A spectrum line can be used during workshops to help participants improve their understanding and affirm their own thinking or to gain knowledge on a subject.
Participants are given a statement or question by the facilitator and then must decide whether they ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’. They are then given time to reflect on the statement and make a decision. Once they have made a decision they then position themselves appropriately on the spectrum line.
The facilitator will then ask participants to share their opinions and feelings with the rest of the group. During the exercise, participants will be listen to others in the group and will be allowed to move along the spectrum and change their stance on the subject.
The exercise will also help learners identify likeminded individuals within the group, which can be useful in developing rapport and building effective teams.
Resources: Rope for spectrum line (not essential).
Space required: Small-Large (Depending on the size of group). Either Indoors or Outdoors.
Time: 25 minutes to 45 minutes
In 25-45 minutes you can expect to cover 4 to 6 scenarios. You should aim to get the opinion of everybody in the group (depending on the group size). If you have less time or you need to move the session along, just ask a couple of people and move on to the next subject/statement.
Group Size: 6 – 30 participants
This can be difficult to facilitate if you’re working with larger groups, so try to aim for a maximum of 30 per facilitator. If you working with groups larger than 30 you should split them into two and have one team working with another facilitator or observing from the side (you can then switch them around).
The more people in the group, the less people will be heard and any standing around will likely result in participants getting bored. Think in terms of group interaction and learner engagement.
Spectrum Line Setup:
Create an either an imaginary or real line through the room (cones or rope are good for both indoor and outdoor venues). One end of the line will stand for ‘agree’, the other end for ‘disagree’.
Be aware that larger locations (e.g. outside) can cause problems with participants not being able to hear others. This is a listening exercise and it is essential that participants can hear each other and build on contributions. If you are struggling with sound, try moving to an indoor space or repeat back to the group so everyone can hear.
The spectrum line requires enough space for the group to spread out. If you’re restricted for space, you may need to create a U-shape spectrum or alternatively ask the group to imagine a line instead.
If you are using a room, you can also designate one side agree and the other disagree. Signs provide a visual and may help make this clearer. If you choose not to use signs, be sure to repeat the option at the end of each statement “...so if you agree move towards this side of the room, if you disagree towards this side…”.
How to run the exercise:
Introduce the exercise and ensure you explain that the aim of the exercise is for participants to explore their own ideas on a subject and not for the facilitator to push their own viewpoint. This is about the group and there is no wrong or right answer.
If you are discussing sensitive subjects, then brief the group that anything discussed during the exercise needs to be kept to the group and left in the room and not discussed once they leave.
Introduce the first statement and keep it brief. Allow some time for the participants to reflect on the question and form a decision as to whether they agree or disagree with the statement.
Choose statement that are relevant to the subject you are teaching and plan for this before the exercise.
Here are a few example questions I use when teaching a challenging behaviour workshop for new instructors:
“A young person is not their behaviour” Agree or Disagree?
“ The only behaviour you can control is your own” Agree or Disagree?
You can also ask more general questions, just remember to adapt to suit the group and the subject you are teaching. Stress that these aren’t your opinion and are just tools aimed to spark discussion within the group.
Once they have had time to reflect, ask participants to position themselves along the line according to where they stand on the topic.
If they agree with the statement, they should stand towards the ‘agree’ end of the spectrum line set out. If they disagree they should stand towards the ‘disagree’ end. The more strongly they feel about a statement, the closer to the end of line they should stand.
If they have no opinion or unsure at the start they should stand near or in the middle of the spectrum line.
Invite participants to share their opinions with the rest of the group. Take a sample from people at either end of the spectrum line, people in the middle and people that move during the exercise. Make sure these are kept short and focussed.
Facilitators should try to use provocative questions to highlight any inconsistencies or draw out new themes or learning. You can also encourage friendly debate between the two sides.
Make participants aware that if after hearing others opinions and reflection they change their mind, they are free to move along the line.
After you have finished, repeat the exercise with new statements. If the statements are linked, pay attention to how participants views change during the process.
At the end of the exercise get participants to look back and identify what they have learned and what they can take away. Reiterate the key learning points and link this to the subject/s you are teaching.
Exercise notes and guidance
To help people see each other, you can use a curved line so they are all facing in the right direction. Think about your position as the facilitator also and ensure you have view of everyone in the group.
This exercise needs to be done quietly and thoughtfully and requires participants to tap into both their intuitive and rational sides. If the discussion gets heated and they are talking over each other, stop them and repeat that only one person can speak to once.
The discussion aspect of the exercise makes it great for reflective learners who enjoy listening to others and both sides of the debate before forming a decision.
During these type of exercises, it can be common for the same people to express their opinions, so try and be selective, and explain that you are trying to involve as many people as possible, so you have more views on the subject.
Try using questions such as:
“would anyone else would like to share their thoughts?”
“does anyone else feel differently?”
Try to not put reluctant people on the spot. Aim to create a safe learning environment so they are willing to offer their opinions.
When working with groups, be aware of any mobility issues or physical constraints such as back injuries. Not all groups will be comfortable standing for this long, so have a few chairs positioned in the room, so they can sit during the discussion.