Examining Power and Privilege in Co-ops (Activities/Discussion Starters)

From Cultivate.Coop

These are tools for organizing trainings that examine power and privilege in diverse groups and co-ops.

Meet and Greet

Time: 5 Minutes
Materials needed: None
Purpose: To loosen the group up and open for more serious discussion.

Ask the participants to stand in a circle, and then ask each person to turn to the person on their right and greet them as if they really didn't want to be there-- you just can't wait to get out of there! Then everyone (simultaneously to create lots of fun and excitement) turn to the person on their left and greet them as if they are a long lost, deeply loved relative who has just returned home and you're about to see the person for the first time in years! In fact, you thought you may never see this person again until this very moment. Okay, now ask everyone (again simultaneously) to turn to the person on their right again and greet them as if they just told you that you won the state lottery for 50 million dollars and you have the ONLY winning ticket! After the exercise, ask the group to reflect how they felt when after each greeting. Were they upset after the first greeting, happy after the second and so on. Ask them to relate this to real life situations; does your first approach to a new conversation or experience set the tone for the rest of the discussion/experience? Stress how important it is to keep an open mind and neutral posture when discussing difficult topics, this will allow for clear communication and productive discussion.

Juggling Names Game

Time:5-10 minutes
Materials Needed: 3-5 balls, of all shapes, sizes, and weights, depending on the size of the group
Purpose: Learn each other’s names, get everyone laughing, and more comfortable with each other

Stand in a circle. Start with one ball. Throw the ball to one person, and say their name right before you throw it. (If you don’t know their name, ask first.) Do this until everyone has had the ball once. Then, repeat this. Same people, same names, same order, just faster. As you start the cycle for a third time, start adding in extra balls, until it gets a little too much and everyone starts laughing. The goal is laughter and balls going everywhere. This is one of my favorite ways to start off a group, since it’s such a fast activity and is so much fun.


If the group already knows each other’s names, and just needs to practice them, then participants can throw balls to anyone. If the group is large, split it up into multiple smaller groups. As more balls get added in, you can also add rounds where people can:

  • Run from group to group
  • Call out the names, and throw balls to people in other groups (soft balls are better for this variation.)

Self Portrait

Time:4-8 Minutes
Materials needed: Plain paper and pens.
Purpose: To get every participant familiar with one another, while acknowledging how they perceive others and how others perceive them.
Key Words: Stereotype, Prejudice, culture, race, ethnicity, gender, self-representation.

Ask each participant write or draw words, pictures, and/or phrases that they think characterizes and/or defines them. Make sure to answer any and all questions ambiguously leaving plenty of room for creativity. After each participant has completed their drawing, have them get into pairs. Each paired group will then repeat the activity drawing words, phrases and pictures that describes their partner. You may opt to let each participant ask their partner two to three questions to help them with their partners self portrait. After every participant has completed both sets of drawings, have each participant share their pieces.

Discussion Questions:

  • Is there a difference between how we see and/or describe ourselves and how other people see us?
  • Did any one write down or draw physical attributes to help define them? Why or Why not?
  • Did anyone use words or phrases that can be considered stereotypical or based upon societal standards? (Edie West 196)

(Here is a variant of this activity: Just have each person make a name tag with their name and an image that describes them. This allows people a second way of describing themselves, and helps start conversations among a group of people who do not already know each other.)

Introductions: Two Truths and One Lie

Time:45 minutes
Materials needed: none
Purpose: Team building, getting to know each other, having fun.

Sit in a circle. Everyone tells their name, then two things that are true about them, one thing that is false. For each person, the group gets to talk for a few seconds/minute about which statement they think is false before the answer is revealed.

Introductions: Who are we?

Time:45 minutes
Purpose: Allow participants time to get to know one another, and dispel some of the assumptions they may have made about one another. Demonstrate the experiences that lie behind appearances, and cannot be identified by appearances.
  • Stand in a circle.
  • First take one step into the circle and share the things about yourself that one can tell by looking on the surface (I am a woman. I have short hair. I wear glasses.)
  • Next take one step out of the circle and share things about yourself that are below the surface (I am queer. I am hard of hearing. I speak Spanish.)
  • Take turns moving around the circle and sharing.
  • Offer the group the opportunity to go around a second time.

This is another exercise that allows people to share things that they feel are important to share with the group, without forcing anyone to self-identify, answer questions they don’t feel comfortable answering, of putting anyone on the spot.

Introductions: Where are you from?

Time:30 minutes
Purpose: Allow people share and understand the social and cultural backgrounds they are all coming from. Allow people to hear examples of different types of communities.

Introduce yourself:

  • What is your name?
  • Who are your people/who are your folk? (This question allows people to
  • self-identify as anything they want-- their race, sexual orientation, gender—without forcing anyone to answer a question about identity that they are not ready, willing, comfortable, or able to answer)
  • What kind of community are you coming from?
  • What are the issues going on in that community?/Why did you come here?/What is it you’re hoping to work on?

Dot Game

Time:20 minutes
Materials needed: for a group of 35, 10 dots of one color, 10 dots of a second color, 5 dots of a third color, 3 dots of a fourth color, 2 dots of a fifth color, 1 dot of a sixth color, 4 “mixed” dots that are two different colors
Purpose: To demonstrate our inherent tendencies to group off based on similarities. Once demonstrated, to encourage people to identify, analyze, and challenge those tendencies within themselves.

Ask everyone to close their eyes and explain that you will be coming around to put a sticker on their foreheads. Tell them there is to be no more talking for the rest of the game. Once everyone has received a dot ask them to “get into groups.” Make sure this is all you say. Do not answer any questions about what you mean by your statement. Allow the members to silently get into separate groups. Allow a good amount of time for this, so that groups can form, break up, form again, then get moved around… They will inevitably get into groups according to the color of their dots. Ask everyone to look around at all the separate groups. Remind them that you simply said to “get into groups.”

Discussion Questions:

  • How did you find your group?
  • How did you know which group was yours?
  • Did you help anyone get into a group? How/why did you do that?
  • For those with multicolored dots, how did you find a group?
  • How can this exercise be applied to the “real world?” (How does it demonstrate things that may happen in the “real world” or tendencies we may have?)
  • What role does guilt play in anti-oppression and social justice work? Do we need to feel guilty of our tendencies to group ourselves?
  • Once we are aware that we have such tendencies, what can we do about that?

Question Circle

Time:5-15 minutes
Materials needed: a group of people
Purpose: observe the level of understanding of the group for any given topic, assess what the needs of the group are and what topics need to be covered, observe what questions the group has, in a way that doesn’t put anyone on the spot or assume a base level of knowledge

Participants start off by standing in a circle.

  • Rules of the game:
    • You have to ask a question.
    • You cannot repeat a question that has already been asked.
    • You cannot answer the question you were asked.
      • If you break any of these, you’re “out” and sit down, either in the middle of the circle, or just where you were standing (but not outside the circle—then you can’t observe and listen as well.)
    • You can ask a question to either person, on either side of you.
    • Questions can be about two topics: (Such as: 1. Power, privilege, oppression in general 2. What the week is going to be like)

Examples of questions:

      • How much sleep will I get this week?
      • What does internalized racism mean?
      • When did you first start thinking about class?
      • Am I going to like the food?
  • One person starts, questions go around from there.
  • Play until you as facilitator have the information you need, feel the group is wearing out, or running out of questions.


Time:30-50 minutes
Materials needed: pens/pencils, post-it notes (or index cards and masking tape), wall
Purpose: This activity does a few things:
  1. It puts the experiences of the people present first.
  2. It demonstrates that the topic is real, not theory. It grounds the group and helps it talk about real life experiences.
  3. It shows that everyone knows something about the topic, and so has something to contribute.
  4. It highlights the quantity and differences of the experiences and knowledge in the room.
  5. It helps build an atmosphere where people feel comfortable and willing to share with each other.


  • Pass out pens/pencils and at least post-it notes to each person.
  • Ask each person to write down at least 3 “aha” moments on the subject you are covering. Sample subjects include:
    • When you started to become aware that this world is unfair—that not everyone has the same opportunities.
    • Your first memories of awareness of race.
    • Your first memories of awareness of class.
  • Write on moment per post-it note. Depending on the group, as each person to also put on the note either:
    • The year in which the event occurred.
    • Their age when the event occurred.
  • Post up on a wall a post-it that says “THEN” and a post-it that says “NOW”. As they finish, have participants stick their notes up in the appropriate places on the wall. (They’ll help organize them all.)
  • Allow some time for everyone to read the entries quietly.
  • Discussion questions:
    • Did any of these stand out to you? Move you?
    • Does anyone want to talk more about one they wrote?
  • Leave this timeline up for the rest of the training, so that people can return to it and read what’s up there.

Forced choice

Purpose: Helps start dialogue.

Say a statement. (Our co-op has open and voluntary membership. I like bats more than cats. Gender expression and gender identity are not related.) All those who agree with the statement move to one side of the room, those who disagree to the other. (Those on the fence or who can’t decide can stay in the middle). Have people explain why they chose to place themselves where they did. Avoid creating a spectrum. Forcing yourself to be in one of three locations inspires thought and really forces you to consider how you feel about something you may not have thought much about before.

This can be used either as a getting-to-know-each-other exercise, or as a powerful way to start dialogues and explore how we actually feel about different topics.

See Also

This page was originally adapted with permission from NASCO. The activities/discussions on this page come from the same general resource as other anti-oppression teaching materials on Cultivate.Coop. The following are other teaching tools from this resource:'