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WARM-UP EXERCISES FOR GROUP WORK - For Therapeutic, Educational or Training Groups

Nicholas Wolff, LCSW, BCD, TEP, Director of Training at Lifestage, Inc and Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP, Trainer/consultant and writer/performer. Follow on twitter @JuTrWolff

       “To begin assembly one must have the right attitude,” goes a Japanese instruction for assembling a particular object, as quoted in Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance. The "right attitude" is one that best serves the action we are preparing to engage in, just as an athlete warms up his/her muscles before using them in the stress of a work-out or game. Psychological and emotional "muscles" that are properly warmed up will perform more effectively and make it less likely that we will experience strain or allow fear to produce a shut-out when things get rolling.
    The right warm-up makes everything learned in a training situation or classroom more accessible and immediately useful to the trainee/student. New skills and knowledge - in education, personal growth or a professional training situation where a set of skills or concepts must be integrated into the repertoire of a team or organization - are absorbed and integrated more rapidly when the group energy expresses supportive connections among the people present. The important thing is to match the warm-up with the objective for the group meeting, i.e. a batter would not focus on warming up their pitching arm.


General Goals:
Facilitate creativity among the group members
Strengthen social connections within clear boundaries
Focus the group energy and thinking
Generate integrated experience
Deepen learning of skills through engaging integrated functions of kinesethetic, limbic and cortical brain

General Objectives:
To explore familiar problems in new and unfamiliar ways that tap imaginative capacities
To use creative thinking skills in collaboration with others
To explore diverse approaches to the same situation or problem
To strengthen the capacity to experiment and diminish fear of making mistakes
To replace the need to “look good” with the desire for self-expression
To provide opportunities for positive experiences connected to the learning or the social process


CIRCLE WHO’S WHO Participants stand in a circle. Leader asks a series of questions and asks everyone whose answer is “yes” to step inside for each one, e.g. “Who is left-handed?” “Who has a pet?” “Who has been to the Grand Canyon?” “Who likes action movies?” etc.
Each person who steps inside then shares briefly as appropriate, e.g. the name of their pet(s), what action movies they like, etParticipants can then call out some questions of their own to see who’s who in the group.
TIME-CLOCK The room is described as a large clock, with one point on a wall representing 12 o'clock and the point directly opposite representing 6 o'clock, and all numbers in between have a place around the room just as on a clock. Participants are asked "what is your favorite time of day" and respond  by moving to the spot in the room that represents that time of day, then sharing verbally. Other questions: "what is your busiest time of day? "what time of day does this group get the most work done?" "what time of day is problematic for this group?" (for work teams)
Group leader instructs participants to introduce themselves to the group (or to say Hello at the start of an existing group) by saying something about how they are doing, beginning their statement with the next letter of the alphabet from the person before them. The group leader starts off with a sentence that begins with the letter “A” e.g. “Always good to see you guys, I’m interested to know how each of you are doing.” The next person might say “Boy, I’m glad to be here, its been a hard week for me,” and the next “Can’t believe how tired I am this morning,” etc .
If you have a lamp with a dimmer switch or a dimmer switch for the overhead lighting in the room, have each participant adjust the lighting to demonstrate: their degree of clarity about a question or issue; their mood or feeling about the issue at hand; their degree of hope about the proposed change or innovation. Discussion points: What was communicated through the choices each participant made? How did the group feel experiencing the light settings produced by their peers? What did they learn about each other?
Each participant takes a turn. They leave the room and re-enter with a clearly-expressed attitude, emotion and intention, approaching another participant who then responds in a way that mirrors or responds to hat is being expressed. Each participant can make 3 entrances, changing each one in some way and engaging a different partner each time.
Each group member completes the sentence “One thing I know I have going for me is ___________.” After each group members has completed the sentence, ask everyone to stand beside the person who said something that is also true for them. Have each member stand beside a person who has a strength they aspire to. Continue to find other ways of connecting.
Provide old magazines that can be cut up for this exercise. Ask participants to look through magazines and cut out pictures of people in situations roles they play in the course of their lives: Child, Student, Brother/Sister, Soccer-player, cheerleader, friend etc. Have them paste the pictures collage-style on a large paper. Display the collages on the floor or on chairs and give the group time to look closely at all of them. Ask participants to: stand next to the collage that is most like yours, and share how this person’s experience is like your own;
Stand next to a collage that shows people in roles or situations you would like to be in;
Stand next to a collage that you would like to know more about.
Discuss commonalities among group members, the strenths and skills represented in the pictures they chose for themselves, and those they would like to acquire. Deepen the discussion according to the needs of the group.


Each participant writes a problem on a notecard and places it in the Problem Basket. Each participant is then
asked to name 3 famous people and write each name on a separate note card: e.g.
One person famous for being smart
One person famous for doing something heroic
One person famous for doing good

The large group breaks down into small groups of 3. Each small group pulls a problem from the Problem Basket and 3 names from the Famous People basket. Each person in the small group takes on the identity of the famous person and the group discusses the problem from these roles. The idea is to explore the way the famous people might think about the problem, what skills they bring to the situation, what special insights they might have from thei r life experience. The small group then briefly speaks to the larger group about the problem, staying in the roles of the famous persons. After each small group has presented to the large group, discussion points might be: What was it like to try and take on the mind set of the famous person?
What part of you might be similar to this famous person?
Would you like to be more like this famous person and if so how?

The group focuses on a theme or problem common to everyone in the group  Participants break out into small groups of 3. Each small group works together to create a superhero that has 2 super-powers, 1 area of vulnerability, and an alter ego, including the reasons for these superpowers and vulnerability. The group imagines this superhero has come to the school to deal with the problem the group focused on for this session and uses his/her superpowers to address it. When the large group reconvenes, each Superhero is interviewed by the larger group about his/her powers and what he/she can do to deal with the problem. Discussion focuses on: What did the group or individuals within the group discover through the character they created? What aspects of ourselves are expressed in a superhero character? What would it be like to have special gifts and not be able to let anyone know about them, as Clark Kent (Superman) Bruce Wayne (Batman) or Peter Parker (Spiderman) have to do?

Group makes a list of roles they will have if they achieve their goals, e.g. Sportswriter, Business-Owner, Lawyer, Famous Actress, Athlete, etc. Empty chairs are placed at the opposite end of the room from where the group members are seated. Each person thinks about what role they aspire to and imagines that that future self in the empty chair at the end of the room. Then then go to that chair, assume the role and “act as if” they are this person, describe their successes, and how obstacles were overcome to realize it. They then give a message from the future to the current “self” back in the group. Dialogue between the two selves is encouraged to discover what skills, strengths, and supports the current self already has to move in this direction and what still needs to be developed or discovered.

The group focuses on a problem or situation that is common to everyone or in which the entire group has a stake. The group is instructed to imagine that the problem or situation has been successfully resolved, and they are to “act as if” they had a part in working it out successfully. In other words, the exercise is to step into the reality of the change and imagine what it might be like to be beyond this problem. Explore the possible solutions that emerge. If the group is stuck and cannot imagine any possible solutions, discuss whether this is due to their own perceived, or a realistic, lack of power or access to roles that would allow them to be more pro-active. Try to find where group members can be more creative and pro-active, whatever the circumstances may be, and to “act as if” they can make a difference.

Group members choose a topic to focus on and break it down into 3 skills or strengths that are necessary to develop it. For example, the topic Social Competency might require: recognition other peoples’ boundaries; the ability to feel connections with people who are likely to reciprocate; recognition of how to respond to people in a range of emotional situations. The group creates an “expert” on this topic who actually gives the world’s worst guidance on this topic. A volunteer can play the role as directed by the group or several people can take turns with the role, giving terrible advice, pointing people in the opposite direction. After the exercise, discuss how approaching the topic this way opens up creative thinking and/or enhances discovery of novel approaches.

Nicholas Wolff, LCSW, BCD, TEP offers a weekly psychodrama/experiential methods training group from Sept - June at Lifestage, Inc. This group awards training hours for credentialing and re-credentialing approved by the New York State Office of Alcohol & Substance Abuse, National Association of Drug & Alcohol Abuse Counselors, National Board of Certified Counnselors, and the American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Pschotherapy. More information at    

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer. Her storytelling show Crazytown: my first psychopath was selected for the 2013 Midtown International Theater Festival, The 2012 Chicago and San Francisco Fringe Festivals and had 2 successful runs at Actors Theatre Workshop. The next performance is at The Pit-The Peoples' Improv on Nov. 3, 2013 8 pm. Follow on Twitter: @JuTrWolff



  1. Thank you for sharing this. It helped me a lot in leading my own group.
    Big regards nad all the best!


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