My very first plenary presentation | Reflections


Last week I co-presented a talk with a colleague at the Learning for a Sustainable Future – Teacher Conference in Delhi. It was my very first plenary presentation and there were hundreds of attendees. We were presenting our initial findings from piloting a new assessment approach (with behaviour libraries within a smartphone app) in a project we are working on in the south of India.

Here are some quick reflections with presenting to a large audience in this format for the first time.

WWW (What went well)

  • We went after someone who did a fairly high-level talk on the assessment approach  we were piloting. This really helped our presentation because many of the attendees came to me later and said that it wasn’t till they heard our experiences from the field that it all made sense to them.
  • We incorporated a task for the teachers to try their hand at crafting their own criteria, which helped make the session a bit more engaging.
  • We’d done a shorter version of the same presentation for a group of policymakers the previous day which helped us anticipate questions.
  • We constructed our presentation in a way that was of value to both teachers who are familiar with approaches to assessing non-academic skills as well as those who were completely new to the topic.

EBI (Even better if) 

  • We made it less impersonal. I reckon we kept it a bit business-like. We could have throw in some humour and perhaps taken advantage of the fact there were two of us on stage and engaged in a more natural dialogue rather than “you take this slide, I’ll take this one.”
  • We expanded on our experiences and shared more anecdotes because the audience seemed to respond to stories far more than factual information.
  • We made it even more relevant to the audience who were mostly K12 teachers. This was a bit challenging because we were merely reporting from our project which looks at assessment from the perspective of project outcomes rather than tracking progress of individual learners (which is of course what teachers are interested in). It may have been worth exploring how the teachers could have used the same assessment approach with their own learners.

During a subsequent talk, I noticed that the erudite looking woman sitting in front of me had dropped her notepad. When I was passing it back to her, she suddenly realized that I looked familiar and she said “great presentation” and then added “I shouldn’t say this, I’m a teacher after all, but you have a sexy voice.” Nonetheless, I’m dreading the prospect of watching myself (uggggghhhh) whenever the video gets uploaded to YouTube.

A smorgasbord of drama inspired activities


On a whim, I attended a Facilitator workshop at Adhyayan who work with schools in India and it turned out to be a lot of fun. It was facilitated by Jemima and Nina, students from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London who are in India doing workshops and working with schools as a part of their study in applied theatre. The teachers and trainers I work with are always chewing my ear off with their requests for warmers and I got a veritable smorgasbord from Jemima and Nina who were kind enough to recap all of them at the end of each day and encourage participants to adapt them for other uses.

Activities for checking in 

I liked how they used the term ‘check-in’ instead of warmer. Their rationale was that participants or students need to check in to the special micro-community at a workshop or in their school and need some way of physically transitioning into the role they’ll play in this micro-community.

  • Action introduction: Introduce yourself with an action that expresses how you feel e.g., I yawn and say “My name is Adi”. All the other participants repeat the same action and say “His name is Adi”.
  • Throw your name in a bucket: Have participants stand in a circle and ask them to imagine that there’s a big red bucket in the centre. Have them throw their names into the bucket. As they perform the action of throwing, they say their names really loudly.
  • Bing Bong Name: Participants stand in a circle and the facilitator stands inside the circle. She points at any one participant who must raise their hands and say “Bing” at a higher pitch, she then immediately points at someone else who has to drop down and say “Bong” at a lower pitch. The third person she points to must say their own name. The facilitator continues the sequence of bing, bong, name.
  • Name impulse: Get participants to sit in a circle. The facilitator is also a part of the circle. The facilitator turns to the participant to her left and says “one two three go”. The participant must then say her own name to the person to her left as quickly as possible. This person then says his own name etc. For example, Abha, Neel, Sarita, Hema, Varun etc.  Once the participants have had a go at it, ask them how much time they  think they can complete a full circle in and then ask them to beat the clock. The facilitator times them as they complete the name impulse circle. Now suggest that there are two teams, team A (the circle to the left of the facilitator) and team B (the circle to the right of the facilitator). Get both teams to compete against each other – this is tricky because the names will need to cross at some point. Time them and announce the winning team. Then, ask team A to raise their hands, and then team B (obviously, everyone will raise their hands for both teams) and applaud all participants for winning and beating the clock.
  • Impulse clap: Exactly the same as name impulse but participants pass along a clap.
  • Line up alphabetically: Ask participants to line up alphabetically without speaking to each other and then form a circle. I know this warmer but I hadn’t realised how apt it was for beginning a workshop and challenging participants to remember each others’ names.
  • Likes & dislikes: Have participants stand in a circle. Each participant introduces the person to her left by saying “This is Rhea. She likes reading, and she dislikes rainy days”. They are allowed to make up the other person’s likes and dislikes but the first letter/sound of the like or dislike must be the same as the person’s name. What I liked about this simple activity is how it subtly suggests to learners that there is no right or wrong answer.
  • An object you are: Ask participants to describe themselves as an object using the words “If I were an object, I would be a …” Participants then introduce themselves using this sentence with an appropriate action.

Activities for introducing the topic 

  • Post-its: Each participant writes five qualities of, for example, a facilitator. She then works with a partner to whittle the 10 they have collectively down to five. Participants then share their qualities in a whole class discussion while a volunteer records their items in a collaborative mindmap.

Activities for energising 

  • Boom chicka boom: My absolute favourite. It’s a call response style chant. This YouTube video suggests that it’s meant for kids but I’m going to use it with adults – it’s too much fun to pass up.

I said Boom chicka boom

I said Boom chicka boom

I said Boom chicka rocka chicka rocka chicka boom

Ah haan

Oh Yeah

One more time

Say it (quietly/loudly/opera style/in an English accent/grandma style/rap style

  • Hee Haw Ho: Get everyone standing in a circle. Place your palms together and stretch out your hands pointing at someone across the circle while saying HEE. The person across the circle places her palms together and stretches her hands above her head while saying HAW. The two people adjacent to her place their palms together sideways as if chopping wood and chop away at the HAW person while saying HO. the HAW person then points to someone else and says HEE and so on. Make sure everyone is saying the sounds with a lot of energy.
  • Sssss… strawberry: Participants stand in a circle with the facilitator in the middle. The facilitator points to one of the participants and says Ssssstrawberry. This participant must say “Strawberry” before the facilitator completes the utterance. However, if the facilitator points to someone and only says “strawberry”, they mustn’t say anything.
  • Number swap: Make chits with numbers on them, as many as there are participants. Everyone stands in a circle with one person in the middle. Announce the range of numbers e.g., there are 14 participants so we have 14 numbers. The person in the middle calls out a pair of numbers from this range except her own such as 4 and 12. Participants who have these chits need to discretely indicate to each other that they have these numbers and swap places without the person in the middle grabbing one of their spots. Introduce challenge into the activity by asking the person to call out two or three pairs. Periodically ask participants to place all the chits in the middle and take new ones. You might need to mark out positions using chalk or some such.
  • Swapping places: Everyone stands in a circle. A pair of participants make eye contact and swap places without speaking. There should only be one pair swapping at any point of time. Then ask two pairs to swap simultaneously, then three or more. Participants are still not allowed to talk to each other and must coordinate non-verbally through eye contact.
  • Banana song: This call-response chant was shared by one of the participants at the workshop. The children dance along while repeating the words, acting out the verbs.

Peel banana, peel peel banana

Chop banana, chop chop banana

Eat banana, eat eat banana

Smash banana, smash smash banana

Shake banana, shake shake banana

  • Zip zap boing: Participants stand in a circle. One person sort of claps his hands together to the person to his right while saying ZIP. This person can pass the ZIP along to the person to her right by saying ZIP. She could also pass it to someone across the circle by pointing using both hands and saying ZAP. Participants can also BOING in response to a ZIP to change its direction. The action for boing is a bit like a bit of wound up spring with your hands in the air. Here’s the confusing bit: you can’t boing a boing, boing a zap, zap a boing or zap a zap.
  • Zombie: Participants stand in a circle with one person in the middle who is the zombie. In the first variation of this activity, the zombie puts her arms out and approaches one of the participants in the circle. This participant needs to make eye contact with someone else who says their own name out loud. The zombie then changes directions with a near target. The trick is to make eye contact and get someone to say their own name before zombie gets to you. In the second variation, the person being targeted by the zombie says someone else’s name to get the zombie to change directions.
  • 7-up: Participant sit or stand in a circle. Each person says a number in sequence: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 but the seventh person says 7-up while placing their hand on their head. The direction of the hand indicates who should start counting again from 1 (the person to the left or right). Now ask participants to choose another number and replace it with a sound. As the group gets progressively confident, get them to replace one more number with an action.
  • Jump in, jump out: Participants jump in to the circle when you say “jump in”. They must repeat your words. Get them used to the other instructions “jump out”, “jump left” and “jump right”. Then introduce some complexities: do the opposite of what I say, but say what I say; do what I say but the say the opposite of what I say etc.
  • Who stole the cookie: This is a call response chat. Get it started along with some accompanying actions like slapping the front of your thighs, clicks and claps and then progressively introduce the rest of the chant.

Everyone: Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar

Everyone: Tina stole the cookie from the cookie jar

Tina: Who me?

Everyone: Yes you!

Tina: Couldn’t be!

Everyone: Then who?

Tina: Amit stole the cookie from the cookie jar.

Amit: Who me?


Activities for sharing

  • The sun always shines on … : Participants stand in a circle with one person in the middle. The person in the middle says “The sun always shines on people …” and completes the sentence with something that is true about themselves such as “… people with black hair”. Everyone with black hair then swaps places. The person in the middle will need to run and grab someone else’s spot so that there’s a new person in the middle. Once participants have got used to the procedure, ask them to share deeper things about themselves. For example, in a teacher training context, you could say “The sun always shines on teachers who feel nervous before walking into a new classroom”.
  • Agree disagree compass: Ask participants to imagine that there’s a compass in the room and the directions read ‘agree’, ‘strongly agree’, ‘disagree’ and ‘strongly disagree’. Read out statements and ask participants to move to different sides of the room. Ask them to share their reasons or experiences.

Activities for connecting & collaborating 

  • Ribbon shapes: Get a long length of ribbon and tie it so it becomes a circle. Ask participants to hold a piece of the ribbon and form a perfect circle. Challenge them to create different shapes such as triangles, squares, rectangles, and pentagons without placing it on the ground while working with some constraints. The constraints you could impose include not talking to each other, eyes closed or both.
  • Routes: I blogged about a similar activity drawn from the improv repertoire several years ago. Get everyone standing in a circle.
    • Introduce route 1: Have all the participants raise their hands. The facilitator calls out the name of a participant who lowers her hand. This process continues until all hands are lowered. The last person to get called needs to say the facilitator’s name. Now, get participants to become comfortable and quicker with this route (no more raising or lowering of hands).
    • Introduce route 2: Stop route 1 and introduce a new route. Ask participants to raise their hands. The facilitator walks to a participant who then walks to someone else etc. until all hands are raised. Point out that this route does not involve talking. Now, get participants to become comfortable and quicker with this route (no more raising or lowering of hands). If participants find themselves adjacent each other, encourage them to visibly walk out in a loop so it’s clear that movement has happened.
    • Merge routes 1 & 2: Start route 1 again and once participants have become comfortable with it, introduce route 2 so there are two routes running concurrently.
    • If participants are able to crack this challenge, introduce subsequent routes such as throwing a ball.
  • Tower building: Standard tower building with a twist. Give the participants blutac, paper clips and post-its. Give them a couple of minutes to plan how they’ll build a tower using these resources. At the end of the planning time, take one participant from each group who took on a leadership role and swap them. Give participants time to build their freestanding towers. Ask them to then reflect on how swapping their team members may have affected their performance.
  • Balloon pop: Ask participants to blow a balloon each and name them. Participant share the names of their balloons. Announce that they have three minutes at the end of which they must have safeguarded their balloons then handout thumb tacks. Debrief by asking participants why they did what they did and how the act of naming the balloon made you feel far worse when your balloon was popped.
  • Yes let’s: Anyone in the group can use the stem” Let’s (fly like airplanes) and go for a whirl around the room. Everyone else responds by saying “Yes let’s” and does similar actions around the room. Participants can spontaneously come up with their own Let’s statements.

Activities for language development 

  • ABC: Each participant has to share a sentence with the format of Person, Thing and Place starting from the same letter such as Adi sells apples in Amsterdam. The facilitator stands in the middle and points to people and says a letter. This person needs to quickly make a sentence with three nouns (person, thing, place) starting from the same letter.
  • Picture drawing: You’ll need two copies of the same picture for this activity. It’s probably better to have a picture that has lots of different elements and characters in it. We had a stylized illustration from a children’s book with lots of children and animals at a zoo. Divide your class into two groups and select a volunteer in each group. The picture is given to the volunteer but she is not allowed to share it with the rest of the group. One group asks only close ended questions of their volunteer who must answer using only ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses. The group then tries to draw what they think the picture contains from these responses. The other group is allowed to only ask open ended questions. This group must also draw what they think the picture looks like. While debriefing, elicit how important it is to ask a combination of both open and close ended questions while facilitating, and how the two serve different purposes and often work in tandem in getting a discussion going.

Activities for going on a breaking

  • Lunch fish: Tell participants that they look hungry but they’ll need to first catch a fish for lunch. Place one hand horizontally in front of you (this is the water line), and use your other hand to mime a fish poking around for food. Tell participants to clap at the same time to catch the fish when it comes to the surface.

Activities for coming back from a break 

  • Aah sound: Suggest that the letter A or sound aah can be said in many ways. Demonstrate some. then ask participants to turn to the person to their right and express how they are feeling at that point using some form of the Aah sound. Now ask them to turn to the person to the left and do the sound that was just shared with them. Then, get the participants to stand up. Everyone collectively throws their sound into the middle of the circle.

Activities for gaining attention

  • Ensemble clap: Tell participants that they must watch you and clap at the same time. Bring your hands close together and clap when they are least expecting it. Challenge them to watch you closely and clap at the same time.

Activities for storytelling 

  • Three person image: Participants stand in a circle and spontaneously become parts of an emerging story. Participant A comes into the centre and takes up position and says something like “I’m a gecko on the classroom wall”. Participant B then joins A in the centre and says “I’m the fly the gecko is trying to catch”. Finally participant C joins them and says “I’m the little boy who is more interested in the gecko than in the lesson.”
  • Whoosh: You’ll need to prepare a story with lots of characters. Participants stand in a circle. As you read the story and introduce characters, tap participants on their shoulders. Participants enter the circle enact the story being read as one of the characters. Prime the participants to notice when your fist goes up in the air because that means they all need to do an old-style toilet flushing motion while saying WHOOSH. Participants in the centre head back and the facilitator continues reading the story while selecting new participants to play characters.
  • Freeze frame: Ask participants to work in pairs to share a positive or a negative teaching experience or similar. Then re-pair participants and ask them to share the stories they heard. Re-pair participants once again and ask them to choose from the four stories they now have (besides their own). They should role play the story and select a visual frame from it that they can share with the group. Get each pair to come up and set up this visual frame. Ask the other participants to describe the frame by first using “I see” statements followed by “I think” statements. The facilitator then taps each of the ‘actors’ in the frame and asks them to share what the person in the story is thinking at that point. Then ask the pair to validate what was shared.

Warm up exercises for process drama

  • Lead with your …: Ask participants walk around but being lead by different parts of the body. Announce the first prompt: lead with your nose, then gradually bring in others, let your elbows lead you, your knees, your shoulders etc. Walk slow, walk faster, higher, lower. Ask participants how this might change their ‘character’.
  • Exploring voices: Ask participants to make for example a pirate noise and walk around making this noise. Introduce layers: do it quieter, louder, shriller etc.

Activities for reflecting 

  • I am sentences: Ask participants to think about their identity at the moment and write as many sentences as possible starting each with the stem “I am”. Give them a couple of minutes. Then ask them to write sentences about someone in their profession who they look up to using the stem “S/he is”. Lastly ask participants to think of a child who has made a big impact on them using the “This child is”. Get participants to analyse their sentences for patterns, commonalities and surprises.

Activities for closing

  • Hooked thumb circles: I don’t know what to call this one. Ask participants to form a small tight circle, placing on their right hand towards the centre, palm down, thumb out to the left. Ask participants to now close their fingers around their neighbour’s thumb. You’ll have a really tight circle kinda like the one in this picture. Ask each participant to share one take-away from the session.

Image attribution: Backstage – The artists of Kathakali by Sreeram Narayan | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0