Give and Take
All players stand comfortably into a circle. Have one player start to do a simple, repetitive action and have the rest of the group copy that action in unison. Suggest that at any point, when a player gets the sense that it is his or her turn, they should introduce another action and the group will then instantly adopt that new action. The job of the group is to try to maintain unison. Changes should happen almost instantly by the whole group so that it is hard to tell who started the new action. This requires that the group be very aware and sensitive to the changes. Meanwhile, individuals should give each action some time to be experienced before they institute a new action, and be very sensitive to other students who might try to change things at the same time. When done well it will appear as though the group is doing something that is choreographed, almost like a free flowing dance or a nonverbal conversation.
(A "camp" version of this game has a person who is "it" leave the room and a leader is chosen among those left. This leader is the only one who can change the actions. Then the person who is "it" comes back and has three guesses to determine who is the one changing the actions...)
In the Moment:
• This is a game about focus and awareness and can be difficult for a group to do well. When the unity breaks down, stop the game, remind them of the goal and have them keep trying. Call out words of encouragement when things go well.
• When the class gets good at this game it is best to do it in silence, with just the sounds of the tapping or clapping being heard. However, until they get there feel free to voice sounds of encouragement, or caution. Things like, "okay, give this one time..." if kids are entering in too fast, or "okay, who will be next..." if they are taking too much time.
• Things most often break down when two or more students enter with a change at the same time and no one backs down. This results in a few kids doing one thing and the rest doing a different thing while a third group tries to switch back and fourth, or worse, solve it by instituting yet another action. "Being willing to yield is the only way this game will work" and "who is willing to yield?" while thanking the yielding player is the side coaching needed at this point. Or "we are all talking over everyone! Lets get on the same page again!"
In the Classroom:
This is a great game to begin to develop and practice a classroom environment that is sensitive to the views and ideas of all the members. Many teachers try, often in vane, to establish discussions where students can speak and discuss issues in a free flowing way without the controlling mechanism of raising their hands or taking turns (or the infamous "conch shell" approach.) This is a more basic practice of that skill, and can be used as a metaphor for that type of conversation. After all, that skill requires that students recognize that we are not simply giving students turns, we as a class are giving them the class. Everyone needs to be involved in allowing one student the space to voice his or her views.
• Class Discussions: This is a great warm-up to do just before a class where students will be asked to participate in discussion. Especially if the topics will be sensitive or personal. It set the right tone for conversations like this, and teachers should feel free to point this out as the goal.
• Social Pragmatics: In my social pragmatics classes I will often call this a "silent conversation" because I use it as a model of how conversations flow. Sometimes we want it to flow one way and it goes in a different direction, so we have to yield and go with that flow in order to participate. It isn't personal, it is just the way these things work. If you pay close attention to what is going on, and stay focused, the conversation topic will shift again soon. The key is to bear with it! This is a visual representation of that dynamic. Students who are painfully quiet will often thrive in this game, because they don't have to speak to take control. It is a great way for those kids to experience and practice taking charge of a class, on their way to taking the next, more difficult step of doing it verbally.
•Drama Classes: Its a great way to practice this idea of "jumping in" to an improv scene. Lots of classic games like "Taxi" or 'Freeze" require kids to wait a while, give the scene a chance to develop, and then jump in to start a new one. The same skills that a group needs to be able to accomplish that are also seen here, but more simple and visual.