Written Activities (15 Minutes)


Have everyone write down their funny/sad/frustrating anecdote for today. Put them into a hat and take turns pulling one out at a time and reading them. Then the whole group tries to figure out who it happened to. The idea is to infuse some fun into reflection so it doesn’t become a chore.

Anonymous Journaling

On a small piece of paper, have each person write one thing they’ve noticed today that was helpful or met the needs of the people you are serving (or write the response to another question the facilitator poses about their service). Shuffle these and redistribute them so that everyone has someone else’s paper. Have each person read their paper and then add their own comments, elaborating on any ways that they also saw this to be true. This activity can also be used with other questions. For example, what was one thing that you learned in training and orientation that has been helpful in your volunteering and how have you put it into place?

Minute Sentences

Give one minute for people to complete each sentence with whatever comes to mind first, writing down their responses:

  • One thing that surprised me about volunteering…
  • One idea or activity that worked well in volunteering…
  • One way the people we’ve worked with have been affected…
  • Today I felt…
  • Today I am most anxious about…
  • One thing I’ve learned…
  • One way I’ve grown or changed through this experience…
  • One thing that gives me hope…
  • Community service is…

Then each person takes one of their sentences and continues expanding on it with a few sentences. Go around and have each person share one sentence or paragraph.

Additional Option: You can also do this activity with very general, open-ended sentences, such as I believe… I disagree with… I predict… I wonder why… I noticed… I felt… The real truth is… I don’t understand… What if….

Oops OK Wow

Each volunteer is given a paper with three columns to state what they hope will be the outcome of a situation they are dealing with in their volunteer work.

  • Column 1: OOPS (What outcome would they be disappointed with?)
  • Column 2: OK (What outcome would be okay?)
  • Column 3: WOW (What outcome would they be very happy with?)

After taking time to individually reflect, offer opportunity to share reflections.

Oops Okay Wow Chart

A Letter to Myself

Have group members write a letter to themselves about their experience of volunteering on a particular day, including high and low points, challenges, lessons learned, and what they want to remember most. Collect the letters and give them back (or mail them) at the end of the semester to remind them of the experience and what they were thinking and feeling.

If the letters are being returned during a group reflection session, invite volunteers to share whatever they wish from their thoughts and reflections in the letter. They can also journal about: how they feel about what they wrote and how it applies now, what they’ve learned, and how they’ve grown. Ask them to write a message to yourself from the present to the person you were when you began the volunteer placement.

Additional Option 1 – Hopes and Fears: At the beginning of the volunteer placement have group members write a letter to themselves about their hopes and fears. Topics could include: what they hope to contribute through volunteering, what they hope to gain or learn through the experience, the challenges they might face as well as how they hope to address these challenges, and anything else that they want to tell themselves about this service experience and how they will interact with it.

Additional Option 2 – Emotions: Give each person two small pieces of paper or index cards. On one piece of paper, invite them to write down the emotions that they are feeling right now towards their volunteering experience. On the other paper, have them write what they hope to feel once they have completed the semester of volunteering. At the end of the semester, have them return to these two papers and see if their hopes were realized.

Additional Option 3 – Letter to Future Volunteers: Have group members write a letter to a future volunteer and then distribute them the following year to new volunteers who join the group.

Gifts We Bring

Give each person two small pieces of paper.

  • Round 1: Have each person write down one gift that they bring to your service experience. Go around and each person shares their gift, placing it in the center of the table.
  • Round 2: Have each person write down one gift that they notice in the volunteer to their right (what they offer to this volunteer group and/or placement). Go around and each person shares the gift they noticed, placing it in the center of the table.
  • Round 3: Each person chooses one gift from those on the table that they need, or something that compliments their own strengths. Share.

Discuss: What are the strengths on this team? What gifts do we need to develop?

Convo Starters

Give each person several small piece of paper and have them down ideas (one per paper) of how to start a conversation with the youth, adults, or children that you serve. Shuffle the papers and redistribute, take turns having each person read an idea.


  • How is talking with the children/youth/adults similar or different from other conversations?
  • What topics have you noticed they are interested in?
  • How can we listen better to the people we serve?
  • What other conversation starter ideas do you have?

Mind Maps

Mind Mapping is a visual thinking tool that helps our brains to see connections between ideas. For this activity you will need:

  • A sheet of chart paper or Bristol board, or a whiteboard: the larger the better – ideally it should be at least 11 x 17. If you don’t have anything this size you could tape together several ordinary unlined sheets of paper.
  • Pencil crayons or markers: using colour helps our brains to think more creatively, but ordinary pens will also do

Choose a central question, idea, word or image to start with. For example, you could choose an issue or that is important to the people that you are serving, such as:

  • stigma
  • education
  • (dis)ability
  • empowerment
  • opportunity
  • inclusion
  • community

Write the central word or image in the centre of the page. Invite your group members to write down their associations with the central image. They can write their new word on the page and draw a line connecting it to the central image, so that you have subtopics connected to the original topic. They can also repeat this process with these new words, by writing and connecting related words to a particular subtopic. By continuing to branch out from new words you’ll end up with an interconnected tree of ideas.

Note: if your group is large you might need to break into smaller groups and have each group create a mind map. Or you could designate one person to be the scribe and have people say their associations out loud. Or, if you have access to a large whiteboard or chalkboard you could have everyone create one huge map).


Once the flurry of ideas begins to slow down, invite your group to look at the map and discuss what they see.


  • What are the themes that stand out to you?
  • How do you see this themes playing out in the lives of the people we are serving (the kids, youth, or adults, their families, the community at large)?

So What?

  • Why do these things happen? (e.g., why is education an issue in this neighbourhood?)
  • What are the structural or systemic causes?

Now What?

  • How does our volunteer work help to address some of the challenges related to this theme or issue?
  • What could be done to make improve the situation?

A Variation on this Activity

Give people several post-it notes, have them start by taking some individual time to write their associations with the central word/image, then have them post their notes on the chart paper and draw lines to connect them to related words or images. As the map develops they can write more post-its, or draw directly on the page.

Ripple Effect On Your Life – Mindstream Writing and Poetry

How do you imagine that your service experiences might have ripple effects into your future? How has volunteering influenced what you plan to do with your life?

  • Mindstream writing (5 min.) – Take a piece of paper and a pen in hand. Write whatever comes to mind. Do not censor your ideas. Just keep writing, without correcting your grammar or spelling.
  • Go-around (10 min.): Each person shares a ripple effect
  • Additional activity for 10-15 min: Have volunteers circle words or phrases that stand out, put these on small papers, rearrange and write a poem. Share poems.

Additional Option: Have participants reflect on the ripple effects for the people they are serving, or for the city or broader community, or for the world.

Who Am I?

Tell participants you would like them to respond in writing to 10 questions. Then ask them 10 consecutive times to respond to the question “Who am I?” At the end of the “quiz,” ask them to cross off three of the items, then three more. Discuss what types of responses they wrote for their identity (acknowledging that some may have hidden identities that they may not wish to share). How did it feel to cross items off? What types of responses were crossed off first/last (e.g. most negative, less important, etc.)? What did you learn about how you see yourself? (from Wilmes, Scott & Rice, created by Juan Moreno)

Mad Libs

Script by Marissa Cunnington

Give each person a blank piece of paper and tell them to write answers to the following:

  • Where we volunteer
  • Something you did at volunteering today
  • Highlight of the day
  • Something the participants enjoyed
  • Something you enjoyed
  • Name of another volunteer
  • Annoying quality in a person
  • Admirable quality in a person
  • Word to describe the group
  • Emotion

Have the group switch papers, and then hand out the Mad Libs story. Have each member fill in the mad libs based on the answers they received. And take turns reading out loud.

Mad Libs Handout

Mad Libs Story: Today at ______ (where we volunteer), we ______ (something you did today). My favourite part of today was ______ (highlight of day). I think the people we serve had a lot of fun with the ______ (something participants enjoyed), but I personally loved the ______ (something you enjoyed). I think ______ (name of volunteer) did an amazing job today, I really like that she is ______ (annoying quality). Just joking, she actually is ______ (admirable quality)! I like the whole group though, we are all ______ (word to describe group)! This experience has been very ______ (emotion), and I love coming every single week!

Forces of Change

In every organization, neighbourhood, or community, there exists a natural tendency towards keeping the situation from changing. Then there are people and forces that work towards change. These forces can keep each other in a state of equilibrium. Have the group create two lists related to the community that you serve or to a particular issue that people are facing: one list of the forces that resist change and another list of the forces that create change. Examples of issues to explore: poverty, illiteracy and school drop-out, isolation experienced by seniors or people with disabilities. After making the list, discuss which forces we are able to influence as volunteers or citizens, and what we can do to encourage positive change.

Anonymous Questions

Have group members write down any questions that they might have about issues related to your volunteering on index cards or pieces of paper. Questions can be anonymous and each should be written on a separate paper. After collecting and shuffling the questions, pass them around the circle and have each person randomly choose a question, read it aloud, and facilitate a group discussion of the question. When the first question has been explored, move to the next person in the circle who facilitates a discussion of the question on their card. If time runs out before all the questions are discussed, unused questions can be saved for future volunteering sessions.

Additional Options: The activity could be shortened by not taking time for group discussion of each question, but rather having each person give their response to the question on the card they took. This activity can also be directed in a number of ways depending on the questions used. For example, for a get-to-know-you activity at the beginning of a semester, you could ask volunteers to write something that they are curious about the other volunteers in your group. On a second piece of paper they could write something they are curious about related to the program they are volunteering at.

Anonymous Answers

  • This activity is similar to Anonymous Questions above, except that the facilitator asks the question and group members can write their answers on index cards or small pieces of paper. This allows people to state their opinions or ideas anonymously, even if they are controversial. Once everyone has written their answers, shuffle and redistribute the cards. Have each person read a response and then say their own interpretation of or response to what they read.

Using the Experiential Learning Cycle

Explain the three components of the Experiential Learning Cycle. Hand out index cards or small pieces of paper. On each paper, everyone will be encouraged to answer two questions related to each of the stages in the cycle.

On the first card (What?), answer the questions:

  • What did you do today?
  • What was the atmosphere of our volunteer placement?

On the second card (So What?), answer the questions:

  • How does this experience compare to others you’ve had?
  • What was one high point or one low point of your experience?

On the third card (Now What?), answer the questions:

  • How were you different at the end of volunteering today compared to when you entered?
  • How can this experience apply to other situations in your life?

Go around the circle three times. For each go-around, ask each person to share one response, starting with What, So What, and finally Now What? As they are shared, the answers could either be taped onto a banner or kept by the individual.

Post It!

Give each person five post-it notes. Ask them to write an answer to each of the following questions on a post-it note (have the questions posted on the wall):

  1. Favourite volunteer experience.
  2. One thing you’d tell a new volunteer who is joining our group.
  3. One goal you have for your volunteering or way in which you’d like to deepen your service.
  4. A volunteer activity that worked well (i.e. something you tried in response to a difficult situation, something that helped you connect with the people we serve, etc.).
  5. A volunteer activity that didn’t work so well.

Ask everyone to post their responses with the appropriate questions on the wall. Give people time to walk around and read, looking for themes and ideas. Ask people to get into groups of four and discuss (have questions on a handout):

  • Why did you choose your favourite volunteer activity?
  • What themes stand out as you walked around the room?
  • What is one idea you’d like to try?
  • What goal do you have for improving your volunteer experience?

Solutions Web

Solutions Web Example
Example Solutions Web from a Children’s Program

Draw a circle in the centre of a piece of chart paper and label it “Problems.” Invite the group to brainstorm on problems or obstacles that you have faced while volunteering together. For each problem, draw another circle, connected to the central “Problems” circle. Then for each of those circles, draw connecting circles for the following three questions:

  1. How do you imagine that the children / youth / adults that you are serving feel in this situation?
  2. How do the volunteers feel?
  3. What are some possible solutions?

After brainstorming on all problems, prompt for further discussion on the solutions:

  • What do the volunteers’ feelings tell us about the situation?
  • How might the children / youth / adult’s feelings inform our solutions?
  • Which of these solutions can we implement next time we volunteer?
Solutions Web Template