||Interconnection, Focus, Communication Time
||10 minutes (not including processing)
||Must be able to throw and catch a beanbag
|Number of participants
||Open floor space
||Between 5 and 15 beanbags, depending on the size of the group
- Have people stand in a circle.
- To begin, establish an order for throwing the beanbags (see “Establishing a Pattern”).
- Once the pattern has been established, begin the exercise by calling someone’s name and throwing a beanbag underhand to that person. Tell the group to throw underhand throughout the exercise.
- While the first bag is making its way around the circle, tell the group that you are going to start adding more bags. Remind them that it is important to continue calling names.
- Start throwing out more beanbags. By varying the number of bags and the speed at which you are throwing them, you can make the exercise more manageable or more overwhelming, depending on the needs of the group and the issue(s) to be illustrated. Note that when someone drops or fails to catch a bag, they simply pick up the bag and continue.
- When you are ready to end the exercise, hold the beanbags as they come back to you, rather than sending them around the circle again.
Establishing a Pattern
You can establish the pattern with handshakes or with beanbags:
- With handshakes, the facilitator (person A) calls the name of someone (person B) across the circle, makes eye contact with the person called, then walks across to shake their hand. Person B calls the name of someone else (person C) and shakes that person’s hand. Person C calls someone else who has not yet been called. This continues until everyone has been chosen once (and only once). Everyone is free to choose whomever they want among those who have not yet been chosen. The last person to be called closes the loop by calling the name and shaking the hand of person A. Ask everyone to remember whose hand they shook, as that is the person to whom they are going to throw the bag. Before moving on with the exercise, practice the pattern with another quick round of handshakes to make sure that everyone remembers to whom they are throwing.
- With beanbags, the procedure is to call the name and then throw a beanbag.
- You can use this exercise to demonstrate the various ways in which everyone is connected, both giving to and receiving from each other.
- We choose to whom we throw, just as we choose with whom we connect in the group or in our lives. (Often people will throw to someone with whom they have a higher comfort level, or someone they want to get to know better.)
- You can also talk about the importance of names and eye contact. Did anyone stop calling out a name? What happened?
- People or pairs often find ways to adapt to the circumstances, giving cues to each other or helping each other out. What strategies did people use to focus on catching and throwing the bags? How do these relate to the strategies people use in their lives?
- In this exercise, and in the work of the group, everyone needs to maintain focus if the group is going to “keep all its bags in the air.” When many bags are used, the exercise can be used as a metaphor for how people react when conditions feel overwhelming. How did people cope? Did they drop bags, start whipping the bags, throw more than one at a time, or hold on to some bags and wait until their catcher was ready?
- Bag Toss also shows the importance of establishing a clear structure, and how much fun and how productive working within a structure can be.
- Was the group functional or dysfunctional, and were you as an individual contributing to the order or contributing to the chaos? We each have power over the function of the group.
Variation – Bag Toss with a Reverse
- Follow the instructions for Bag Toss, but tell the group that at some point in the exercise you will say “reverse.”
- At that point, everyone should switch the direction they are throwing the bag—that is, they will start throwing it to the person who had been throwing it to them, and they need to switch to saying that person’s name as well. They will now be receiving the bag from the person they had been throwing it to.
Additional processing suggestions
- Adding a “reverse” to the exercise is helpful in talking about having to adjust to new circumstances or to change direction in your work together.
- It also shows how the group can fall apart and then with practice (experience) come back together again.
- Depending on the speed with which you call out reverses, the exercise can show how quick changes, or many changes in a row, can lead to chaos.
Variation – Bag Toss with Movement
Note: This exercise works well with a group that is very familiar with Bag Toss and some of the other variations, but it is too complicated for a group that is new to the exercise. This variation is very challenging and chaotic. Expect it to fall apart a bit.
- Play Bag Toss using only one bag.
- After the bag has gone around a few times, stop the exercise and tell the group the new procedure: Once they have thrown the bag to the next person and that person has caught it, they are to move to that person’s place in the circle. Meanwhile, the person to whom they threw the bag will be calling the name of the next person in the order, throwing the bag to them, waiting for them to catch it, and then moving to their place in the circle.
- Have the group practice once to help them remember the order of the tasks they must complete.
- Start the bag and the movement
- Add bags, as in Bag Toss, up to or beyond the group’s tolerance level.
Additional processing suggestions
- If your group is dealing with changes, or looking at making changes, this variation can get everyone thinking about how changes affect them and how the group can make adjustments that help it succeed through the change.
- It can be challenging to see things from another person’s point of view.
- There is a fine line between chaos and dynamic movement within a group, and each individual plays a part in determining whether the group crosses the line.
- You can use this exercise to talk about the importance of speaking directly to someone and getting their attention. Communication is essential to the success of this exercise and to the work of the group.
Variation – Think Ahead Bag Toss
Note: This variation should be used with a group that has played Bag Toss before.
- Before you begin throwing the bags, ask the group to think ahead about the exercise. For example:
- What are some useful strategies?
- What are some things to watch out for?
- How many bags can the group handle?
- How many bags do you predict might be dropped?
- Then ask the group to set a goal regarding the number of times that bags will be dropped.
- Play Bag Toss, keeping count of the dropped bags.
Additional processing suggestion
- Consider how planning and thinking ahead changed the experience of the exercise. For instance, were there fewer dropped bags when the group set a goal regarding keeping the bags in the air?
Variation – Bag Toss with Left Outs
Note: This variation can be high-risk depending on the group. It brings out issues of exclusion, which
can be difficult for people to deal with.
- Begin by playing regular Bag Toss.
- Stop the exercise and arbitrarily pick someone from the group (person X). Tell the group not to throw the bag to X anymore. You will have to readjust the order so that the person who was throwing the bag to X now throws to the person that X was throwing to.
- Continue with the exercise.
- Stop several more times, taking more and more people out of the exercise. Do not give those who are taken out any particular instructions, but instead watch what people do as the exercise goes on without them.
Additional processing suggestions
- The exercise illustrates the experience of being left out and being an outsider. It can be used to illustrate a dynamic in the group, or to represent how someone on the margins of society (for example, a homeless person) might feel.
- How did those who were left out react to being excluded? If there were dysfunctional responses, talk about where the behavior came from.
- The exercise can show age, class, and race dynamics, what it feels like to be excluded, and how people who are excluded sometimes resort to dysfunction to try to get power.