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3. Topic Lead-Ins


Sometimes when a group is meeting for a workshop on a specific topic, participants already know each other well. In these situations, use an icebreaker that leads into the content of the gathering. A topic lead-in can:

  • generate interest in the topic
  • activate participants' prior knowledge of the subject
  • help the facilitator and participants to identify individual learning needs and goals
  • encourage the sharing of information and resources
  • reveal resistance to discussion or learning

Topic lead-in questions can be answered collectively as a group or individually. Use topic lead-ins liberally because it is appropriate to use them in every session and you can use types for groups or individuals in a single session.

Group Lead-in Activities - Group lead-ins are particularly useful for introducing the topic, discovering what is already known and activating that prior knowledge. Here are some activities.


Word Tree - Generate a list of words related to the topic. For example, in a customer service course, ask participants to give you words related to the phrase, "moment of truth." Participants may suggest: "meeting," "realization," "instance," "interaction," "introduction," etc. Write all the words on the board, clustering by theme where possible. You can use this opportunity to introduce essential terms too.

Multiple Choice or True/False Quiz - Rather than giving participants a multiple choice or true/false quiz at the end of a session, try giving it at the beginning. As facilitator, you can walk around and discretely scan participants' responses to help you to identify where to focus your attention during the training. Review the answers with the group at the end of the session. Note that participants should check their own answers. 

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STDs - Note: Do not share the name of the activity with the participants as they may figure out what is happening before the end of the activity.

Before the activity:

  • Prepare enough cards – one for each participant .
  • On one card, write an "X" on the back so that the “X” is not very notice able.
  • On one card write a "C" on the back so that the “C” is not very noticeable.
  • On one card write an “A” on the back.  On this card, write on the front, “Do not sign anyone’s card, and do not let anyone sign your card!”
  • Prepare enough blank cards for the remainder of the participants.

To begin the activity:
Ask participants to stand. Give each  participant a card. Tell participants that they have 10 minutes to greet three participants on an individual basis (one at a time). For each person they greet, the participant should:

  • Ask where she/he currently works
  • Ask if she/he is married
  • Tell the other person one aspect that they like about them
  • Ask her/him to sign their card

At the end of 10 minutes have everyone sit down.  Each person—except one—should have three signatures on his or her card.

Tell the participants that act of signing the card represents a sex act.  In other words, if you signed a card or had someone sign your card it represents having sex with that person.
Ask the following processing questions:

  • “Did everyone get three signatures?”  Ask everyone with signed cards to stand.
  • “Who has the card with the “A” on the back?”  The person with the card with the “A” on the back should not have any signatures.  “A” symbolizes “abstinence.”  However, often, the person with the “A” card will succumb to peer pressure and accept signatures.  If this happens, make the point that “everyone always talks about abstinence to prevent STDs, but in the real world it is extremely difficult for young adults to be abstinent!”  If this person has an “A” card that is unsigned she/he will remain sitting, otherwise she/he will stand.
  • “Who has the card with the “X” on the back?”  The “X” symbolizes that this person has a STD.  This person will remain standing.  Remain standing if this person signed your card, otherwise sit down.
  • “Who has a card signed by any person standing up?”  (The people still standing will include the person with the “X” card and the people she/he "infected."  Now it is expected that more people will stand up.)
  • Ask the same question again, “Who has a card signed by any person NOW standing up?”  Everyone or almost everyone will now be standing, as they have a card signed by a person infected with a STD.
  • “Who has a card with a “C” on the back?”  The “C” represents a condom used correctly for every sex act.  Have this person sit down.

The only people sitting are not infected with a STD.  This will include the person with an unsigned “A” card and the person with the “C” card.

The message that this activity conveys is that STDs spread widely unless precautions—such as a condom—are taken with each sex act, abstinence is successful, or one’s sex partners take precautions when having sex or are monogamous.

Individual Lead-In Questions - participants can respond to questions in a predetermined order (e.g., left to right around the room) or by volunteering responses in random order. If you let participants speak in random order, remember that one of the purposes of this activity is to get people talking, so try to ensure that everyone in the group participates.
Here are some topic lead-in suggestions to which the participants should respond:

  • State one or two "burning questions" you hope will be answered in this session.
  • Describe one strategy/resource you have successfully employed recently (relevant to the topic of the meeting/training).
  • State your personal definition of the topic (e.g., in a business presentation, "Client focus means...").

The following lead-ins are particularly useful when the subject matter challenges established beliefs or practices:

  • State your opinion on the topic ("I think...").
  • Complete a phrase or phrases (e.g., in a session focusing on handling client complaints, "A bank staff should NEVER respond to a complaint by...").

To encourage free participation, ask participants to listen to all contributions, but reserve their comments for discussion later in the session.

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