Broken Squares online

Broken squares is a popular exercise in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), and other workshops. When we trialed an AVP workshop online, I created a version we could do using Google Drawings. It largely works the same way, but with only four groups.

The following instructions are based on using Zoom, but it would be similar with other platforms.

Time required: 20-30 minutes


  1. Go to, under “File” select “Make a copy” and save it to your “My Drive” (by clicking under “Folder” and clicking the back arrow until you reach “My Drive”).
  2. Make a copy of the broken squares for each group doing the exercise and copy the web link for each copy so you can share it with the group later. 
  3. Once you have created a copy for each group, you have to allow people to edit them.

  4. In each copy, click on share (top right hand corner). share

  5. Under get link, click Change

  6. Then click Viewer and change to “editor”.

  7. Then click Done.
  8. Repeat this for each copy you have made. 

Instructions in large group

  1. Share your screen with the opening setup of the pieces (as at the top of the post).
  2. Tell participants that they will be working in teams of four and their objective is to create 4 squares of equal size (one in each of the 4 coloured rectangles).
  3. All pieces must be used and the pieces must NOT be rotated or resized (because if they are they will not be able to create all 4 squares).
  4. Each person will be given a coloured rectangle to work in (i.e., 1 person will work in the red rectangle, 1 in the purple , 1 in the yellow and 1 in the blue) and they can only work with pieces touching their coloured rectangle.
  5. During the exercise there is to be no talking (or using Chat or text messages).
  6. If they do not want a piece they have they can place it so that it is touching their coloured rectangle and another one.
  7. Note: there is nothing stopping them putting a piece in the middle so that it is touching all 4 rectangles, but let them work that out for themselves.
  8. They may not take pieces from other participants and may not place a piece in somebody else’s square.
  9. They may not ask for anything in return.
  10. Depending on your focus, you may want to add, This is a team goal, so watch for how you might assist your fellow team members in achieving this goal.
  11. If there are more than 4 people in a group, extra people can be observers.
  12. Check if there are any questions
  13. Place them in breakout rooms. There should be a facilitator or (somebody who knows what to do) in each group acting as an observer.

Instructions in breakout rooms

  1. Share the link to the group’s pieces in chat. (Each group needs to have it own link so each group is working in a different Google Drawing.)
  2. Tell each of the 4 people doing the exercise, which colour rectangle they will be working in.
  3. Make sure they know how to move pieces and remind them not to rotate or resize the pieces.
  4. Remind them of the rules about not speaking and how to pass the pieces.
  5. Invite them to start.
  6. If they are struggling to complete the exercise you always have the option of relaxing some of the rules

Potential questions for debriefing

Once they have completed the exercise, discuss the exercise. This could happen in the breakout room or the main room.

Some potential questions include:

  1. How was it?
  2. What was the hardest thing?
  3. What helped you complete the exercise?
  4. How could you work as a team?
  5. Did anybody complete a square they then had to break up? What was that like?
  6. What would you do differently if you did it again?
  7. How does this exercise relate to conflict resolution and nonviolence? [Or, How does this exercise relate to communication or cooperation or teamwork?]
  8. How closely did you follow the rules? When is it important to follow “rules” and when is it important to break them?
  9. What other insights did you have?

Other tips

  1. If someone accidentally rotates or changes the size of a piece, they can undo it (in “Edit”).
  2. It is also possible to reset the exercise by Clicking “Last edit was …”
  3. Select the original version and click “Restore this version”.
  4. It could be quite difficult for some people to manage the technology, so make sure you have the skills they need.
  5. Some squares can be created in ways that prevent all 4 squares being completed. (This makes it more interesting.)

The solution

The finished squares will look like this (the gaps are to make it clear which piece goes where) although the squares could be in different coloured rectangles.

In the comments below, please let us know how it goes and if you have any suggestions for improvements or variations.

If you liked this post please follow my blog, and you might like to look at:

  1. Creating a safe space for a workshop on Zoom
  2. Reflections halfway into our first online AVP workshop
  3. More reflections from our first AVP online workshop
  4. An interactive exercise exploring parenting styles
  5. Facilitating workshops – creating a container
  6. Principles of nonviolence

If you find any problems with the blog, (e.g., broken links or typos) I’d love to hear about them. You can either add a comment below or contact me via the Contact page.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, environmentalist, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace, sustainability.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), Facilitation & teaching and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Broken Squares online

  1. mohammad shoaib says:

    I used to run this activity for groups and its an amazing exercise for but I had never thought of doing it as a online activity, thanks to come up with an new version of it ( online )


  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for making this! I’ve run this in person for years and am so excited to run it virtually this term.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Monisha says:

    This is a wonderful activity and I really do appreciate the manner in which you have adapted it. I was just hoping if there a video of the same activity being demonstrated ? Should there be , I would be really grateful if you could guide me to it. Thank you.


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