Hesperian Health Guides

Appendix C: Activities to Encourage Participation

Every day 20,000 people visit the HealthWiki for lifesaving health information. A gift of just $5 helps make this possible!

Make a giftMake a gift to support this essential health information people depend on.

HealthWiki > Health Actions for Women > Appendix C: Activities to Encourage Participation

Team-building activities

Getting to know each other

When you are working with a group of people who don’t know each other very well, there are many fun activities that can help people get to know each other and create a sense of unity and comfort.

Learning the names of the people in a workshop is especially important for a facilitator. It makes people feel valued and respected when you can use a person’s name when asking them to speak and when referring to a comment they have made. With a new group in a meeting or workshop, start with a "name game" such as one of these.

ActivityThe story behind my name

a woman speaking in a group.
Her name is Clara, named for her grandmother. I am named Rain, because the day I was born it rained and ended the drought in our region.

At the beginning of a meeting, have everyone stand in a circle. Ask one person to say her name and what she knows about why she was given this name. The person next to her will need to repeat what she said, and then introduce herself. Continue until everyone is introduced.

You can make this activity more difficult, and more fun, by asking each person to not just repeat what the previous person said, but also say the names of everyone else who has taken a turn.

ActivityGuess my secret

This activity is good for a group that is still getting to know each other. For this activity, you will need a cup, scraps of paper, and pens.

  1. Distribute pens and paper to everyone in the group. Ask everyone to write one secret about themselves on the paper. It can be as silly or as serious as you want! If you are planning on having a discussion around a topic, you can ask people to stick to that topic. Make sure everyone knows these secrets will be shared so they do not write something that is too personal.
  2. Once everyone is done, have them put their written secrets into the cup. Then pass the cup around, have each person take out one piece of paper, and read the secret aloud. The reader will then try to guess who wrote the secret.
  3. illustration of the above: 3 secrets.
    My favorite color is red.
    I never want to get married.
    I like to sing when no one is home!
  4. If the reader does not guess correctly, other people in the group can try to guess who wrote the secret. Then another person reads a secret and tries to guess who wrote it. Continue until all of the secrets are read.

With larger groups or when there is not much time, you can help a group become more comfortable with each other by asking people to form small groups of 3 people already sitting near each other. Ask them a few questions related to the topic of the meeting and then ask them to discuss their answers with each other. For example, you could ask them to first introduce themselves and then share something about a recent experience of going to a health clinic.

Forming groups

When people are asked to form small groups, they tend to stay with people they know instead of working with new people. Try to mix people up so they get to know other people and hear different points of view.

Count off! A very simple and fast way to form a group is to do a "count off." For example, if you want to form 4 groups, go around the room asking each person to say a number 1, 2, 3, or 4, in order, and then repeat as necessary. Everyone who said "1" will be in group 1, and so on.


  1. Ask everyone to imagine they are on a big boat, and their boat is about to sink in a storm. They will need to jump into small lifeboats in order to be saved. Explain that when you shout out how many people can fit in a lifeboat, they will need to quickly join hands with others to form a group of that size.
  2. Then tell a story about the journey in the storm. Interrupt the story several times by calling out "JUMP!" to alert people to jump into boats that can fit a certain number of people. Do this several times, varying the group size each time until you end with the number of people per group that you desire. If there are extra people without a lifeboat, you can add them to other groups at the end.
a woman leading a group in the lifeboat activity.
A wave is coming! Jump in a lifeboat for four people!
The wave hit your boat, and broke it apart. You must jump onto another lifeboat for only three people!

Energizer games

These activities can be done at any time to bring new energy, trust, or unity to a group. You may want to use an energizer activity after a difficult discussion or when a group seems to be getting tired. It can also be a fun way to start off a meeting or workshop.

ActivityWho began the movement?

In this game, the group will follow the movements of a secret leader and one person will have to guess who the leader is.

  1. Ask for a volunteer to be the first "guesser." Ask them to leave the room or move out of hearing of the group.
  2. Ask the others to select a "leader" and form a circle. Their job will be to follow the changing movements of the leader (first tapping her head, then jumping up and down, then scratching her knee, etc.).
  3. Invite the guesser to re-join the group and to stand in the center of the circle. Ask her to try to guess who the secret leader is while the group follows the leader’s different movements.
  4. If she does not name the secret leader, the group can ask her to do something (sing a song, hop on one foot, etc.). Thank the guesser and have her re-join the group. Ask for another volunteer to be a new guesser and begin again. If the secret leader is identified, then that person becomes the new guesser. leader’s different movements. Allow the guesser 3 guesses.

ActivityThe strong wind blows

This game can be used as an energizer, and can also be played in a way that helps people build comfort and openness with each other.

To prepare: Gather everyone in a circle and ask that all play the game with kindness, respect, and honesty. Give each player a piece of paper, a stick, or something to put on the ground to mark where they are standing. Or use chairs if people are sitting. Then remove one object or chair so there is one less than the number of players.

  1. Ask for a volunteer to stand in the middle of the circle and say something true to their life using the phrase "the strong wind blows for..." (For example, "The strong wind blows for everyone who likes to sing!") Anyone else in the group for whom the statement is also true has to run to a new place in the circle marked by the objects or chairs. No one can return to the same place they left in that turn, nor can they move to a space directly next to them.
  2. illustration of the above: a man speaking as he stands in the middle of a circle.
    The strong wind blows for… anyone wearing sandals!
  3. There will always be someone left without a spot. That person will take a turn in the middle to make another true statement.
  4. Depending on the group, you can also use this activity to build trust by having people say more personal statements, for example:

    The Strong Wind Blows for...
    • anyone who cares for younger brothers and sisters (something good about yourself)
    • anyone who does not like frogs (something you are afraid of)
    • anyone who always cries at the movies (something nobody knows about you)
    • anyone who has lied to their parents (something hard to talk about)
  5. After the game, ask people to reflect on how it felt to take a risk and admit something more personal about themselves. What kinds of things are often hard to talk about? Why might it be good to talk with others? How can we help each other when we share personal stories?

Encourage everyone to speak

A "talking stick." A talking stick helps remind groups that only one person should be speaking at a time. People pass the talking stick around when they take turns speaking. You can use almost anything as a talking stick as long as it is easy to pass around and big enough for everyone to see. This can be a cane, ruler, cardboard tube, or a stick. A stuffed animal or colored toy can also be a good talking stick and can add a bit of humor to the meeting at the same time.

ActivityBrainstorming with beans

A "brainstorm" is an activity in which everyone in a group is encouraged to think of and share ideas together.
To prepare: Bring an empty tin can and enough dried beans so each person can have at least 4 or 5 beans.

  1. Start by introducing the idea of a "brainstorm." Explain that a storm is made up of many raindrops and that each person’s idea is like a drop of water. On their own, these drops are small, but together, they make a powerful rainstorm! Give each person a handful of beans, and explain that each represents an idea.
  2. Discuss the topic or question. As each person contributes an idea to the discussion, they put a bean in the tin can for each idea they contribute. (It is often helpful to write each idea on a big piece of paper to remember for the discussion.) Continue until everyone has contributed ideas and most of the beans are in the can.
  3. Before reviewing everyone’s contributions, pick up the tin can and shake it so that the beans make noise. Ask everyone to appreciate how the beans make more noise together, and so have more power, and thank everyone for contributing their ideas so the group will make more noise and have more power. Then discuss the ideas that were proposed in the brainstorm.

If your group has been working with each other for a long period of time, it can be encouraging to reflect back on how hard everyone has worked.

ActivityGroup appreciations

This activity helps a group appreciate and encourage each other. It can also help re-establish trust and kindness when a group has gone through conflicts or disagreements.

  1. Form a circle. Mix up the group so that people do not sit next to their friends or the people they know best.
  2. Ask each person to think of several nice things about the person sitting to their right. What has that person contributed to the meetings? What is a project that she worked hard on? Why do you appreciate working with her? What are some fun things you have done together?
  3. After everyone has had a moment to think, go around the circle and ask everyone to share the appreciations.

    This activity can also be done anonymously: write people’s names on slips of paper, put the paper in a bag, ask people to take out the names and write brief appreciations. Once written, these appreciations can be put back in the bag and then read aloud by other people.