Key activities in our trial of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) open group

Flip chart with Red and Green Messages brainstorm

We’ve been asked what are the key activities that we make sure are included regularly in our trial of an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) Basic workshop as an open group (weekly 2-hour sessions where people can join any week).

Each 2-hour session has a similar structure:

  1. Welcome and acknowledgement of country
  2. Group stretch where we go around the circle with each person doing a stretch that is copied by the group
  3. A grounding and gathering, where we do a quick grounding activity and then go around the circle with each person saying how they are feeling this morning and (usually) responding to a question related to the day’s focus
  4. An overview of the last session or key aspects from previous sessions (which is important if we are building on an activity from a previous week) and a preview of what we are doing this week
  5. Two or three main activities and one or two light and livelies (which are quick games or energisers that help participants focus, have a change of pace, build community and have fun)
  6. Feedback about the session (as a brainstorm about what they liked, what they didn’t like or could be improved, and any “aha”’ moments or ideas for improving the session)
  7. A quick closing activity

We don’t rotate the main activities (in Item 4 above) in any particular order and, in planning the next week’s agenda, decide what would be most useful for the group. The following are the main activities we use regularly (generally every 8 to 12 weeks, but sometimes more frequently) grouped under some of the main themes of the workshop. Most of the activities are in the AVP manuals and I have provided a very brief overview of each activity.

Community building

  • Safety Circle: We go around the circle twice answering, “What I need to feel safe in this group.…” And “What I can do to help others feel safe in this group….”
  • Community Drawing: Group drawings in small groups around a theme (e.g., an ideal community)


  • Affirmation Name Game: Participants introduce their affirmation name (where people add a positive adjective before their name that starts with the same letter or rhymes, e.g., we could be Amazing Annette, Gentle Graeme, Joyful Jake and Marvellous Michael) and try to remember the names of the people who have already introduced themselves
  • Affirmation Pairs: In pairs, people talk for 3 minutes about what they like about themselves with the other person just listening. Sometimes they then introduce their partner to another pair or the larger group.


Example of the Inside Outside activity in an Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshop
  • Back-To-Back Drawing: In pairs participants sit back-to-back. They take turns to describe a simple drawing they have been given while the other person tries to recreate it without seeing the original
  • Red and Green Messages: A brainstorm, discussion and practice of using red messages (that escalate conflict) and green messages (that reduce conflict)
  • I Messages: introducing and practicing I messages
  • Concentric Circles: Participants sit in two circles so they are facing each other in pairs, and take turns responding to a prompt (e.g., “A time I felt listened to …” or “Something I’d like to achieve in the coming 12 months and steps to achieve it. …”) and pairs change after each prompt
  • Communication Virus: In small groups one person can see a simple structure (made out of simple construction materials) and gives instructions to a “runner” who relays the instructions to the rest of the group who try to build it. The runner doesn’t see the original or replicated construction but only relays questions or instructions between the group and the person who can see the original.
  • Inside Outside: Using flip chart with the outline of a body, brainstorm experiences or events (outside the body), the feelings people might have based on those experiences (inside the body) and the needs that might underlie the feelings in a bubble above the head. (In the image above we had the experiences to the left of the body, feeling inside the body and the needs to the right of the body.)


People doing the Broken Squares activity in Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP)
  • Broken squares: In groups of five, participants have to work together in silence to solve a puzzle.
  • Cooperative construction exercise: Small groups are given some construction materials (e.g., K’nex, Lego) in a clear plastic bag. They have 2 minutes to plan their construction (without open the bag) and then work in silence. We have also done the Marshmallow Challenge in the past.
  • Light & Livelies (especially Pattern Ball and Beach Ball): Pattern ball involves creating a pattern with a ball going around the circle and then adding more balls to the same patter; Beach Ball involves keeping a beach ball off the ground (like in volleyball) for as long as possible. (We aim for at least 60 hits).

Creative conflict resolution

  • Responses to Conflict: Based on four of the five responses to conflict (we omit the fox, but could include it), we draw up a grid (above) and invite participants to draw the relevant animals as we briefly discuss each response
  • A Conflict I Responded to Nonviolently (or a problem I solved nonviolently): In groups of three or four, participants share a story of a time they responded to a conflict nonviolently, They bring one story back to the large group
  • Hassle Lines: Mini role plays where participants are in two straight lines facing a partner
  • Min role Plays: Other mini role plays used to practice communication and conflict resolution skills
  • Transforming Power Introduction: Transforming Power is a key concept of AVP. (There is an overview of Transforming Power in What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  • Transforming Power Questions: We invite the group to develop questions that help explore Transforming Power. One way we do this is have a flip chart for each part of the mandala or circle and, in small groups, go to each flip chart and add one question to the flip chart.

Building trust

  • Safety Circle: see above
  • Trust Walk: In pairs, one person shuts their eyes and the other person guides them around obstacles (or takes them for a walk outside) and then they swap.

Other activities

Example of the violence and peace trees brainstorm
  • Violence and Peace Trees: A brainstorm of the roots (what leads to it) and fruits (what it leads to) of violence and the roots and fruits of peace. We sometimes include what violence is on the trunk.
  • How to Move from the Violence to Peace Tree: A group discussion of a series of questions:
    • Imagine there is a person in the violence tree who wants to get across to the peace tree, what might their journey look like?
    • What might they be feeling?
    • What might they be thinking?
    • If they were midway, what might they need to get to the peace tree?
    • What is there on the other side to welcome them?
  • Underlying Anger: An individual reflection involving series of questions exploring what else can be underneath anger
  • Basic Emotions: Four sheets of flip chart with one of four basic emotions (happy, sad, fearful, angry) and small groups go to each emotion and brainstorm other words or feelings connected to the emotion.
  • Drawing or play doh activities: Individual reflection activity where participants draw or use play doh to respond to a prompt (e.g., What does anger feel like? Or How do you care for others?) We find that the drawing activity is largely done in silence, but there is often quite a lot of discussion with the play doh.
Example of the Alternatives to Violence Project activity Moving form the Violence to Peace Tree

For AVP facilitators who are interested, our first 35 agendas are available from the Google Doc Shared AVP agendas sessions 1-35. These agendas include brief reminders for ourselves about activities and brief notes from the reflection afterwards, and are largely unedited (except for removing names of participants).

We would love to hear (in the comments below) what other activities you would include regularly if you were doing AVP like this.

This is the third in a series of posts:

  1. Trialling an open AVP group with people recently out of prison or rehab
  2. More details of our trial of a weekly, open AVP group
  3. Key activities in our trial of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) open group

The facilitation team for most of the year has been Michael Badier, Jacob Cummins, Annette Hoffman and Graeme Stuart. Zoe Griffiths and Gener Lapina were on the facilitation team earlier in the year.

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

  1. What are Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops?
  2. What are the 5 styles of conflict management?
  3. Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) flyer
  4. 20 tips for an online workshop
  5. Broken Squares online
  6. Conflict resolution and nonviolence workshops with young people

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) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Key activities in our trial of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) open group

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing these details.


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