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

Discussion Topics

Okay, I put it out there–What are some good discussion topics for middle school girls? Here is the first response I got on Facebook–
–music, clothes, dance, friendship and who’s cute-circa 1970’s
–music, clothes, dance, friendship and who’s cute -using cellphones, social networking, text, -circa 2009

Here are some more–

  • Media portrayal of girls/women
  • Cliques
  • Movies
  • Books
  • School
  • TV shows
  • Pets
  • Scars
  • Why you have your name
  • Grooming, cleanliness and makeup
  • How to pick out a good fitting bra and dressing for your body type

Fishbowl Discussion

A fishbowl discussion allows everyone in a large group to participate in a series of small group discussions. In a group larger than four or five it’s hard for everyone to have a chance to speak.

This method allows up to five people to discuss a topic for a set amount of time, with the rest of the group taking turns as the audience. It’s a non-threatening way to develop speaking and listening skills. It can help people get over the fear of speaking in front of a group because it’s more like a conversation than speaking before an audience.

Arrange four or five chairs in an inner circle. This is the fishbowl. Arrange the rest of the chairs in concentric circles around the fishbowl. Select enough participants or ask for volunteers to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sit on the chairs outside the fishbowl.

Now introduce the topic for discussion and the participants in the fishbowl start discussing the topic. The audience outside the fishbowl listens.

You can choose between an open fishbowl and a closed fishbowl, two different methods to make sure everyone gets a chance to join in the conversation.

In an open fishbowl, leave one chair empty and explain that any member of the audience can, at any time, occupy the empty chair and join the fishbowl. When this happens, one member of the fishbowl must voluntarily leave the fishbowl so there is always one free chair.

The discussion continues with participants frequently entering and leaving the fishbowl. This method, if your audience members are interested and assertive, will allow most audience members to spend time in the fishbowl and participate in the discussion.

When time runs out, close the fishbowl and summarize the discussion.

In a closed fishbowl, all chairs are filled. The initial participants speak for a specified amount of time, maybe five minutes. When time runs out, they leave the fishbowl and a new group from the audience enters the fishbowl.

This continues until most audience members have spent some time in the fishbowl. Once the final group has concluded, close the fishbowl and summarize the discussion.

In a timed discussion, let the people in the fish bowl discuss the topic for a certain period of time – say, 15 minutes. Then stop the discussion and invite the people who aren’t in the inner circle to give feedback on what they heard in the fishbowl.

To use the fishbowl exchange, divide the group into two smaller groups; have each of these groups meet separately and come up with three or four open-ended questions for the other group. Have them write their questions down; reconvene and exchange questions.
Form two circles, one small group inside the other, both facing inward. Have the fishbowl (the inside group) read a question and discuss it. The outside circle cannot speak, only listen.

Go through all the questions, making sure everyone in the fishbowl gets to speak. Now switch circles and go through the process again.

Idea Bombardment

This activity will help your group generate ideas for achieving personal and group goals. It provides a way for the group to “bombard” one or a small group of people with ideas for accomplishing their goals.

Start with the whole group in a large circle, then spend about five minutes talking about how to set goals–making them realistic, short-term so they can see progress, and about things they really want. The group may set personal goals for things like fitness, doing better in school, having more fun or learning a new skill. Or they may set goals for the group to accomplish something like a service project or a trip. Don’t get hung up on the writing part. The more often you do activities like this, the better people will get at setting goals. Just remember to give people opportunities to talk about how their goals are going and what they may need to do differently.

Now have each person write a goal on an index card.

Go around the group and have everyone share their goal, listening for others in the group that have similar goals.

Now, group members with similar goals take them into the center of the large group and form a smaller circle.

The group in the outside circle “bombards” the inner circle with ideas for accomplishing their goals. Those being bombarded may want to take notes about their favorite ideas. Rotate different small groups into the inner circle, giving the bombardment five minutes or less for each small group.

Pleasure Meter

The Pleasure Meter is a good activity to start discussion early in a program, but not right at the beginning. It acquaints participants with each other, indicates preferences and lets us find out about the other members of our group. It can help you learn about the participants and may help your group define sexual behavior. As you discuss pleasure and then sex, encourage the group to include sex by yourself as sex, discuss roadblocks like health, culture, shame and religion.

Pleasure Meter

Pleasure Meter

With one Raccoon Circle, make an arc shape like the one shown here. This is your pleasure meter. Ask participants to stand along the edge of the meter, at the position that best relates to them. For example, the amount of pleasure that you have right now could be just like a gas tank gauge (empty, half a tank, full). Then have them move along the edge according to the amount of pleasure the following types of people “should have;” you don’t need to do all of them. And don’t define “pleasure.”

  • Infant
  • Toddler
  • Pre-school-age child
  • Kindergartner
  • Grade school student
  • Child with ADD
  • Someone in a wheelchair
  • Middle school student
  • High school student
  • College student
  • Someone in their 20’s
  • Pregnant woman
  • People in their 30’s and 40’s
  • Retired people
  • People in nursing homes
  • Octogenarians
  • Geezers

As the group arranges itself along the meter, ask them questions about:

  • What are you thinking about when I say pleasure?
  • What are some roadblocks to feeling pleasure?
  • Where do you get pleasure?
  • Why do red flags go up when we connect pleasure with certain groups?
  • How do you define pleasure?
  • Think of an activity you consider pleasurable–would you answer the phone when you are doing this activity?
  • What would you put on a “Pleasure Menu?”

That’s Not Cool

This is a pretty funny video about what might happen if you talk to your parents, counselor or boyfriend about “textual harassment.” It was developed by Brandon Hardesty and you can also find it on
Here’s what Brian says about it–
“A PSA I did for Ad Council. I filmed this about three weeks ago. Ad Council asked me to make a video for their website, That’ It’s part of a whole new PSA campaign. I’m pretty sure they’ve asked some other YouTubers to make videos, so don’t be surprised if this isn’t the only one.”

This video about what might happen if you talk to your parents, counselor or boyfriend about “textual harassment” is pretty funny. It’s a good example of how NOT to listen to kids talk about sex!

It was developed by Brandon Hardesty and you can find it and other videos on There are also “callout cards” and other resources.

Here’s what Brandon says about his video–

“A PSA I did for Ad Council. I filmed this about three weeks ago. Ad Council asked me to make a video for their website, That’ It’s part of a whole new PSA campaign. I’m pretty sure they’ve asked some other YouTubers to make videos, so don’t be surprised if this isn’t the only one.”

Plan Agendas

Meeting Agenda Card Sort is a tool for involving your group in setting an agenda for regular meetings. It starts with collecting ideas from all the members, and then provides an easy way to put the ideas in order and develop a timeframe.

Groups benefit from having a standard agenda so that members know what to expect and are prepared. Young people especially need the structure and stability that a set agenda provides. With this method, though, you can use the cards later in the year to fine tune the agenda.

You will need markers and 3 X 5 index cards.

In the large group, brainstorm items that could be part of a meeting. These may include–

  • compliments & appreciations
  • getting organized
  • setting up
  • cleaning up
  • attendance
  • arrival activity
  • pre-meeting activity
  • games
  • snack
  • chores
  • welcome guests
  • introduce guests
  • news & goods, highs & lows
  • introductions
  • program
  • processing
  • field trip
  • problem solving
  • circle
  • committee reports
  • games & recreation
  • dancing
  • arts & crafts
  • discussion/business

As each idea is shared, have someone write it on an index card. You may have some essentials on note cards before the activity, just in case they are left out, but keep the discussion open to all ideas.

Once the group is done brainstorming (usually not more than 10 minutes), use a method such as a line-up (by birthday, height, shoe size) and cut the group into chunks. You can also use zodiac signs or birth months to divide into smaller groups. Groups of seven or less can more easily come to consensus.

Give each small group a stack of index cards from the discussion. Then have each small group stack the cards in the order of what should be part of every meeting to what needs to be discussed only once a year. They don’t have to use all to the cards.

Next each small group shares their order with the large group. Once each group has shared, work as one large group to organize the cards into an agenda that will provide structure to the group for the year or a quarter of the year. Use group meetings to refine this structure over the course of the year.

Jeff Macomber and I developed the Meeting Agenda Card Sort as part of an Involving Youth in Decision Making. I used it last year at Brody when I was helping out.

Beth Mensing offers this variation–“I wrote up 3 or 4 sets of cards with items already on them, we talked through the items as a large group. I could have given them blank cards if there was something that was missing. They were color coded so I could easily pull them out to complete sets again. Then we had each small group create an agenda order, and we tried different agenda orders over the next few weeks. It was pretty interesting. They definitely decided that some agendas just don’t work well for them.”

Map the Community

A map is a special kind of picture of a community or area; there are landmarks that make each community unique. Each team will draw, photograph, take notes and collect things that can be glued to the map-page. At the end of the walk, print photos and add items from the walk to the map-pages.