SONORITY TURNER’S TIPS ON CREATING A SUCCESSFUL, ENGAGING GROUP EXPERIENCE.
Creativity is one of our greatest sources of energy which means facilitating creative expression could be the right catalyst to get energy flowing through the lives of the participants. Facilitating group work can be a truly fulfilling and exciting experience for all involved. When approaching a new group of young people it’s best to be yourself, know what you are doing and try to have fun. These following ideas cover some of the basic principles that are needed to create a successful, engaging, experience people can often miss or not give much thought to. If you do the groundwork, bring everyone into the room and remember you get what you give you should create a positive and enriching experience for all.
ONE: DO THE GROUNDWORK
Failing to prepare is careless. Setting a clear and focused intention for your time together is really useful. Find out what the group’s needs are, plan your session in advance and make sure the space is set up before they arrive. Create an open and trusting atmosphere. Try to greet every young person who enters the room, make eye contact and welcome them into the space. This will ease them in and help everyone to feel more comfortable. Build a safe space by naming group agreements (usually called rules, but everyone wants to break the rules, especially young people) and don’t forget to mention consent or privacy in accordance with the school’s or organisation’s policy. The group will want to know why they are here and what they will be doing, so set clear and achievable goals for the time and resources you have. The real gem of any workshop is engaging the imagination so do this as soon as you can. If you can capture their imaginations early on the group will be much more likely to fully participate.
TWO: BRING EVERYONE INTO THE ROOM
This starts with that initial greeting but does not stop there. Every person has a unique, and valid, desire to be seen and heard. How do you bring everyone into the room? Make eye contact, ask direct questions and create opportunities for everyone to be seen and/or heard. A good place to start might be a name game from where you can progress to a low risk activity. Low risk means everyone could be capable and there is little chance of getting it ‘wrong’. Begin with paired activities, then build up to larger groups before asking young people to speak in front of the entire room. If you are running out of time, break into pairs and get the group to share with one another rather than not at all. Pay attention to the energy of the room, if the young people are clearly disengaged, change it up, shake it up and move on.
THREE: YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE
The group will meet you at the energy you come with so be aware of where you are at on the day. If you are not engaged or excited about the tasks you are bringing then it’s likely they won’t be either. They will surely let you know if your activities are weak, boring or long and if they do, don’t take it personally, it’s all part of your own learning journey. Use simple direct language. Try not to undermine them, check they understand your instructions without patronising them. Never put any young person down (or yourself). Maintain a sense of equality by giving everyone a chance to speak. Give space for questions. Clear endings are just as important as strong beginnings, create space for reflection and give thanks.
Approach a new group of young people the same way you would approach a new potential friend, with respect and an open mind. Working with groups is a practice in its own right. In order to get good at it, you simply need to practice. It’s true, some people have a natural aptitude for group work but being a good writer does not necessarily make you a good facilitator. Practise your workshop ideas with others, attend trainings, get feedback and read up on group practice. Here are some books that you might find useful.
This series of four books offers 96 different storytelling games and activities. They provide practical techniques and there are notes with each game along with suggestions and helpful ideas for variations and developments. This is a great series for inspiration and ideas of how to use storytelling in workshops.
A very empowering book on writing. Half of the book provides evocative exercises designed to free the flow. The other includes clear directions on how to run effective writing groups with at-risk youth and disenfranchised adults.
An Art-Full guide to unleashing the creative power of youth, adults and communities. This book works as a guide to using cross art forms and empowerment techniques. It is based on the premise that you do not have to be a professional artist to use the arts in your work.
This is one of the best practical application guides I know. It includes exercises, games, and the structures of Boal’s system. Drama games and activities are a great source of playfulness as well as providing inspiration for writing. They also add a dynamic quality to writing workshops.