- Practice expressing oneself clearly and effectively.
- Practice listening attentively and responding actively.
- Practice observing dynamics of interpersonal relationships.
- Learn how to find out whether communication has achieved the desired effect.
- Learn skills useful for establishing personal connections where none existed previously.
- Learn a basic skill for resolving conflicts.

Mother-Child Trust Call

Activity: Ask the participants to divide into pairs. The pairs should select one person to be the "mother" and one to be the "child." Each pair should also choose an animal. The "mother" should practice making the sound that the animal makes so the child will know the mother's voice. Now separate the groups—all mothers on one side of the room and all children on the other side. Children must close their eyes. Mothers will make the animal sound while moving about the room. With their eyes closed, the children must try to find and touch their mothers. Then reverse roles.

Discussion: How does it feel to be able to identify someone only by sound? How hard was it to distinguish your mother's voice? What did it feel like to find your mother? What was it like to see your child wandering around and all you could do to help was call out?

A Circle of Elephants

Introduction: Divide participants into three groups. About half the participants will be adult elephants, a quarter will be lions and another quarter will be young elephants. Explain that while adult elephants have nothing to fear from lions, the little elephants are in danger of being taken away by the king of the jungle. Thus when lions attack, the adult elephants herd their young together and then make a tight circle around them, facing outwards to drive off the lions.

Activity: Have the lions line up along one wall and roar. Ask the adult elephants to herd the little ones together and then form a tight circle around them. When the circle is complete, the lions may come and try to break through the circle. The adult elephants must keep the barrier strong and protect the young. Reverse roles between lions and young elephants. Then have the lions and young elephants play the role of the protective adult elephants and those who were previously the protectors take turns being both young elephants and lions.

Discussion: Invite discussion about how it felt to be vulnerable and be within a protective circle. How it felt to be part of a protective circle. How it felt to face that protective circle. Explore how this relates to the extended family model. What is the protective circle? What are the threatening lions?

First Impressions

Introduction: Read the following essay:

“You and I, we meet as strangers, each carrying a mystery within us. I cannot say who you are. I may never know you completely, but I trust that you are a person in your own right, possessed of a beauty and value that are the Earth’s richest treasures. So I make this promise to you: I will impose no identities upon you, but will invite you to become yourself without shame or fear. I will hold open a space for you in the world and allow your right to fill it with an authentic vocation and purpose. For as long as your search takes, you have my loyalty.” [author unknown]

Discussion: Ask for examples of times when people made judgments about them before getting to know them. Ask for examples of times when they were understood and valued as unique individuals.

Reading: How we treat other people has a more lasting impression than how we tell other people they should act. This is particularly true between parents and children. For example,

  • If we criticize our children, they learn to condemn.
  • If they live with hostility, they learn to fight.
  • If we teach our children tolerance, they are more likely to be patient.
  • When we teach them security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.
  • When we teach them friendliness, they learn that the world has many people who will respond in kind to their friendliness.

Active Listening

Preparation: Post a large sheet of paper with the rotation schedule. Select a few personal questions that are likely to stimulate participant sharing centered on the project theme. A timer and bell to indicate when three minutes are up.

Introduction: God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Some people say that’s because He wanted us to spend twice as much time listening as talking. Others claim it’s because He knew that listening was twice as hard. Have participants stand in a large circle and count off 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 and so on until everyone has a number. Ask each group of three participants to sit down together. One of the biggest challenges in communication is giving people a chance to express their heart, listening carefully and learning to understand with our heart. You may wonder why we have formed groups of three people for this kind of listening and understanding. The reason is because active listening is best learned when there is a speaker, a listener and an observer who gives the other two feedback on their communication.

Activity: I will give you questions to discuss, and each of you will get a turn at being a speaker, a listener, and an observer. The speaker has 3 minutes to speak about the topic. The listener should focus on the speaker and make small gestures or sounds of understanding. If something isn’t clear the listener can ask a question to clarify. Otherwise, the speaker continues uninterrupted until I ring the bell. Then the listener should briefly tell the speaker what he or she understood the speaker to be communicating.

Then each of you will report your experiences to each other:
  1. The listener will report how well you were able to focus on the speaker, how effective you were at active listening, and what barriers you experienced to actively listening.
  2. The speaker will report on how it feels to be actively listened to, how well you thought the listener listened, and what made you think the listener was listening effectively.
  3. The observer will make sure the speaker and listener observe the rules and report on the listener’s attempts to be an effective listener and whether any non-verbal clues indicated that the listener was having difficulty listening effectively or the speaker was having difficulty being understood.

For the first question:#1 will be the speaker, #2 the listener, and #3 the observer.
For the second question: #2 will be the speaker, #3 the listener, and #1 the observer.
For the third question: #3 will be the speaker, #1 the listener, and #2 the observer.

Discussion: After the three rounds of communication and reports, gather the group together. Invite people to share what it was like to have someone focus on actively listening to them. What was it like to concentrate on actively listening? What kinds of difficulties did observers find?

Telephone Game / Mime Game

Activity: Have all the participants line up as teams. Think of one sentence. Whisper it into the ear of the first person in each line. At your signal, have that person turn around and whisper it into the ear of the next person, who turns around and whispers it into the ear of the person behind him, etc., until the message reaches the end of the line. Ask the last person in each line to state what he or she heard. Alternatively, have each person turn around act out the meaning of that sentence to the next person.

Discussion: How important is communication in our daily life? How easy is it to misunderstand others? How easy is it to be misunderstood?

Adapted by Joy Pople and Akiko Ikeno from Religious Youth Service interactive learning exercises.
See also:
Team-Building Exercises
Conflict-Management Exercises
PeaceMaker video game role-playing scenarios in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (free)
People Power video game of non-violent resistance strategies ($10)