NOTES on Facilitating FireStarter
Teaching versus Guiding
As a Firestarter
facilitator, your job isn’t to teach participants – it is to guide
them through a pre-determined process of self-education.
Participants should come away from Firestarter with a dedication
towards solving the problems they face in the world around them.
By following the Firestarter Guidebook and using the facilitator’s
packet, participants will discover, explore, build and commit
themselves to becoming problem-solvers throughout their lives.
Six points of
After facilitating the
FireStarter Youth Power Curriculum with hundreds of young people
around Washington State and in Alberta, I found that there where six
main things to remember. These are the six points:
The goal is empowerment. Involve participants in leading
all games and activities. Play the games and talk
during discussions yourself – you aren’t above anyone; you’re here
Plan ahead. Know your goals. Make sure your
facility is ready. Always plan more than you’ll need.
Follow the prescribed sequence.
Be safe. Emotional and physical safety first are top
priorities. Firestarter engages participants in challenge by
choice – if they don’t want to participate, don’t make them.
Make sure you have enough time. Be clear with directions and
expectations. Stop dangerous behavior.
supportive and build trust. Support individuals as well as the
group. Don’t exclude anyone – make roles for all to participate.
Know when to say when – there is always a time and a place for
appropriate discussions and activities.
prepared. Start planning from what could go wrong, and go
all the way to success. Never do a workshop alone – always go
with a ratio of two adults for every twelve youth. You are the
facilitator – not the superhero! Have others there to support
you. And bring a first aid kit, just in case.
fun. Maintain high energy and enjoy each activity – you set
the tone! Demonstrate everything as much as possible. Mix
‘em up – don’t let participants stay in cliques or small groups too
Although the activities
listed here are fun, many of the benefits of Firestarter actually come
during the debriefing. This is the most difficult but powerful
tool for any facilitator to master. Not all activities need to
be debriefed, but certain circumstances or outcomes to any event might
make debriefing necessary.
There are a variety of
debriefing techniques and styles, and each one is suitable for
specific types of groups and activities. With this in mind, the
following is a list of various debriefing techniques. Try to
identify which would be most useful for a particular activity.
What? So What? Now
Begin by asking the
group to talk its way through a re-creation of your previous activity.
“How did the group solve the problem in front of them? Who
contributed to that solution and how?” Follow this with some
interpretive discussion. “Was there a better way to communicate
the solution? Was everybody’s opinion considered? Was
everybody part of the plan? Was everybody part of the solution?”
Close by asking for lessons that this game taught that could be
applied to your school’s service activities. “What did we learn
from this activity that would be useful in our school? How could
it help our service project, or our classroom?”
List each of the goals
of Firestarter (motivate, raise awareness, and build skills, including
teamwork, communication, trust and problem-solving) and ask
participants how they would rate themselves and their group on the
previous activity, using a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the lowest, 10
the highest. Let them discuss the different ratings from
different group members until there seems to be a consensus. Do
not wait for total agreement, as it rarely occurs.
Early in Firestarter,
have the group develop an agreement of how they will behave and what
the repercussions will be, without facilitator interjection.
After all participants sign to signify that they value the contract
fully, tape it to a neighboring wall. Mention the group norms
throughout the course. Debrief an activity by asking the group
if it adhered to the norms during the activity. For example,
“Were we safe at all times during the game? Did anyone have a
method for communicating that was ignored?”
Talking About Feelings
Tell the group you will
now be debriefing the previous activity. Ask simply “How
did the previous problem make you feel?” Expect minimal
discussion or even silence. After a few minutes of this,
if the silence becomes uncomfortable, end the debriefing. Note:
Talking about feelings is difficult, especially for adolescents, so
let them progress at their own pace, as they are comfortable.
Things to remember:
enough time to answer questions.
Good facilitators find
comfort in the silence.
Relate activities to
students’ experiences in the classroom or with the service project.
These are not
stand-alone activities- they must be revisited and reminded for the
lessons to be fully significant.
End each day with a
full day’s debrief.
Include all activities
and encourage everyone to speak.
Mental Challenges, Games, Twists, and Tricks
Keep the pace up beat and energetic with these challenging mind games!
Use only what’s lying
around, or nothing at all!
All of these activities
are fun, although they can be a bit frustrating at times for
participants. They are meant to be fillers, perhaps before you
start, break times, or after you end. They are challenging
activities, but anyone can do them.
There’s only one rule –
you can’t tell the answers! Remember: Knowledge is earned – not
given! Try to memorize your favorite mind twist, and go without
Start by saying, “We’re going camping this weekend! The thing is
though that we can only bring along particular items. It’s kind of a
crazy camping trip!” Then, say one thing at a time, letting
people think about each one. “We can bring a dog, but not its dog
food… an elephant, but not a canary… an end table, not a lamp. . .”
you add more. Answer: Things with four legs can go camping; anything
Begin with, “I’ve got this crazy friend named Silly Sally. You see,
she only likes certain things, very particular things. Let me tell you
about her.” Then slowly start listing off what Silly Sally
likes… “She likes apples, but not bananas… spaghetti, but not the
sauce… Seattle, not Olympia… troops, not packs… Jeeps, not Fords…
Bill, not Tom… the roof, but not the ceiling… the floor, but not the
carpet…” Answer: Silly Sally likes things with double letters!
Begin with, “A man walks into a restaurant and asks for a glass of
water. The waitress pulls out a handgun and shoots it over his head.
The man walks out with a smile on his face. What has happened here?”
Then, people can ask twenty yes/no questions. Make sure they
work as a group to find the answer, and say the challenge to them
repeatedly. Answer: The man had the hiccups. The water didn’t
work, but the BANG from the handgun did. The man was cured and happily
Crossed or Uncrossed
Holding up two sticks, announce that you want the group to guess “Are
these crossed or uncrossed?” As they guess you confirm or deny that
they are crossed or uncrossed. You pass the sticks to the next guy,
and he asks “Crossed, or uncrossed?” Go around the entire circle until
everyone says “Oh, yeah, now I get it!” I like to say,
“Remember, the answer isn’t always in the most obvious solution.”
Answer: The answer isn’t in the sticks, but the legs of the person
asking “Crossed, or uncrossed?” Are they sitting with their legs
crossed or uncrossed?
Ancient Counting Sticks
Hold up three sticks in the air, and announce that they are the
ancient counting sticks of Zoogoobawgooland. “These three sticks will
be conformed in such a way that will represent a number.” Then
lay the three sticks on the ground in a unique way. Answer: Show
the number you wish to represent with your fingers. Put your hand
someplace not too obvious… Keep having the participants guess, and
keep changing the number and stick layout. Use both hands, making
numbers up to 10. As you progress, keep making gestures more obvious
as you go along.
Asking participants to
make their own nametags starts Firestarter off on a creative note.
Good creative materials
– colored construction paper, felt, sparkle glue, markers, crayons,
glitter, regular glue, pipe cleaners, string, and other random
As people arrive, ask
them to make a nametag. Encourage them to express themselves,
and embellish as much as they want. The more fantastic and
far-out the better! To attach the nametags you can use string or
This game provides an
action-packed way for participants and facilitators to remember each
Crazy balls or other
soft throwing items (i.e. rubber chickens, hacky-sacks, etc.)
Have the group stand in
an informal circle (no hand holding necessary). The facilitator
introduces the game by saying their name, and then tosses the ball (or
whatever) to a person across the circle from them. When they
throw the ball, they should introduce the person who threw it to them
and themselves. This continues throughout the circle. Have
the ball get to each person one time, and end with the facilitator.
After the ball goes around once, and ends with the facilitator, start
again, including names. After the first three people, throw in
an additional ball, following the exact same route as the original.
After that, add another ball. The objective is to have fun,
learn each other’s names, and get three balls around the circle,
without dropping one or overlapping each other.
How did you get the ball
around the circle without dropping it? (Communication, throwing
straight, eye contact.)
What worked best?
(When I talked to Jimmy and asked him to…)
Have we had any problems
like this in our project?
How can we solve those
Have fun! Get
people moving and learn a little about your neighbor. Depending
on how it’s used, this activity can get at some of the diversity,
issues and interests of the group.
Enough chairs for all
participants, minus one.
Group sits in a circle
of chairs with one person standing in the middle (no empty chairs).
The person in the middle says “I seek common ground with… people who
were born east of the Mississippi!” Anyone who was, including
the person asking the question, must get up and run across the circle
to find a new seat. You can’t take the seat of the person next
to you! There will be one person left in the middle who must ask
the next question. Possibilities include: people who… wear
glasses! Likes vanilla ice cream better than chocolate!
You can also guide the questions a little deeper… “I seek common
ground with people who’ve… worked with the homeless.” The
facilitator may choose to ask the first few questions to get the game
going and set the tone.
Did you learn anything
new about your classmates?
Name one thing new you
Why don’t we get to know
more people in our class and around the school better?
Can we work together
with new people to find success?
A fun, active and
powerful closing activity that is an instant treat for visual,
auditory and kinesthetic learners!
Materials – None.
1. Have the entire group
sit in chairs, or on the floor, with their hands free from stuff and
the feet firmly planted on the floor.
2. I introduce the
activity with the following: “Phew! (Have them repeat) It’s been a
looonnnggg, hot day, and I could sure use some water! Now that
you have been learning about how to make change, do you think we could
change this hot, barren desert by bringing a rainstorm?!? (Egg
3. Then instruct the
group to do the action you do, but only when you look at them to do
it, and to keep doing that action until another comes. Slowly
look around the entire circle. The group should continue doing
the movement until you look at them with a new one.
4. Start by rubbing your
palms together, and slowly show that to the entire group. Do
each motion for as long as it takes to get around the group, and 5
seconds more as a whole group.
5. Then snap your
6. Then clap your hands
7. Then slap the tops of
8. Then stomp your feet.
9. Then slap the tops of
10. Then clap your hands
11. Then snap your
12. Then rub your palms
13. Then hold your
14. I like to end with
the statement “You know how to make a rainstorm. Now go and make
positive change in the world!” and send the group off.
A familiar challenge for
even the most experienced groups!
Have the group put their
hands into the center of a whole-group circle and grab at the right
hand across from them in the circle. With the other hand, grab a
different person’s hand. Have the group untangle themselves
without letting go of each other’s hands.
What skills did you use
to get out of the knot? (Communication, teamwork, etc.)
Have you ever had a
problem like this one? Describe it.
How can you use
(communication, team work) to solve your problems as a group?
Have we faced problems
like this with our project?
What can we do to
resolve them better?
The Lava Pit
Going through this
activity will bring together their day’s work and show participants
results of their time together.
20 paper plates, scotch
Make up a story that the
group is being chased and they need to get across a field of hot lava.
Give each group paper plates explaining that when they step on these
plates they will not sink into the lava. (Give each team about
1/3 the number of plates as people.) The group must figure out
how to get the entire group from point A to point B (both marked by
scotch tape on the floor), from one side of the Hot Lava Pit to the
-Only one person can be
on a plate at a time, and the plates may be picked up and moved.
-The key to the game is
that only part of the team will be able to cross the field at a time
and one person will need to work their way back across the field to
help the rest of the team across.
-A time limit can also
be placed on this game.
Encourage the group to
debrief this on their own. Offer suggestions or ideas as they
start, but sit back as they progress.
Blinded Partner Walk
By trusting each other
we can see where we’ll go as a group and how we’ll get there using
(handkerchiefs or other non-see through fabric) for half of the group.
This can be done many
different ways. Either the whole group can be blindfolded with a
seeing leader or half the group or only a few can be blindfolded.
The group must rely on each other to make it through the obstacle
course or along the walk. Other situations can also be added.
Members of the groups can be without the use of legs, arms, or speech.
to fully lead the debrief, focusing on applying learning from the
activity to their classroom, school or service learning project.
Cooperative Games Bibliography
Karl Rohnke, Silver
Bullets: A Guide to Initiative Problems, Adventure Games, Stunts and
Trust Activities, Kendall/Hunt Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1984.
Karl Rohnke, Cowstails
and Cobras II: A Guide to Games, Initiatives, Ropes Courses, &
Adventure Curriculum., Kendall/Hunt Publishers, Dubuque, Iowa, 1989.
Bag of Tricks:
Adventure Notes from Karl Rohnke. A periodic newsletter with many
creative and fun activities.
Published by Karl Rohnke, P. O. Box 77, Hamilton, MA 01936.
Adam Fletcher, So You
Wanna Be a Playa: Cooperative Games for Social Change. The Freechild
Project, Olympia, WA, 2003.
editor, More New Games!, Doubleday, New York, 1981
Edward Scannell and
John Newstrom, Games Trainers Play: Experiential Learning Exercises,
McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, 1980.
Edward Scannell and
John Newstrom, More Games Trainers Play: Experiential Learning
Exercises, McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, 1983.
Edward Scannell and
John Newstrom, Still More Games Trainers Play: Experiential Learning
Exercises, McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, 1991.
Games that have
been associated with/incorporated into service-learning projects -
The National Service Learning
Experiential Education Resources
Adventure - A major source
of information about adventure education. Home of Karl Rohnke,
leading author of materials on initiatives and cooperative games,
ropes courses and challenges.
Association for Experiential
Education - The
professional society for outdoor and experiential education. This
site is primarily for educators and teaching professionals.
NOLS: National Outdoor
Leadership School -
NOLS is a wilderness-based, non-profit school focusing on leadership
- Outward Bound USA is a system of five wilderness schools and
several urban centers in the United States. We are part of a global
network that includes 40 Outward Bound Schools and centers in 20
countries. Since 1961, over 300,000 people have participated in our
[back to top]
Additional Facilitation Activities (opens in new window)