Creative methods to form groups in youth development settings

Using alternative methods of dividing groups can add energy to meetings and activities.

Youth development programs use many group-learning processes in order to improve youth leadership skills and increase interest in youth civic engagement. When youth work in groups to make decisions, they build skills in teamwork, decision-making, communication, cooperation and learn to accept viewpoints of others. When we allow youth to casually form their own groups, they tend to gravitate toward their friends and people with which they are comfortable, and while this may strengthen bonds already in place, this can also limit potential learning processes. If educators are more deliberate in their approach when forming groups of learners, the process and outcomes can be much richer.

The Weikert Center for Youth Program Quality provides 13 methods of forming groups in their “Cooperative Learning” guidebook, a few of which are highlighted below. Consider these methods to mix up a group at your next youth meeting or activity:

Famous trios
Use when dividing participants into groups of three. Prior to the activity, create “trios” on separate note cards. For example, on three separate note cards, write the words: “Red light, yellow light, green light,” or “peanut butter, jelly, bread.” Shuffle and distribute the cards to participants. Then, ask them to mingle and find the other two participants that complete their trio. If the group doesn’t divide evenly into threes, consider creating a couple spare groups of four things that will link together.

Line up by…
Establish one side of the room as the beginning of the line, and the opposite side of the room as the end. Then, ask participants to line up by birth date, height, pants color (light to dark), hair length, etc. Once their line is formed, ask participants to count off, or “fold the line” in half and have the person they are standing across from be their partner.

Milling to music
Music can energize any group. For this activity, the leader should play upbeat music (either live on a musical instrument or recorded), and ask participants to mingle/dance/move about the room as the music plays. When the music stops, ask participants to form a group of the desired size. Participants can quickly introduce each other, discuss a topic of interest or form a group. This activity can be repeated several times in an effort to “mix up” groups.

These are quick activities that can increase the energy level, allow participants to mingle and meet new people, and also serve the purpose of establishing groups. Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development also has additional ideas of group Icebreakers and Energizers that can be utilized to motivate groups.

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