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Here are techniques general enough to fit just about any subject, but still quirky enough to attract adolescent attention.
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Groupers are unfinished sentences like "I wish I were ..." They can be used to stimulate discussion. Through them, young people can express and explore their beliefs and goals. As a result, kids can discover what their values really are.
One way to use groupers is to follow these steps:
1. Give each participant a pencil and index card.
2. You can read aloud the groupers, write them on the board, or distribute them on index cards. Then have each person complete the groupers.
3. Encourage kids to complete their groupers honestly. No one will be graded or judged right or wrong. Every answer is acceptable. Each person has the right to decline to participate and the right to anonymity.
4. Collect the completed cards, read them aloud, and discuss them.
5. Conclude your discussion by reading your own grouper, and ask for feedback. Or read your grouper with the others so that kids won't know it's yours. Conclude with your own comments about the discussion.
Instead of reading answers for them, have kids read their own responses aloud. This works best if kids know each other well and if there is an atmosphere of freedom and trust among them. Kids can elaborate on their responses and answer group questions or not. All answers are acceptable, and kids can decline to participate.
Here is a sampling of groupers:
I fear most ... I wish I were ... I wish I were not ... I wish I had ... I wish I had not ... I wish I could ... If I were the leader of this country, I would ... The leader of this country should ... The happiest day of my life was ... If I could start this year over, I would ... My favorite place is ... My parents should ... I wish my parents wouldn't ... What hurts me the most is ... If I had $25, I would ... I would like to tell my best friend ... The worst thing a person could do is ... What always makes me mad is ... If I could do anything without being found out, I would ... I always cry when ... I always laugh when ... I hate ... If I were the principal of my school, I would ... If I had a million dollars, I would ... If my parents left me alone, I would ... The most important thing in my life is ... If I had X-ray vision, I would ... The hardest thing for me to do is ...
Many young people are intimidated in church situations when asked to express opinions on controversial issues in front of their peers and/or adult leaders. This approach will allow them to say what they feel without fear of what others might think. Cut up paper strips, about 1 1/2 inches by 8 inches. Give everyone a pencil and a strip of paper. Ask questions that require only short answers and ask them one at a time. Each student writes a number 1 at the top and answers the first question, then folds the paper down to conceal his or her answer. The papers are then passed to the person on the left and question number 2 is answered just below the folded-down portion. With each question, the paper is folded and passed to a new person until all the questions are answered. Collect the papers and redistribute them again and have everyone unfold the paper they received. As you repeat the questions for discussion, each person answers the way their paper reads. Usually the result will lead to further, less inhibited discussion, especially when students discover that their views are probably shared by quite a few others in the group. Whitey White
One of the best ways to get discussion going in a youth group is to bring in various points of view on a subject. One way to do this is by interviewing people outside of the youth group on tape or video and playing it for your youth group. For example, if the subject is love, interview a young child, an elderly person, and someone from an urban neighborhood, asking them how they would define love. Edit out the bad or dull ones and this can make an interesting program and a good discussion starter.
Do you have trouble getting your young people to share their experiences? Try a Textimony Service. On slips of paper write verses of Scripture dealing with some specific promises that the Lord makes to believers for their everyday lives. Then pass out the slips to the group and have them share how the Lord has been keeping that promise in their lives. If you like, you could let them pick their own verse to illustrate something that has been happening in their lives. Perhaps someone hasn't taken full advantage of a promise to which he is entitled; he might share that with the group. Someone else may have a helpful insight for that person. The group could pray for individual needs and needs that the whole group may have. Possible promises can be found in the following verses: Galations 5:18, Ephesians 2:14, John 16:23, John 14:27, John 10:10, Psalm 91:15 (Reprinted with permission from HISWAY, 1445 Boonville, Springfield, Missouri, 65802)
In order to get your group members to open up and share their inner feelings and Christian experience, try using this technique. Take a ball of yarn (size is determined by the size of the group involved) and explain that you are going to ask them to participate in a little experiment. Tell them that in a moment you are going to throw the ball of yarn (while holding onto the end so the yarn will unwind) to someone in the group. The group should be standing in a circle. When that person catches the ball of yarn, she should share one of the following:
What God has done for her
What God has done for someone she knows
What God has done for all of us (Christ's death, given us his Word, etc.)
Something that she is thankful for Then after she has shared one of the above, she will throw the ball to someone else in the circle (while holding onto the yarn) and the next person who catches the ball will also share one of the four things above. Keep this going until everyone in the group has had a chance to share at least once (several times is best, but this depends on the size of your group and the time you have).
After you have made a spider web pattern with the yarn and everyone has had a chance to share, stop the ball and begin to ask some questions:
1. What is this yarn doing for us physically? Answers would revolve around the idea of holding us together. (Before this you could comment that the effect of the sharing has created a somewhat beautiful web between the members of the group.) You could mention that for a beautiful pattern to evolve, everybody had to participate.
2. Have one or two members of the group drop their hold of the yarn. Immediately the center web becomes loose and the effect is for the circle to widen a little. Then ask: "What happens to the group when someone drops the yarn?" It becomes less close-looser knit and it makes something beautiful fall apart and turn ugly. You then could follow up with a brief talk on how the Bible teaches us to bear each other's problems, to share our happiness and sorrows, to be thankful, etc. You could emphasize that in sharing, a beautiful network of relationships and ties is formed, as is physically illustrated by the yarn, but it takes everyone to hold it together.
Wrap several mystery gifts, using seasonal paper for wrapping. Vary the size of the boxes. Have several kids come up and select a gift from a box or pile of gifts. They open them (before the audience) then give an impromptu parable, thought, lesson, or something with the gift as a theme. If the treasury is able, the participants may keep the gifts. This is a great way to enhance creativity. W.C. Arnold
Divide the youths into small groups of three or four per group. Then have each group choose a Bible character and research and collect information about him or her for 10 minutes. Each group gets a turn to take the stand, and the rest of the youths ask questions of the group to try to discover who the character is. Each question must be answered "yes," "don't know," or "no." If 10 "no" answers are given before the identity of the Bible character is guessed, the group wins. James Brown
Set up two, three, or four chairs (no more) in front of your group. Select a person to sit in each chair and explain that you are going to have a relay discussion. You, as the leader, will read out agree-disagree statements that beg debate or discussion. Only the people in the chairs up front can speak; everyone else listens. Once the statement has been read, the leader can turn the discussion over to those people or he can stimulate and encourage by asking their opinions. If a person in the front chairs does not want to speak about an issue, she may go out into the audience and tap anyone on the shoulder to take her place. The chosen person then must go up front and join in the discussion. Also, if any person in the audience has something to say at any time, he may run up front and replace any person there. Only the people in the front chairs can speak. Once you see the discussion slowing down, throw out a new statement. Also, to stimulate give and take, people can be assigned one point of view or the other, or certain chairs can be labeled AGREE and DISAGREE. Here are some sample discussion statements:
Jesus identified more with the lifestyle of the poor than the rich; therefore, poor people make better Christians.
The reason a church runs a youth program is to prove to itself that it is doing something for young people.
A Christian should obey his government even if it violates the authority of Scripture.
Abortion should be a decision left to the parents or parent of the fetus.
Bad language is cultural and is thus not un-Christian.
Physical violence can be justified by a Christian if it is in self-defense.
It is wrong for a Christian to drink an alcoholic beverage.
Christianity is the only religion through which a person can get to heaven.
Our parents discipline us because they are trying to do what is best for us. Dick Davis
In a darkened room have kids sitting in a large circle. One person-usually the youth director or sponsor-has a spotlight (flashlight) that he shines on someone's face. Only the person the light is shining on may speak. The first round is usually word association or some nonthreatening kind of game just to get kids loosened up and into the spirit of things. In the second round, the person with the spotlight can ask each person he shines the light on one question, which they are to answer as honestly as possible. The spotlight draws everyone's attention to that one person and can be a very effective way for kids to share with each other. Questions can be as deep or shallow as the leader feels he wants to go without embarrassing anyone, but the questions should be designed to allow kids to honestly express themselves and their faith without fear. Allow anyone to pass if he is unable to answer the question. Jim Hudson
With the youth group seated in a circle, give each person two or three pennies. In the center, place a tub of water, which becomes your wishing well. Various puns can then be employed, such as "You can put in your two cents worth" or "A penny for your thoughts." Any person in the group who wants to speak-sharing some concern, a wish, something they are thankful for, a special blessing-throws a penny into the well and speaks. Make your well small enough so that it will take a little aim to sink the penny. This adds a little comic relief when some kids miss. Most kids will enjoy the experience and improvise as they go along, sharing pennies, pretending to throw a penny and making a "kerplunk" sound, throwing nickels for "longer thoughts," and so on. Pennies can be saved and used again or given away. Gregg Selander
Curing Discussion Dominators
You know the pattern-a couple of kids dominate your discussions, while the rest sit and listen to what degenerates into a conversation between two or three people. Here's a fun and nonthreatening way to break the pattern.
Before beginning your next discussion, hand out two 3x5 cards to each group member. Establish these ground rules:
Each time students (or sponsors!) want to make a comment, they must give one of their cards to the moderator of the discussion. Use your judgment to permit clarifying questions without losing a card.
After both their cards are gone, students may make no more comments until all participants have used both their cards.
This method has two benefits: the normally talkative kids will do more thinking before they speak, weighing if the comments hanging on their tongues are worth using up a card. And because the normally quieter kids know that they must inevitably venture a comment sometime, they become more mentally involved-and usually make excellent contributions to the discussion. David Wright
When discussing subjects that have many points of view, have the kids arrange themselves (prior to the discussion) in a human continuum from one extreme viewpoint to the opposite extreme. For example, if you are discussing drinking, have the kids line up with all those who are for drinking on one end and those who are against it at the other. Undecideds or moderates would be somewhere in the middle.
Kids may discuss the issue among themselves as they attempt to find the right spot in the line in relationship to each other. After they are settled, further discussion or debate can take place as kids attempt to defend their positions. Anyone may change positions at anytime. Mike Renquist
The following experiment can be used with either adult youth sponsors or with kids. When used with sponsors it can demonstrate to them the advantages of allowing kids to discover truth on their own. With kids it will help them to see the value in using their heads rather than being fed the information.
First, divide your group into small groups of four or five. Then give each group a box of Legos with instructions to make something that works. Insist that each person has a say in the project.
Excerpted from Discussion & Lesson Starters 2 Copyright © 1997 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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