Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Warm-ups and sociometry

(Park & Newman, 2005, p. 5)
Have you thought about how to kick off a training session or a course?

In getting a new group of trainees together several times a year, I think about appropriate ways to shortcut group forming and storming (Tuckman, 1965). While many people call these activities 'ice-breakers', I call them warm-ups.

Why warm-ups? Because the participants need to warm to each other, to feel safe enough to share ideas, ignorance, questions, failings, strengths and answers.

Sociometrics, developed by Jacob Levy Moreno in 1951, is defined by as "the measurement of attitudes of social acceptance or rejection through expressed preferences among members of a social grouping". I use sociometrics to measure how we do something, by moving somewhere, to indicate our agreement, position on something or association.

I often use sociometrics to kick off the first session. Everyone will have arrived, found a seat, talked briefly to their neighbour. They are feeling apprehensive but relatively safe, surrounded by their learning materials.

After my personal intro, I may well get attendees to form a continuum. For example, if the topic was exploring diversity, then I might instruct the participants to "come to the front of the room if all four of your grandparents were born in New Zealand; the middle of the room if half your grandparents were; and go to the back of the room of none of your grandparents were; and everyone else find a space on a line between those points that shows where they come from". Everyone will have moved, they are likely all be standing next to someone other than those they started with. They will have all learned something about each other's background, but which is usually removed enough not to be about the person themselves.

I can then further dissect at each point on our continuum, ask people if they would like to share a story, ask people if they are surprised by how many people are at any point, what their impressions were, etc. I get lots of sharing, right from the get-go. I stand in the group as well, so from the outset, I am a part of the group, not above it. 

With the diversity example, I have had someone who was adopted, and who didn't know who their grandparents were and was lost, right at the outset. I now add a clarifier to prevent that "...your grandparents or, if you were adopted, your adoptive grandparents...".

Using a continuum is only one of many ideas you can use, and one of the easiest to start with. We can use corners of the room, standing next to someone who you feel thinks the same as  you do, and any other range of ideas.

What it does is to help to break down the barriers so that everyone feels supported in contributing, and un-judged. A senior lecturer who came to do a teaching observation in my class said that there were several students who spoke freely whom they had never heard offer an opinion in class before. Another teaching observer said that my class was 'warm'.

I often find people are reluctant to sit down again, but to get onto group work, we need to. However, I use sociometrics related to the theories we are exploring several times in a session. It gets everyone moving, enables different people to interact, and provides the opportunity for people to find commonalities with each other. To use edu-speak, it provides opportunities for meaningful interaction; in biz-speak, 'talking points'.

Sociometrics are also great when the room suddenly starts to leak energy. If people get up, and have to think deliberately about something, they are recharged again, and re-engaged.

If you haven't used sociometrics before, give it a crack. 


  • (2015). Definition "Sociometric". Retrieved 18 February 2015 from
  • Moreno, Jacob Levy (1951). Sociometry, experimental method and the science of society: An Approach to a New Political Orientation. USA: Beacon House.
  • Tuckman, Dr Bruce (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, Volume 63, issue 6 (pp. 384-99). 
  • Park, Juyong & Newman, M. E. J. (2005). A network-based ranking system for US college football. Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment, October 2005, Volume 2005, issue 10 (pp. P10014, 18 pages)

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thanks for your feedback. The elves will post it shortly.