Student Engagement

Who Started It

Material Needed: None
Time Required: 15 minutes
Group Size: 5-30
Purpose: Reducing group negativity, emotional intelligence, icebreaker, team building

Possible Introduction:
"How many have ever found yourselves behaving in ways you yourselves don't believe in? You know, gossiping or buttering up, doing that kind of thing, just because that's the way things were done in your group? [Show of hands. Note: Don't expect to see many. Few of your learners will consider themselves capable of such moral bankruptcy. Look surprised]. Really? I guess I'm the only one?

Okay how many here are sick and tired of gossip and backbiting at work (in your organization) [show of hands]. Ohhh.....So when someone comes up to you with some really great dirt, you say, 'No, no. do not speak! My ears are sealed- get thee hence! [This definitely will get a laugh].

You know, group dynamics are such that we often feel pressured to say and do things that will help us fit in. And that creates pressures for others, who also try to say and do these things, which creates pressure for us again, and so on and so on....After awhile, it's irrelevant who started it; everybody's making everybody keep doing it! Let's see an example of this group dynamic. Everybody up!"


  1. Have participants stand in a circle. Start things off by pointing at anyone across from you in the circle. Keep pointing. That person must now point to someone else across the circle, who must then point at another person and so on. Tell them no one can point at anyone already pointing at someone else. No two people can point at the same person. You may all stop pointing (and apologize to each other for having been so rude to do it at all).

  2. Now tell everyone to fix their eyes on the person they just pointed at. Tell them it is their job to keep watching that person. That person is the Role Model.

  3. Learners have one job: They are to watch their Role Models closely and copy their actions and behavior. Ask your learners to stand perfectly still. The only time they move is if their Role Models move. In fact if the Role Model does anything- coughs, twitches a finger, anything at all- the learners must repeat the motion once, and then be still again (unless, of course the Role Model moves another time).

  4. Start the game, and let it go for about 5 minutes. What will happen is that small movements will occur here and there. Anytime one does, it will be repeated around the circle endlessly (and usually exaggerated with each repetition). In the end, everyone in the circle should be wagging their heads, moving their arms and scrunching their faces, coughing, giggling and generally acting like a bunch of nuts.

Debrief/ Discussion Questions:

  1. What just happened? We were supposed to stand still.

  2. How many don't know who started some of the movements? [Let your learners argue about when this or that move originated]. In fact there should be lots of arguments about "who started what" during the debriefing.

  3. How many knew it was your Role Model who started a given movement? [Note: Sometimes a learner can state confidently, "Charlie started the nose twitch," Ask Charley: "Are you surprised to learn that you're the one who started that? Were you aware of moving?"

  4. KEY POINT: Did it matter who started anything, once everybody else adopted it?

  5. How did this game model what your group does in real life?

  6. How do you play the "who started it" game at work/ in your organization?

  7. What are the costs of playing this game?

  8. How important is it to you personally to stop participating in this negative cycle? What would you be willing to do to change this norm?

Tamblyn, D, Weiss, S. (2000). The Big Book of Humorous Training Games. New York: McGraw-Hill. P. 195-197. 

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