These activities help devotees knowing and better understanding one another. Some are especially useful as introductions for when there are new people, but you can effectively use them also with groups that are together since long time. For some of these activities you will need to prepare some materials beforehand.
You Are in the Newspaper Today!
Get some old newspapers (in some countries Sunday newspapers are better for this game because they have a few extra sections). Have everyone pick a big sheet (4 connected pages). Give the participants a few minutes to look for words, sentences and pictures that:
a) Describe some of their characteristics; tell something about them.
b) Remind them of something important for them.
Tell them to circle with a pen or marker what they selected. After picking words, sentences and pictures each person will share with the rest of the group what they chose and why.
Materials: one yarn of string and scissors (or whatever can cut the string)
Pass around the ball of string and the scissors, and have everyone cut off a piece, without specifying anything. Some will take tiny pieces, some long ones. After everyone has a piece, go around the circle and have everyone say one thing about himself/herself for each finger width of string. This usually gets a few laughs for the person who cut off several feet!
Divide the group into two, three or more teams (better if boys with boys and girls with girls). Give all the players a small piece of paper and ask them to write one thing that no one knows about themselves (you can ask them to write two or three things). Collect all the papers, but keep them separated by team. Read one thing from the first team: the other teams have to guess who wrote it. Each team has only a chance and they can consult with each other before answering. Who guesses right gets a point for the team. If no one guesses, the team where the “secret” comes from gets a point. Continue reading one fact at a time (finishing all the secrets of one team first or proceeding by reading one secret from each team). The team that gets most points wins. Devotees get to learn some curious facts about each other, some of which they might never forget.
Materials: chairs (one less than the total of people)
Have the whole group sit in chairs in a circle. One person stands in the middle while everyone sits. The person in the middle says, "I offer my respectful obeisances to whoever…” and adds something like “wears tilak” or “has been to Vrindavana”, “chants at least four rounds”, “likes sweets more than salty preps” or whatever other aspect comes to mind. (Warn them to maintain good taste and avoid grossness.) Whoever fits the description must get up and run to a different chair, while also the person in the middle tries to sit on a chair. If the thing applies only to a person, automatically he/she will remain standing. Whoever doesn't get a chair is now in the middle, and says the same thing ("I offer my respectful obeisances to whoever…”) adding something different. Everyone gets to know everyone else better.
Birth-months & Birthdays
This is a high-energy activity and it's especially suitable for big groups. It brings together people born in the same month, and possibly on the same day. Ask participants to walk around and find others who share the same birth month. When all participants are in "birth-month groups", ask them to share their exact birthdays. You can then ask how many people discovered common birthdays. Keep this activity crisp, quick, light, and pleasant.
Variation: instead of months you can use astrological signs.
This activity helps to get to know and relate with each other and is a physical energizer.
Step one: explain that birth order (being the first child, the last or whatever) plays a role in our personal development. There are often common experiences, patterns of behavior and feelings shared by people of the same birth order. This game is an opportunity for the group to discover such common traits.
Step two: ask participants to group themselves into the four corners of the room by the following birth orders: oldest, youngest, middle, and only child. Explain that middle means anyone who is not an oldest, youngest, or only child.
Step three: after participants are grouped, tell them they have a couple of minutes to answer and record their agreed-upon responses to the following questions:
· What were the advantages of being a …………….. child?
· What were the disadvantages of being a …………….. child?
Step four: after the two minutes are over, ask the spokesperson of each group to share their conclusions.
a. Before step two, ask everyone to individually list the advantages of being a …………….. child on a piece of paper and, on the other side, the disadvantages of that situation. Then, when they group into the corners, encourage them to share what they wrote and come to agreement on a few of the advantages and disadvantages.
b. Ask each group to demonstrate with a skit (short drama) one advantage and one disadvantage.
c. Ask each group to perform a mime on one advantage and one disadvantage and have the other groups guess what is that.
d. Rather than birth order, ask participants to think of their order in the organization they work (or in ISKCON): new hire; been here between six months and two years; been here between 2 and 5 years; been here more than 5 years (or some similar categorization).
This activity gives the opportunity to discover connections or “missing links” with the other members of the group. It is a physical energizer and it can be used with big groups. If your group is not so big you can just keep it as it is, if it is quite big divide it into smaller groups of six to twelve people. Ask them to stand and form a circle. Tell them to choose one person in each group who will begin the activity by telling things about himself/herself, such as "places where I have lived, jobs I had, people I have known, schools I have attended," and so on. Of course, one can also share experiences in Krishna consciousness. Tell them that the first to recognize a connection with what the speaker say should identify himself/herself as "missing link," move to the left of the speakers, explain the link, and then proceed to tell things about oneself until another group member makes a connection. Continue the "missing link" process until all members of the group are connected.
Materials: pens and paper
Ask all the members of the group to write 3, 4 or 5 true less known facts about themselves. Then ask them to fold their paper and put it in the middle of the circle. Mix all the papers and pick one. Read the facts. Whoever is the first to guess who is that person gets a point. Whoever scores more points wins. One can try to guess even before you finish reading the whole list of facts, but if the guess is wrong he/she can’t try again for that person.
Materials: one small, soft ball (or something else, like a teddy bear or whatever can be tossed harmlessly around)
Sit in a circle and toss a small ball to one person, who then has to tell, for instance, his/her name. That person tosses the ball to someone else who says his/her name (in case everyone knows everyone's else name, you can skip this step) and so on till finishing one full round. The second round could be about telling one's favorite food, the favorite color, something unusual about oneself or whatever you choose. You can add whatever you want to the list of information they share and do as many rounds as you like.
Ask the players to imagine that they are all survivors of a shipwreck, swimming for their lives in the ocean. There is only one life-belt, and you have to decide who gets it. Only one survivor can receive it and be saved. Each person must give reasons why he/she should be the one who gets the life-belt. Whoever comes up with the most convincing or amusing case wins. For added effect you can stand on a chair (if possible holding a real life-belt) and have everyone stand around you.
Variation: have everyone giving reasons why the person on their left (or their right) is the most worthy of being saved. This version has the advantage of encouraging selflessness and glorification of others.
Divide the whole group in pairs and have each pair interview each other. Give a time limit. After that have everyone introduce the partner to the whole group.
Materials: colors and paper (or at least pens and paper)
Ask people to draw their most precious possession. This may be a person or an object. Then have each share with the rest of the group, sharing their most precious possession, while other listen attentively without speaking. This can be a powerful exercise and often brings up strong feelings for all participants. Particularly useful for family groups as children usually enjoy it. You can play some music in the background while people draw.
Variation: you can do this activity without drawing, by having people just speak about their most precious possession.
Materials: pens and paper
Have people write 4 or 5 adjectives or phrases to describe themselves. Collect the sheets and hand them out randomly (but make sure that nobody gets their own). Each person read the sheet he/she gets and attempts to guess who wrote it. If he/she can’t guess, ask the next person or the whole group to try to find the identity.
What Do You Like Most in...
Materials: pens and paper, a little bell
This icebreaker is especially good for the last meeting of a group, before the group divides in two, but it can be used also in other circumstances, like the end of a course or retreat. The idea is to make the members feeling appreciated and leave them something to remember and cherish from being in the group. This icebreaker also offers the chance to think positively of the devotees, to focus on their good qualities. Sit everyone in a circle. Give everyone a blank sheet of paper, not too small—A4 size is ideal—and a pen. Tell everyone to clearly write their name on top of their sheet of paper. Tell them to give the sheet of paper to the person on their right. Now tell everyone that they will have 45 seconds to write what they like most about the person whose paper they hold. They can write one or more qualities or the way that person does something, or whatever they appreciate about her/his character and personality. Also tell them that after the 45 seconds you will ring a bell (or a pair of karatalas) and everyone will hand the paper to the person on her/his right. It is important to have a fixed time. If the group is not too big it could be a full minute. After everyone passed their paper and received a new one, have them repeat the process and write what they like most about the person whose paper they now hold. Have everyone handing over the paper to the next person—at regular intervals—till everyone gets his/her paper back. Give them some time to read what people wrote about them. Tell them that they can keep the sheet as a souvenir.
True or False?
For bigger groups it might be better to break up in smaller groups of 5 or 6 people each. Each person says four facts about himself/herself—three true and one false. Generally the three true should be hard to believe and the one false should sound believable. Others in the group try to guess the false “fact”. You can give a point to whoever guesses correctly and who scores more points wins.
a. Three false facts and one true (and have people guess which one is true).
b. Two true facts and one false.
c. Four true and one false.
d. Two false and two true.
e. Whatever combination you like.
Divide the group into pairs. Each pair will have 30 seconds to find 5 things they have in common. At the end of the 30 seconds, ask each pair to join another pair and give the four people a minute to find 5 things they have in common. You can stop here and have each group present what they have in common, or if you like you can continue joining the groups, adding four to four and then eight to eight, till everyone is together.
Variation: Competition by elimination: as each pair finds the 5 common things they raise their hand and say: "Haribol!" The last pair to complete is out. These applies also to the successive stages, until only one team is left.
Materials: large sheets of paper (A4 size would do, but bigger is better) and color markers
This activity promotes communication and relationship among group members by visual expression. Explain that we will draw a personal mandala (“circle” in Sanskrit), a visual representation of different things about oneself. At this point people generally start to complain and lament: “I don’t know how to draw” etc. But don’t worry: explain that it is not an artistic competition, and even the simplest drawings are acceptable. Give out the paper and a variety of color markers. Show the example of the mandala and review the four quadrants with participants: [the graphic from the file “mandala graphic” should be inserted here and this note should be removed from the book]
1. What I am comfortable doing (something he/she is good at, something the person feels to be especially efficient and talented in, in any realm, of personal or work life)
2. Gift I bring to the team (a personal strength or skill)
3. Source of frustration with the group (an irritation or upset that the person experiences or has experienced within this group)
4. Group betterment (what the person thinks the group should do to become better).
Tell them to use only images, icons, or pictures that symbolize their responses to each of the four quadrants. Ask them to put their names at the top of their papers. Allow 10-15 minutes to complete the mandalas (you can have background music while they draw).
You can use the completed mandalas in several ways: one is to break into smaller groups and have everyone briefly explain to the others what the pictures represent. Another is to ask volunteers to share with the whole group. Or you could share just a couple of mandalas, keeping the rest for future meetings.
Variation 1: (actually an extension) You can have a ribbon displayed below the mandala, a space for writing a personal credo, or motto—an essential, guiding principle or perspective that the individual relies on as a guide for everyday life. This may be an inspired thought, a verse, the title of a book, a line of a song—whatever they like—expressed in a phrase or short sentence (in the ribbon they will write words; they won't draw pictures).
Variation 2: Ask to represent, with pictures, 4 answers to the following 7 questions (you can have the questions written on a board for everyone to see):
1. What are 3 things you are good at?
2. What do you like most about your family?
3. What do your friends like about you?
4. What do you think you can do better than almost anyone else your age?
5. What do you dream about doing one day?
6. What is something you have already done that makes you feel really good?
7. What is one thing you are planning to change about yourself so you will be better?
They will select which 4 questions they like to answer (with their drawings). You can debrief this activity in smaller groups (faster) or with the whole group.