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Web the Group’s Words

This planning technique is a group version of mind mapping; I use this system of visual note taking all the time to capture memories and ideas. Tony Buzan developed mind mapping in Britain a number of years ago; it’s used a lot more in Europe, but a good friend of mine used it in graduate school for everything from  notetaking to planning for her thesis.

Word Webbing, described on page 20 in the “Planning and Reflection” book from HIGH/SCOPE, gives the whole group a chance to participate in a giant mind map. The group has a giant sheet of butcher paper and markers. Begin the web or map by putting the central idea or activity in the center as a picture or a word in a frame. As the group brainstorms ideas, write broad categories, and then more specific item in branches off the central idea. As you go, connect the ideas that are related. When done, you have a picture of their discussion and can see how items are connected.

Connect Service to Life

Processing the experience is a core component of an effective service learning experience. You can process in a group or have group members create journals or portfolios. The questions here can be used for any of those methods; choose the ones that will help your group members internalize their service learning experience. This first group of questions will help reflect on what happened?

  • Look back on today. What struck you most strongly?
  • What happened?
  • What images stand out in your mind? What sights, sounds and smells?
  • What experiences and conversations do you especially remember?
  • What is it about these images that make you remember them?
  • Who did you meet and work with during the day?
  • Who did you relate to most easily? Who did you find it hardest to talk to?
  • Why?
  • What did you learn about the people you met? How are they like you?
  • How are they different?
  • What needs did your service try to meet? Did it succeed? Why or why not?
  • What information or skills did you learn today?
  • How did you apply what you knew before to this project?

What does it mean?

  • What was happening in your heart? What did you feel? Were you upset?
  • Were you surprised? Confused? Content? What touched you most deeply?
  • Why?
  • What did you find frustrating? What did you find most hopeful?
  • What would it be like to trade places with the people you worked with?
  • What did you learn about yourself?
  • What do you like about what you learned? What would you like to change?
  • How did the experience change or challenge your convictions and beliefs?

Now what?

  • How were justice and injustice present in the situations you faced today?
  • Did you learn anything new about what causes suffering?
  • What did you learn about how you can make things better?
  • How are you part of the problem? How are you part of the solution?
  • What did you learn today that will help you in your future service work?
  • What needs to change in the world to make things better?
  • What needs to change in you?
  • What hopes and expectations do you have for those you served? For yourself?
  • How did the service experience affect how you would like to live?
  • How did it affect what type of job or career you might choose?

Adapted from An Asset Builder’s Guide to Service Learning, A Search Institute Publication, 2000, page 96

Process in Concentric Circles

Concentric Circles works great both for processing and for getting your group to get to know each other. I’ve used it many times to create “teachable moments.” As a processing technique, it’s a good illustration that the facilitators don’t always have to be part of the processing discussion for it to be effective. When I heard this in a Matty Matthison workshop, a lightbulb lit up above my head; I’d never really thought about trusting processing to the group. But it works!

To form two concentric circles, have the group members from pairs. If there is an odd number, ask one of the other facilitators to partner with her. Ask one partner of each pair to form a circle, facing out. Then have the other partners come and stand across from them, forming a circle, facing inward.

Pose a question for pairs to answer to each other. Give them about 30 to 60 seconds for both to share, and have the outer circle move to the right after each question, giving each person a new partner. Three or four questions is about right. Check out this post for ideas for questions to process service learning experiences.

Write a Six-Word Memoir

Last winter, my daughter, one of her friends and I wrote six-word memoirs to sum up our days. This exercise was based on the very popular book called “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.”

I found it a challenging and interesting way to review my day. We shared news about a sister’s engagement, acceptance at graduate school and other big and small events.

I’ve since used Six-Word Memoirs to help groups sum up their discussions as I was facilitating character education programs for the Institute for Character Development. I find that it helps people really focus on the central idea, and saves giving lengthy reports on discussions.

These free Teaching Guides are fun too. Check out Assignment Redux. I hope you’ll try some of the ideas from our colleagues at the University of Iowa. They include–

  • Assignments
  • Icebreakers
  • Reflections
  • Collaborative writing

And here’s a place to post your own six-word memoir.

Create a Treasure Box

One of my favorite ways to process learning is to use my treasure box. I usually save it for groups with whom I’ve spent at least a day. I’ve found that middle school girls love this way of processing what they have gained from their time together. A bonus is that they get to keep something to remind them of what they learned or gained.

I’ve collected a boxful of small, free (mostly) or inexpensive items–buttons, shells, stones, old pins, pennies, Barbie shoes–in a small box that my daughter decorated. At the end of a program, I open the treasure box and spread the contents out on the floor or on a table. Then I ask each person to choose one and tell how it is related to what they learned or did and how it will help them remember something from the time we spent together. They get to keep the “treasures.”

Who Says Kids are Apathetic???!!!!

Thousands of teen volunteers contribute more than 1.7 million hours of service each year in west central Florida through ManaTEENS! Two sisters, who were 12 and 17 years old then, started the organization in 1994. It’s grown into the largest locally based teen volunteer initiative in the United States!

Their president spoke at the Youth Service Institute I attended in October 2008. When I was in Florida, they had conference participants working on a resource directory of “Pet Friendly” facilities for people to use if they’re confronted by a hurricane or flood and have to abandon their pets. That project was part of their Animal Welfare and Homeland Security initiatives; their other initiatives are–

  • Environment
  • Health and Human Services

ManaTEENS is a great example of the power of young people to change the world! The president had these tips for making powerful contributions–

  • hands-on
  • can’t save the world on the weekends
  • gotta start where you live

Backward Planning

Here is another group process for committees or small groups to use once they’ve decided on an activity. They start with the final activity, event or outcome and work backwards to define the steps toward accomplishing it.

The group members have paper and markers, at least one sheet for each step of the process needed to accomplish the activity. They start with the last step on one sheet and work their way back to the beginning, rearranging as necessary. Once they have laid out all the steps and put a timeline with them, they will have a comprehensive, orderly plan for how to go forward.

Plan with Post-Its

Once your group has decided on an activity to do, this process helps the group move toward making it happen. It could be done with the whole group, but it might be more effective in a committee or small group. It will help the girls who are in charge of the event to figure out the steps for making the activity a reality. Post-It Planning gives you a method for understanding the actions that are necessary to make the activity happen.

Start by writing the activity the group has chosen to do on a flip chart. Now the whole group writes questions and things that need to happen on sticky notes, one question or item per note so that they can be arranged later. Put these questions and other notes randomly on the flip chart. Give the group time to read the notes and make sure they have covered everything. Finally, the group arranges the notes in a logical order and divides them up among the group so everyone shares the responsibility for facilitating the activity. Finally, have the group decide on deadlines for the stages of action. This would be a good activity to use a Tack-E-Wall.

This planning technique is described in “Planning and Reflection” by Tom Akiva from HIGH/SCOPE, page 19.

Have Fun Generating Ideas

Here is a site that gives a clear description of brainstorming, with a process for narrowing ideas after the initial discussion.
These eight rules provide some background for refining your brainstorming techniques for the best results in your groups.
And this site for teachers has some free stuff and other ideas to take off from brainstorming like–
oBrainstorming Web
oCoat of Arms
oPicture the Order

Brainstorming is an old technique for gathering ideas from a group, but if it’s done with attention to ALL the rules, including no judging, it’s really effective. If groups are not allowed to put down wacky ideas, it defeats the purpose.

These eight rules to “Brilliant Brainstorming” give a good explanation of the skill and mindset that is needed for success at this method for facilitating brainstorming. You need more than a flip chart and markers to do it well. I use timing, taking turns, a Tack-E-Wall, to manage the brainstorming, but that’s another post.

This Web site from Studio 1151 provides a clear description of brainstorming, and includes a process for narrowing ideas after the initial discussion.

Create Meaningful Advisory Structures

Providing opportunities for making choices and speaking out are critical components of positive youth development programs. But it’s challenging to do this with a large group of kids who may want to go in 30 different directions. Here are ideas from a gallery activity at the 2008 Chrysalis After-School Facilitator Training for creating meaningful advisory structures with young people–

  • Rotate teams
  • Form committees & facilitate meetings with adults
  • Let everyone who wants to advise be involved
  • Facilitate activities that work toward group goals and objectives
  • Vary groups across grade levels
  • Provide consistency