Facilitation Techniques

Workshop facilitators must be able to promote the abilities and potential of the participants and groups, and not just focus on their struggles. This allows everyone to learn from everyone else, creating spaces for dialogue that allows for the sharing of experiences and knowledge.

Facilitating means creating an environment of learning and knowledge, etc., which does not mean doing the work for participants, giving information, or simply asking and answering questions. If you do any of those, you are reducing the opportunities for participants to strengthen their own abilities.

Remember that no one knows everything. We can all learn from everyone else. Your role is not that of a teacher, leader, etc., but rather to promote mutual learning and active participation among members of the group or community.

The Facilitator

The facilitator is a person who fosters dialogue and reflection in a respectful, warm, affectionate, and friendly way in order to analyze and identify problems, abilities, and potential, searching for alternatives as a group (taking into account the focus on rights).

It is very important to promote the importance and participation of group members by way of techniques or dynamics that are adjusted to the objectives and expectations of the workshop or community process.

Purposes of Facilitation

  • MOTIVATE: It is important to have a motivating attitude that inspires action. Be optimistic and encouraging that participants are capable of achieving what they want.
  • ORIENT: Make it a goal to support that participants make the best possible decisions with respect to their situation.
  • MODERATE: Moderation refers to the ability to conduct meetings and workshops in an effective and efficient manner, which requires a combination of techniques. Motivation, information, feedback, synthesis, and integration are crucial to good moderation.
  • ACCOMPANY: This means considering all of the prior functions, but also requires putting into play a series of elements that allows for the creation of conditions that inspire confidence, create alliances, display knowledge bases, inform, observe, and question.

At the same time, remember that a facilitator must be able to synthesize and integrate—that is, to summarize—the discussion.

Try and cultivate the following attitudes and skills: 

  • Be positive and optimistic
  • Be enterprising and take initiative
  • Identify with the aspirations and interests of the community
  • Be coherent and honest
  • Have the ability to dialogue
  • Be respectful and tolerance of the ideas of the population
  • Be able to agree
  • Be able to learn or understand the substance of the conversation
  • Manage techniques of participation and dynamics of the group
  • Be someone who inspires confidence
  • Be communicative
  • Be friendly and courteous
  • Be enthusiastic and cheerful
  • Be empathetic
  • Be motivating
  • Know how to listen and interpret concepts and the opinions of participants
  • Have “stage presence” (communicate eloquently through speaking and writing)
  • Create a warm and pleasant environment between participants
  • Manage time and spaces
  • Have the ability to convene the group
  • Be social
  • Be able to dialogue with the community (relating horizontally with community members)
  • Be knowledgeable of local, regional, and national realities
  • Be knowledgeable of the region and the community
  • Share the reality of the community in an informal way

Some basic guidelines for facilitators:

  • Punctuality at the beginning and end of the workshop
  • Proper presentation of self and of your organization
  • Encourage the participation of all in attendance
  • Visual contact with all participants
  • Ideas are presented, not enforced
  • Special attention for slow learners
  • Stimulate shy or disinterested participants
  • Equal treatment for all people
  • Praise good answers and appreciate all contributions
  • Organize work in groups
  • Manage the unexpected without losing focus
  • Remain always visible to participants
  • Don’t overuse gestures, nor remain unmoving
  • Use a natural tone of voice
  • Use varied and quality material, keeping in mind the characteristics of the group
  • Self-evaluation for constant improvement

Here are several activities you may customize to your curriculum. Remember to be as creative as you can!

Warm-up / Icebreakers

This is a list of sample icebreaker activities, which are used at the beginning of a workshop to facilitate introductions and make participants feel more comfortable with one another as well as with the instructor/facilitator. If you do decide to use an icebreaker, please remember to adjust the activity so that it is culturally appropriate.

  • Highs and Lows: Have everyone go around and state their ‘highs and lows’ (i.e. the best things and worst things) of the week. Group members should start with their low and end with their high, and everyone should share before the rest of the group can discuss or react.
  • Zoom: This is based on the Zoom and Re-Zoom picture books by Istvan Banyai which consists of 30 sequential pictures that continually “zoom” out to encompass a larger part of the scene in question. For example, a story could go from a rooster to a model train set to an advertisement for toys to a stamp on a card. The activity is to take one of these picture books, break up the pictures and hand them out to 20-30 people who will have to re-organize themselves into a unified narrative.
  • Categories: A group will be asked to organize themselves into smaller groups based on different criteria such as number of siblings, favorite color, etc. Once the groups have formed, the facilitator can ask each group to identify itself.
  • Fear in a Hat: Group members write personal fears anonymously on pieces of paper which are collected. Then each person randomly selects and reads someone else’s fear to the group and explains how the person might feel.
  • Have You Ever: A group gathers in a circle and the facilitator asks “have you ever” questions such as “have you ever seen a sunrise?” and people who have will rush into the center of the circle and give each other high-fives.
  • Bingo: Facilitator will create a bingo sheet that has personally identifying elements in them such as “I can speak more than one language.” Once these sheets are handed out to participants, everyone will have to go around collecting signatures/names of people who have that certain quality.

Mid-workshop activities

Activity 1: “Buzz Groups”

These are small groups, consisting of 3 to 6 people, who are given an assignment to complete in a short time period. Each buzz group records their output then reports to the larger group.

This activity is useful for:

  • Addressing a topic from a new perspective
  • Sharing ideas/personal experiences
  • Brainstorming questions/ideas/answers

Materials:
Paper and writing materials

Facilitator’s Process:

  • Pre-assess the audience to determine what they already know about the subject.
  • Share the purpose of the activity with the audience.
  • Explain the process
    • Form small groups
    • Choose recorder and presenter
    • Complete the activity
    • Report back to large group
    • Debrief the session
  • Clarify the assignment, guidelines and expectations
    • Ensure that the audience understands the assignment by asking someone to repeat the instructions.
    • Remind participants to listen to each other and be respectful.
  • Announce duration of activity.
  • Arrange small groups
    • Let participants choose
    • Arrange randomly
    • Arrange according to common/different interests
    • Arrange according to skill/learning style
  • Tell each group to choose a recorder and a presenter.
  • Ask for and answer any questions regarding the procedure.
  • Start the session.
  • Circulate and monitor.
  • Remind participants when there are one or two minutes left.
  • End activity.
  • Ask each group to report to larger group.
  • Summarize the session by recapping main points.
  • Wrap up with a review of session objectives.

Activity 2: “Jeopardy Review”

If you are familiar with jeopardy, this should be easy for you to adapt as a session or workshop review. If you’re not, jeopardy is an American game show which customarily features five to six categories, each with around five questions that increase in difficulty as you go down the list. As each question is worth a certain amount, competing teams/individuals can gather points and whoever has answered the most difficult questions (garnering the most points) wins the game!

This activity is useful for:

  • Reviewing
  • Assessing understanding (to see where students/participants don’t understand something)
  • Friendly competition to increase information retention

Materials:

  • Index cards
  • Markers
  • Tape
  • Board

Facilitator’s Process:

  • Compose five to six categories, each with five questions that increase in difficulty.
    • Write an index card with the title of each category.
    • Write each question with the answer on the back of an index card.
    • On the front of the index cards, write the numerical value of the question (10 points = easiest question, 50 points = most difficult). 
  • Post index cards on the board in front of the room in a grid-like formation.
  • Share purpose of the activity.
  • Explain the rules and process.
    • Split into two groups.
    • Elect a representative from each group.
    • One group starts the game by asking for a category and a posted numerical value.
    • They have one minute to discuss and answer.
    • If they answer correctly, they get the question’s points.
    • If they answer incorrectly, the other team gets to “steal” the points if they can answer correctly.
  • The other team gets one minute to discuss and answer the question.
  • If neither group gets the question, you can provide the answer and no one gets the points.
    • The game continues this way until all index cards are taken off the board.
    • Team with the most points wins (and possibly gets a prize).
  • Ask and answer any questions.
  • Start the game by asking representatives to each guess a number between 1 and 10 (you have predetermined number between 1 and 10 in your head and whomever guesses a number closest to yours gets to start).
  • Conduct game by asking the questions out loud, keeping time and recording points.
  • Calculate points and announce winner.
  • Summarize and wrap up with a review of session objectives.

Activity 3: “Round Robin”

This is a great activity to integrate movement with the chance for everyone to participate. Around the room, there should be a large poster paper with different titles. Participants will go around with a marker and offer their opinion by writing it down on the poster paper.

This activity is useful for:

  • Generating subjects for discussion
  • Brainstorming
  • Sharing ideas/perspectives

Materials:

  • Large poster paper
  • Markers
  • Tape

Facilitator’s Process:

  • Prepare the large poster sheets with a subject headline and post around the room.
  • Communicate purpose of activity.
  • Make clear expectations that everyone should try to contribute something to each poster.
  • Explain procedure
    • Everyone takes a marker and goes around the room writing their thoughts/opinions on each poster.
    • When everyone is done and seated, instructor goes to each poster and facilitates a discussion centered on the comments left on the poster.
  • Summarize and wrap up with review of session objectives.

Activity 4: “Role-Play”

By creating scenarios in which partners or a small group can take on different roles, increased understanding and empathy is encouraged. The idea is that the facilitator/instructor presents a situation before asking two people to take on different roles and talk out the scene.

This Activity is Good for:

  • Generating discussion
  • Introducing new viewpoints
  • Increasing understanding of another’s role

Materials:

  • Some way to distribute or display the scenario to be played out.

Facilitator’s Process:

  • Prepare scenarios beforehand (use case examples).
    • Example: UNHCR official interviewing an asylum seeker with a particular background – should the asylum seeker be granted refugee status?
  • Share purpose of activity.
  • Introduce the scenario, give clear instructions.
  • Explain process:
    • People will take partners (or form small groups in which two people will role-play and the small group will discuss as a whole)
    • Each partner will take some time to familiarize themselves with the story
    • Partners will act out a scenario
    • Partners will discuss the scenario
    • Large group share
    • Debrief/summary/conclusion
  • Go through the procedure.
  • Summarize and wrap up with review of session objectives.

Activity 5: “Foldables”

Recent research on education has proven that movement encourages learning — as does enjoyment — and this activity integrates both of those elements. A foldable is something created out of paper through folding, cutting and occasionally, gluing, taping, and stapling that can be used as a teaching/learning tool. It’s a kinesthetic technique where tactile activities promote information retention. Below are a variety of foldables that can be adapted to your particular curriculum.

This Activity is Good for:

  • Booklets
  • Review sheets

Materials:

  • Paper
  • Scissors
  • Markers or other writing tools.

Facilitator’s Process:

  • Prepare an example of the foldable that you want to use beforehand.
  • Share purpose of activity.
  • Pass out Materials.
  • Go through, step by step, how to make the foldable.
    • Make sure that each participant is following along with each step (have helping hands go through audience to assist participants).
  • Give time for participants to fill in the foldable.
  • Summarize and wrap up with review of session objectives.