know when we are seeing stick figures and it is as if “a stick figure visual language app” comes with our brain. “Why not use it?!” she asked us playfully.

Dr. Jessica Motherwell McFarlane led us through several experiential exercises at the Symposium. In this post, I’ll describe these and consider how I could use these in ED.

Materials Needed

Each attendee received:

  • 3 coloured markers, including one gel pen for writing on black paper
  • Coloured donut-shaped reinforcement stickers (the kind used for loose leaf paper holes). Also called “loopy” stickers in the workshop. (10 or more)
  • 5×8 blank index card (1)
  • 5×8 black card stock (1)

Activity 1: “Something unexpected happened…”

Within a few minutes of sitting down, we were asked to “show an image” or “make an image” depicting something funny and unexpected that had happened in our teaching.  We were given a short time (I think it was 2 minutes) and one rule: We had to use at least one loopy sticker in our image–and we could use as many loopy stickers as we wished. We then got into trios and shared our stories and drawings.

I do not remember what I drew; nor what my story was. What I recall is feeling stressed at having to draw right away, having to come up with something “funny”, and the requirement to do so within such a short time limit. I had gone to the workshop because I anticipated it would make me feel uncomfortable–right I was!

When debriefing this activity, Dr. Motherwell McFarlane emphasized the importance of getting participants to draw almost immediately and of giving people only a short time to do so. She also intentionally avoids using the words “draw an image” because the word “draw” can generate a feeling of anxiety in people.

Application to educational development: The activity could easily become “tell the story of something funny or happy or unexpected that happened in your ED work”. This, and the two activities below, could be part of a session promoting reflective practice in ED.

Activity 2: “Emotional X-Rays…”

This was my favourite!

The instructions went something like:

“You are going to create two images using stick figures and at least one loopy sticker. Use the white index card to show a situation in your educational development work (she used teaching), as it might be perceived by the people around you. Use the black card to show the same situation, as experienced internally by you.”

We had approximately 3 minutes to create both images and then shared the stories in trios or pairs.

Below are the two images I generated:

Image 1 (the “outside” view) Explained: My Fall has been very, very, very busy. I’ve had so many projects and have been applying my sharpest organizational skills and efficiency to complete these. The figure in this image is me flexing my ED muscles to keep various projects moving.

What I am projecting to the outside

Image 2 (the “inside” experience) Explained: This fall has been one of the most difficult periods in my life as I have been providing intense support to my daughter in her recovery of anorexia (I am sharing this with her permission). I have been drained and sad much of the time.

What is happening inside me

Activity 3: “Then and now…celebrating change”

This activity invites the image-maker to show and celebrate an aspect of one’s professional evolution.

The instructions went something like:

  • Think about your role as a __________ (you could use ‘educational developer’; Dr. Motherwell McFarlane used ‘educator’; I considered my role as an adult educator).  In the small, middle box, write the number of years that you have had that role (for me, 24 years as an adult educator).
  • Think about a change in you over that period of time.
  • In the top section, make an image that shows a way you used to do things/how things used to be…
  • In the bottom section, make an image that shows what things are like now…

A few people were then invited to share* their Then and Now narratives using the document camera at the front of the room.

*Tip: Dr. Motherwell McFarlane has her own travelling (iPEVO HD USB) document camera and advised that it is helpful to assign one person to be collecting images and positioning them properly so that you, the facilitator, can focus on the storyteller and not on futzing with the image/direction/camera.


This session was my favourite at the Symposium. If you decide to use stick figures or have thoughts on how you might use them, please send me an email or write a comment — I’d love to hear from you!

I’d like to give a BIG thanks to Dr. Motherwell McFarlane who so kindly read through a draft of this post, added details that I had accidentally omitted, and provided other helpful feedback.

3 Quick and Easy Energizers

Pingpong-Ball auf dem Tischtennisschläger balancieren

In a course I recently taught, I used and/or learned a few energizers. Since I love having these types of activities in my ‘back pocket’, I wanted to share them with you:

Ping Pong Ball

Good for a large group energizer.

Divide the group into 3 and have each sub-group stand or be in a separate area of the room.  Position yourself where everyone can see you and assign one group “Ping”, the other group “Pong” and the third group “Ball”. Let the group know that, as you point to a particular group (area of the room), you want the members to shout out “their” group name. As the conductor, you then point to different groups and can have fun creating combinations of the three words (ping, pong, and ball), i.e., “ping, ping, ball, pong” etc.

Stand In The Circle If…

Good as an energizer or icebreaker for 6 people or more.

Everyone stands in a circle. Let people know that the activity consists of taking turns uttering an inclusions statement out loud and stepping into the circle if that statement applies. For example, one person might start by saying “Step in the circle if you prefer going to the beach over going for a hike on a sunny day”; those who feel this is true of them step into the circle. Then they step back out. The next person might say “Step into the circle if you plan to have a glass of wine this weekend” etc. People normally come up with fun statements and this activity always generates laughter.

The Rain Game…

This works well in a group of 25 or more people and is a powerful auditory experience.  I know of people who have led this in a large (100+) class,but haven’t tried that myself.

This game signifies a rainstorm starting softly and getting louder until it is pouring, with lightning and thunder. The storm quiets down again.

  1. First, you silently rub your fingers together, and the participants do the same.
  2. Then you rub your two hands together, making a very soft sound, and the participants follow.
  3. Next, you clap your hands very softly while the participants follow (it should still be quiet-ish).
  4. Then snap your fingers. (in each of the steps below, the participants follow what you are doing)
  5. Now go back to clapping and clap a little louder than you were snapping.
  6. Then a little louder.
  7. Then clap loudly.
  8. Then stomp your feet and clap, making a lot of noise.
  9.  Now do it in reverse until it is silent again.

The instructions above were taken from here.


Do you have some fun energizers and/or icebreakers to share? If so, let me know!

Photo credit: Pingpong-Ball auf dem Tischtennisschläger balancieren by Marco Verch. Creative Commons CC-BY-2. https : //flic.kr/p/ME1RxM

The Ladder of Accountability

I was recently introduced to the Ladder of Accountability and think it could be a useful group facilitation tool.

As the name implies, the Ladder of Accountability can be used to assess the level of accountability in a group. It can help teams examine an issue that they are dealing with and make some intentional choices about how they want to handle it.

See here for a detailed infographic (the smaller text is worth reading even if the word choices are sometimes off-putting; click on the image for an enlarged view):


Here is one way I imagine using it: I am working with a group and we want to assess where things are at for a particular issue/element of the project. I could ask each of the group members to individually and anonymously circle the rung of the ladder they believe we’re on. A look at the responses would provide the facilitator with a sense of how the group is feeling. The results could be a starting place for a group conversation.


Additional Resources

Group facilitation

In this post, I reflect on a 3-day course titled “Effective Group Facilitation” which I took last month and that was facilitated by Julian Griggs of Dovetail Consulting (see note 1). In some cases, my reflections will encompass aspects of the course which spanned the three days; in other cases, I will write about a single activity or idea. I’ll preface the reflections by saying this was an excellent course.

Effective and ineffective observable behaviours during meetings

Each participant generated a list of observable behaviours which we deem effective or ineffective and seen during meetings. Effective behaviours included: listening, taking turns speaking, being on time. Ineffective behaviours typically included: using digital devices, being late, interrupting. Julian’s provocative question was: Are these observable behaviours (actually) ineffective? Or, are we judging them to be ineffective? Could it be that, in some cases, a shouting match is exactly what we need to move a process forward?!

He cautioned: do not attribute motivation or intention (to a behaviour) too quickly! We must be aware of our own assumptions and be prepared to question and examine these.

Basic facilitation ≠ developmental facilitation

Basic facilitation builds dependency.  Developmental facilitation builds self-reliance. From the handbook we received: “…in developmental facilitation, the facilitator is actively involved in helping the group learn to monitor compliance with its core values themselves” (p.C-6).  I appreciated the articulation of this distinction.

Non-neutral facilitation

Many definitions of facilitation that I’ve encountered make some reference to the facilitator as someone who is “neutral” or “objective”. One thing I appreciated a lot about this course is that Julian acknowledged that, often, we are ‘non-neutral’ facilitators. He built time into this course for us to explore the challenges of this role (Section K of handbook).

As a non-neutral facilitator, how do we balance the need for impartiality with other demands? We worked through some helpful case studies to explore this (P.C-7 handbook).

And, for anyone wanting to read about general distinctions between facilitator, trainer, coach, mediator, chairperson, resource person, these links might be helpful (excellent table on P.C-5):

Activities/energizers that I particularly enjoyed

Portrait drawing

(a) first, we individually write a response to a question posed by facilitator [in this case, the question was: “What is the single most important thing I would like to learn/gain/strengthen from this course?”. (b) Look around the room, lock eyes with someone. Lock eyes! Take 20 seconds to draw that person. Then, move to that person. Share your response and drawing.

Where in the world?

[imaginary context: Community forum]

(a) designate a spot in the room, such as centre of room; (b) “if this is where we are right now, physically, find a spot in the room that represents a place in the world that is special to you. You’ll need to talk to one another to determine where you are.” (c) people move around and find a spot; (d) facilitator invites each person, one by one, to respond to “Why is the place important to you?”

Mirrors on your self

Imagine you have mirrors on your feet…Shine the mirrors on the ceiling (10 secs). Imagine you have mirrors on your hands…on your bottom…etc.

Twinkle fingers

To get a quick pulse from the group on an idea or other, first show the group how to do ‘twinkle fingers’ (participants hold out hands and move fingers as if they were playing a keyboard in one spot). If you want to find out from the group whether they agree with a particular decision (a light one), ask them to show their twinkle fingers.

Mindfulness (ends with 2 great questions)

I have used mindfulness in my teaching, but not in my facilitation. Julian guided us through a mindfulness activity but I don’t recall what it was.  What I do remember were the two questions he ended with (these are great):

Imagine you’ve had a fabulous day (presumably, you’re imagining the end of the facilitated day),

  1. What have you done to make this happen (he came back to this later when inviting us to participate in role plays)?
  2. What have you NOT done to make this happen?
Ending simply and with energy

Instead of a drawn-out workshop end, everyone stands in a circle and holds hands. At the count of 3, everyone takes a step towards the middle of the circle, puts up hands and says “We’re done!”.


We spent quite a bit of time on the morning of Day 2 on interventions. Doing this reflective writing has reminded me of the amazing resources that are in the handbook (see section G).

Simply put, an intervention is when you see something happening and decide to do something. Questions to ask myself as a facilitator:

  • How do I know this behaviour (that I’m observing) is ineffective? (perhaps it’s my own ‘stuff’ …)
  • Is this the right time to intervene?
  • Do I have the skills to go here?
  • Is it just me, or is this happening?

Ways to intervene:

  • Change the structure (i.e, big group to small group)
  • Change the content (get permission/agreement from the group)
  • Reframe (i.e., “we’ve been struggling with X. Let’s look at the advantages of…” — help shift perspective)

Level of intervention can be low, moderate or high.

Tips on openings

(click on picture for list of good tips–please excuse the fuzzy picture)


Random nuggets

  • As a facilitator, you are not responsible for the group’s success, you are responsible for helping the group be the most effective it can be. (Day 1)
  • Ask both: “Is everyone clear on X (e.g. the learning outcomes)?” and “Is anyone not clear on X (e.g. the learning outcomes?”
  • When using role plays in my teaching/facilitation, remind people not to overdo it.




  1. This reflection is part of an assignment which I need to complete to get credit for the course.