In pairs count to 3. Then replace 1 with snap, 2 with clap, 3 with stomp
Teaches simple not easy. Creates connection, laughter.
Have folks break into pairs, one partner facing the other. Their task is to count to three again and again, as fast as they can, alternating numbers. Partner A says “One,” Partner B says “Two,” and A finishes the triplet by saying “Three.” As soon as they’ve finished, they start again, this time B leading with “One” so the counting loops around in continuous fashion. After a minute or so, check in with players to see how that went. You’ll likely find folks surprised by how difficult the task proved.
After that first round, offer directions for the second: with the same partners as before, count back and forth again, but instead of saying “One,” participants should clap. Now, the sequence goes Clap-“Two”-“Three.” Invite players to register their reactions if they “fail” or make a mistake. What happens, specifically, in their bodies, faces, or thoughts? After this round, you’ll often find that your pairs struggled even more—the toggling between verbal and kinesthetic processing takes a bit more brain time for most.
The next round ups the ante even further: instead of saying “Two,” players now snap their fingers so the rhythm goes Clap-Snap-“Three.” Same partners, same task: alternate back and forth, going as quickly as possible. Before sending folks off, however, offer one other instruction. If a player makes a mistake—saying the wrong number, making the wrong gesture, taking too long or just getting generally flummoxed—they should raise both their hands above their head with a joyous release of “Woo Hoo!!!” (Yes, this is a simplified version of the classic improviser tribe’s Failure Bow or Circus Bow.) In a brief debrief after the round, make sure to ask what it was like to inject the Woo Hoo! into the proceedings. Most likely, you’ll find that it lightens the mood, adds laughter, and makes the mistakes kind of fun. And there’s good reason for that.
The fourth round makes the entire pattern kinesthetic, shifting all the way from “One-Two-Three” to Clap-Snap-Stomp. Here, the task becomes like a step routine, a rhythm to sink into. After giving directions but before sending the troupe off to try, ask them to tweak their Woo Hoo! practice as well. This time, when either partner messes up, both should break into the enthusiastic Woo Hoo!. After giving a good bit of time for the practice, again check in with the group. How was that? What did you notice? Usually—though not always—your pairs will find this easier than the previous two rounds. And the shared Woo Hoo! builds the feeling of partnership. Interesting.
As a final challenge, invite your pairs to go all the way back to the beginning to try their original “One-Two-Three” verbal sequence. Almost inevitably, folks find that they’re faster, more comfortable, and more connected—and they make fewer errors. This makes a great teaching moment: in just a few minutes, we have put ourselves through an honest challenge and we’ve achieved real growth without even realizing it. The metaphors for teaching and learning are plenty here. Feel free to dive in explicitly or just to nod in their direction. Either way, the exercise will hold its sturdy own.
In each round, encourage folks to go even faster. We tend to slow down to keep ourselves safe and to do the job “correctly.” The point of this game is to get to that dangerous (and fun!) edge of imminent “failure.”
Pay attention to posture and stance. As is almost always true, an athletic, engaged, and ready position should help a pair’s performance.
When folks reveal that they’ve discovered a helpful pattern—I noticed early on that I could just concentrate on my responsibility as “1-3-2”—you can note how cleverly the mind looks for solutions to keep us safe. Honor that impulse and then encourage folks to put such ‘tricks’ on hold for the time being. Let them sink into the uncertainty.
When you first introduce the “Woo Hoo!,” practice a few times with everyone together so they can work through any hesitation for the goofiness of it. Oh, everyone else is participating? I guess I can go there too.
Invite participants to make eye contact with their partners and see if that changes the experience at all.
Allow group to create short dance by adding "sound & motion" to replace snap/clap/stomp
Use as debrief or introduction to concept
"How do you feel about being here today"
"How do we want to treat each other"