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Creative Ways to Work with Children in Groups
By Sue Godsey

Note from editor: in this wonderful article by Sue Godsey, you will learn a plethora of ways to work with youngsters in group situations, getting them to loosen up.

It is vital that kids feel they can freely talk, perform, etc. in groups without being ridiculed or teased. I do this in my classroom and groups by giving specific instructions about what is expected of them when someone is performing, modeling those instructions, then playing group-building games to get them to feel comfortable with one another. I also like to use certain cues: perhaps a sound effect, such as a train whistle or chimes to signal that someone is about to perform and it is time for quietness, or possibly a light cue, like blinking the lights off and on once.

I take great pains to let young people know that their stories are as valuable as anything I have to tell, and teach the group that they must show good audience etiquette. They do this by quieting down when someone gets into the performance space, by being attentive listeners, and by always applauding after a story is told. The simple act of applause signifies acceptance, and I actually practice it with groups if they are hesitant. I side-coach them sometimes -"Wonderful! Now-thunderous applause! THUNDEROUS!" They do catch on after a while and enjoy being able to make a lot of noise.

I also get them to warm up to one another through active games like these two:

Atom One:
Everyone mills around in a circle to music (Motown works with any age), then you stop and call out ATOM - four (or other number) They must then form groups of whatever number you call out by touching each other (hand to shoulder, knee to knee, however) In this way, they become connected like an atom. As soon as every group has been counted, you start the music again,let them move around, mill, dance etc., then go through the atom thing again with a different number. This may be played as an elimination game, or those who don't have a group can squat so that they aren't out. This silly game is very effective with kids, as they begin to become more concerned with their number than who is in their groups. Some directions about gentleness in getting people in their group may be helpful.

Group Juggling:
Each group of 6-8 students receive 4 tennis balls. They are to sit in a circle and GENTLY toss the ball in the same pattern - always to the same person, but it cannot be a person sitting directly next to them. Their object is to never drop the ball. After doing this successfully several times with one ball, they add another, then another etc. In order to be successful at this game, they must keep their eye on the person that is throwing to them. The more balls they can continue to juggle, the better the teamwork. If a person has trouble catching, it is sometimes helpful to give them a bucket or a way to drape cloth in their laps to help them catch. It is the group's responsibility to create a way for each person to be able to catch and to throw the ball so that they can be successful as a group.

When working with children in a storytelling group/club I recommend choosing a story with a particular theme as their group story.
I like to tell my high schoolers a version of "Harrambee" and teach them that it means "pull together" and the word "Imani" in the story, which means "have faith." Lots of days we have problems between students - I teach drama and coach the speech and debate team at my high school. On some occasions I say "Harrambee" and they will say back to me "pull together!" and then they try harder to work out their differences. It does seem to help to have that expectation stated, told in story, then repeated as a motto. They ask me to tell them that story from time to time.

Sometimes it takes a while to get the kids to participate in story and also learn how to listen to each other, but I find that it helps to pave the way a little with activity. There are improvisation exercises that work for that.

I use this one sometimes:
One student is told they MUST give a message to the other student and that they are responsible for being sure the other student understands the message. They need to get the other student to say "I understand." They must do so without touching the other student in any way, but may do anything else to get their attention. The other student (they are instructed separately) is told under no circumstances to pay attention to the other student, unless it is impossible for them not to. They are to "hold out" as long as possible, then when they cannot bear for the person to hound them any longer, they may say "I understand," but that is all they may say during the exercise.

The person who is to ignore may sit on a stool, take a magazine with them or one other prop if they choose. They may not leave the stool, but may turn around on the stool and face any direction they want.

The person who is to give the message should be free to sit or walk around to get the person's attention. They may say no other words except the line they are given.

It should be an urgent message like:
"Your parents called. They said for you to take the green street bus to Main Street, then meet them on Main and 2nd. Do you understand?"

Be sure the students know the rules, then see what happens. After the exercise, ask questions like these:

  • Did you ever feel frustrated? When?
  • How did it feel to be ignored?
  • Was it hard to ignore the person trying to talk to you?
  • What finally got your attention?

The kids usually are very clear about their frustration during the exercise and it makes a bigger impact than me telling them. Then I say "this how it feels sometimes when I have something
wonderful to tell you but cannot get your attention. This signal (bell, lights, hand raised,) will tell you when someone is about to speak. Give them all your attention, when you see that signal.

Sue Godsey from Joplin, Missouri, is a storyteller along with being a speech and drama coach. She works with children of all ages and has more games and activities than you can imagine. You may contact her at: godsey@HOTMAIL.COM

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