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Diversity Training Games and Exercises

As my eldest son becomes a pre-teen, emotional intelligence, acceptance, empathy and understanding have become hot topics in our house. As new as these issues may be for us, they’ve been hot for quite a while in businesses and organizations, as indicated by the popularity of this LinkedIn discussion and others. Following is a synopsis of some diversity activities that our colleagues have posted online. However, before we get into any specifics, we should remember Lee Duffy’s words of wisdom:

“When facilitating any activity to do with diversity, it is so important to be prepared for strong emotional responses from participants, as you dig and get to the bottom of issues such as bias and inequity, which is invariably these activities head. People don’t like having the things that make them human exposed in public forums generally.”

Diversity Thumball

The Diversity Thumball is a fun training tool that tackles a difficult topic with smarts and sensitivity. Thumball™ is a soft 6″ stuffed vinyl ball that looks like a cool soccer ball and has 32 panels pre-printed with questions suited for adults and teens. Toss it around in a group and ask participants to share their reaction to whatever prompt lies under their thumb. Sampling of discussion prompts include:

1. When did you first become aware of racial/ethnic differences?
2. Share a situation when you were in the minority
3. Describe a time you witnessed discrimination
4. Your best experience with a person of a different race/ethnicity
5. What makes you different?
6. How do your thoughts about diversity differ from your parents’?
7. Describe a time you experienced prejudice
8. Where do you see prejudice?
9. How do you respond to jokes that are demeaning or derogatory?
10. A time you felt like an outsider and how you dealt with it
11. An instance when someone went out of their way to make you feel included?
12. A time you went out of your way to make someone feel included?
13. A time you shared an unpopular idea
14. Describe a time you felt lonely in a big group of people
15. Why do you seek out people similar to you as friends?
16. Do you feel your friends are more similar or dissimilar to you?

Mosaic Diversity Game

Help your group truly understand that people can view the same situation and come away with very different perspectives. In the  Mosaic Diversity Activity participants are armed with 3D-like glasses to view a mosaic pattern/ They won’t initially realize that their eye-wear encodes two different patterns. The game is excellent for leadership, diversity, and communication training.

Face Value

For this non-verbal activity, all you need for this one is a deck of cards. Before beginning, explain to the group that you will be handing each participant a card and they are not to look at their own card. Without using verbal cues, participants will treat each other based on the value of the card. For example, if a person has a high value card, you may want to bow or if a person has a low value card, you might want to snub them. Hand each participant a card. Explain that, when they are told, participants are to put their card on their forehead (without looking at it). When everyone has a card, have the group put the cards on their foreheads. Let the group mingle for 3 to 5 minutes (for a large group, you might to add a few extra minutes).

After a few minutes of mingling, have the participants form groups based on what they think the value of their card. High cards on one side, low cards on the other and middle cards in the middle. Once each group is formed, participants may look at their cards.

Debrief questions
• How did you know if you were a high card? Low card? Middle Card?
• How did you treat high cards? Low cards? Middle cards?
• Who decided which cards are more valuable than others?
• How about Aces, are they high cards or low cards? How were they treated?
• How does this activity relate to how we communicate in everyday life? How do we treat people that we do not know how to value?

NOTES:  Potential challenges to conducting this activity: For smaller groups, you may have to choose the cards rather than hand out cards at random. Be sure that there is a good mix of high, low and middle cards. Include at least one ace. Also remember, there is no right or wrong way to answer. It is important for participants to look at how they did actually react rather than at how they think they should have reacted or will react in the future.
Source:   Michelle Cummings, M.S. Playing With a Full Deck. United States: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 2007.  Posted online by Monica Miller

Share a story

Everyone has had times in their lives when they felt they didn’t “fit in.” (Share a personal story.) Then say, “Think back to a time when you felt different. Everyone has felt different…. no matter who they are, where they lived, or how they grew up.”  Then ask “What happened? How did you feel? What did you do? How did you overcome?  Encourage sharing in small groups first, then poll the group. Apply/summarize what they say in relationship to diversity.  Posted online by Chris Corrado

Mr. Potato Head

 I use Mr. Potato Heads. We have a collection of over 50 and a bunch of pieces and parts. In the end they are all Mr. Potato Heads but all very very different. The classes generally have fun and then when you line them all up you get a nice visual of the diversity too. Posted online by Gary Higgins, Ed.D

Danger of Labels

I have used an exercise where you print out labels for everyone. Some say “I never pay attention,”” I disagree with everybody,” etc. Put the labels on the persons forehead without them reading it. Then have interaction to see if they can figure out what their personality is. This really opens discussion on how we perceive different people and how we treat them accordingly. Posted online by Deborah Chandler

The Single Story

After a discussion on how we form perceptions and how they lead to stereotypes, I use the movie clip by Chimamanda Adichie who is a Nigerian Novelist giving a talk on called ‘The danger of the single story.” It is a beautiful 15min talk on stereotypes and the impact of having single stories about people and places. Then I ask people to share in small groups: How their story has been misunderstood by others. How they have misunderstood others’ stories. To share something of their story that others do not know. How they can go about avoiding single stories about others. I have been amazed at how people open up and share meaningfully. The talk is easily downloaded from Posted online by Heidi Pasques


4 thoughts on “Diversity Training Games and Exercises”

  1. Ramnath says:

    Thanks. I am a soft skills trainer. Please email more management games in other topics too. I find it useful in my workshops.

  2. Dimenzion3 says:

    Nice blog about diversity training games and exercises,for more details visit:

  3. Mark Flores says:

    Excellent activities to start off heavy sessions on diversity and inclusion. A very innovative way of self disclosure.

  4. Walter Frankel says:

    Thank you


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