How Groups ‘Doodle’ Their Way Into Engagement

I can recall my first parent support group in the role of facilitator. Standing in a rather large conference room, front and center, there was this group of about ten individuals who were relative strangers to one another. In fact, they were strangers to me, besides their intake histories compiled on paper. People are more than just what’s on paper;they are multi-dimensional. In order that this group works most effectively, we must engage others beyond the psycho-social.

It was a newly funded program initiative. I was Program Coordinator, and these parents soon to become our core participants, and most active in the program. If nothing else, known to me at that time-they were committed to their family’s wellness. My role was multi-faceted. I was there to listen, empathize, support, inform, advocate, refer, mediate, empower, engage and partner with them.

These individuals-uniquely different from one another, shared one common characteristic; they were primary caregivers of at least one youth diagnosed as SED- Serious Emotional Disturbances. My knowledge of SED was largely theoretical before I met them. These families lived it, experienced it, and I perceived them as the true experts that they were. They possessed insights that could make my job less challenging, in terms of my disseminating information relevant to their  needs. I already assumed strengths. I wanted to know what they needed.

Disclosures are made under certain conditions. Trust, warmth, rapport and open communication are the result of the conditions conducive to each. I wanted these parents to engage openly, honestly and eagerly. They have an advocate-a believer, a supporter.

Before I could engage them meaningfully,  establish a rapport, we needed an engagement accelerator. We needed an icebreaker. Used as an introductory tool in group settings, icebreakers can begin to transform strangers into the forming of a team. Program participants sat around that table looking stiff and rigid at first. Their tension was obvious. Body language revealed it. pexels-photo-270233.jpeg

There I was, beginning to expound upon SED diagnoses when I halted. We, the members of this group, need something. All eyes were on me, but it felt as though I was delivering a lesson-a lecture- to these people. That was not the aim at all.  This was not a clinical setting from where the program’s most formal components were planned. We were in the community setting, intentionally meeting them where they were most familiar and comfortable.

So, I walked around and placed blank sheets of paper on the table in front of each person, along with a pencil.

{sidebar}What sometimes can be perceived in the classroom as note-taking, is very often people just doodling on paper-unengaged, uninterested and just disconnected with that glazed-over look on their faces. pexels-photo-907486.jpeg

Ice breakers can remove or reduce the tension and anxiety in a room, and this one was perfect. It can work for any group, whether a family gathering or friendly get-together, a professional training,  PD workshop or an important board meeting.

To aid the elimination of initial tension, prepare your group to focus on a particular task at hand, or facilitate a climate and culture conducive to collaboration, cooperation, honest communication and cohesion, try this fun little exercise. It’ll bring tense shoulders down, and get people talking to one another.  It’s called the:


Here’s what to do:

  1. Pass out a plain sheet of paper to each person.
  2. Ask them each to draw a PIG. Don’t give any other details, nothing specific, just to draw a pig.
  3. After everyone has finished their drawing, read through the following interpretations so they can find out a little more about themselves from their drawing.
  4. Enjoy a good laugh. Have a little chit-chat and then get to ‘work’!


If the pig is drawn:

*Toward the top of the paper, you are positive and optimistic.
*Toward the middle, you are a realist.
*Toward the bottom, you are pessimistic, and have a tendency to behave negatively.
*Facing left, you believe in tradition, are friendly, and remember dates. (birthdays, etc.)
*Facing right, you are innovative and active, but don’t have a strong sense of family, nor do you remember dates.
*Facing front (looking at you), you are direct, enjoy playing devil’s advocate and neither fear nor avoid discussions.
*With many details, you are analytical, cautious, and distrustful.
*With few details, you are emotional and naive, you care little for details and are a risk-taker.
*With less than 4 legs showing, you are insecure or are living through a period of major change.
*With 4 legs showing, you are secure, stubborn, and stick to your ideals.
*The size of the ears indicates how good a listener you are. The bigger the better.
*The length of the tail indicates the quality of your love life!
portrait of young woman against white background
Photo by Pixabay on

There are numerous variations of the Doodle Test out there. Try them all. They will put some life into your group, and prepare everyone to be fully engaged participants. You can even try a different version before the ‘meat’ of every meeting facilitated. No matter the focus of your group, an icebreaker can  ‘warm up’ your groups, help members get to know one another and help people ‘buy in’ to the purpose of the event.
Just DO NOT forget to tell everyone that it is simply ‘for fun’, and if any part does ring true, it can be explained that, for that moment, this describes one’s personality or state of mind.

six woman standing and siting inside the room
Photo by Christina Morillo on

Have fun, and encourage group members to doodle. Just add purposefulness, and guide members into becoming an engaged community, ready for the business of mutual empowerment. Let’s all doodle!


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