Group Processing with Raccoon Circles

Type of Activity:  Processing

Props Needed:  Webbing tied in secure circle (water knot is preferred)

Process:  One of the most interesting uses for the Raccoon Circle is for the processing or debriefing that typically follows a teambuilding or adventure-based learning activity. By its nature, the Raccoon Circle brings a group closer together. For teachers and camp counselors that are tired of saying over and over, “ok kids, let’s get in a circle, a circle, c’mon, shoulder to shoulder, a circle you guys...” the Raccoon Circle provides an easier method, “ok everyone grab ahold!” The result is a close circular circle, with everyone attached, connected, visible to the rest of the group, and at a distance where conversation can occur without shouting.

Circles of Influence

With everyone attached the the raccoon circle this is a great place to demonstrate how everyone in the group has an effect on the rest of the participants. With everyone holding the Raccoon Circle, have the facilitator join them, and shake the Raccoon Circle. Notice that not only the participants near the facilitator are “disturbed” by this motion, but that it is transferred to everyone in the circle - the same way that negative comments affect not only the folks that hear them, but eventually everyone in the group. Next have everyone in the group, including the facilitator, pull lightly on the Raccoon Circle, so that they are balance, and leaning slightly    backwards. If the facilitator now decides to let go, another type of disruptive wave goes through the group, disturbing the balance, and again, affecting everyone of the participants in the group. So being a part of the group, hanging in there so to speak, is also helpful to the success of the whole group.

Group Processing - Inside Out

One quick debriefing technique is to place the Raccoon Circle on the ground, with the entire group inside. Offer participants the opportunity to comment on the results of an activity. Once they have concluded, or decided not to talk, they are welcome to step outside the circle. For groups that may over-process, or constantly return to previous arguments or discussions, this approach means that when you’re done talking, you’re done talking. When everyone is outside the circle, it is time to move on. Or, a person still standing inside the circle can choose to exchange places with another outside the circle, effectively giving them an opportunity to be heard again.

Group Processing - Pass the Knot (The Talking Knot)

A second debriefing method is a variation of Believe It Or Knot, where the knot tied in the Raccoon Circle acts as a pointer, and the facilitator or other participant instructs the group to move the knot to the right (counterclockwise) or to the left (clockwise), then stop, and the    person nearest the knot or pointer has the opportunity to speak. This technique chooses the person, rather than allowing a participant to make their own choice when to speak.

As a variation, use the Raccoon Circle as a talking stick, by allowing participants to move the knot around the circle, and when a person is ready to speak, stopping the knot when it is in front of them.

Tying It All Together

Use several Raccoon Circles tied together (perhaps with the school, college or corporate colors of the organization you are working with) to form a large circle. Then ask the group to perform the Team Balance activity.

The Final Transmission

You can create a large “gear” system, by using a variety of colorful Raccoon Circles, and then asking various groups to “mesh” together, with participants turning like gears. This is an opportunity to say good-bye (or hello) to many of the other participants.

One (Thought) For The Road

Using the format of the activities Believe It Or Knot, or Group Processing, have someone suggest moving the knot to the right (or left), then saying “stop”, and the person nearest the knot has the opportunity to express a brief closing thought, or simply say “thank you” or “pass.”

A Double Raccoon Circle

With half of the group standing in a circle holding the Raccoon Circle, the other half stands just behind them (one person in the outer circle behind a person in the inner circle). The inside circle closes their eyes, and the outer circle has the opportunity to express a positive comment to their inside circle partner. For tactile audiences (in other words, where appropriate), the outer circle can place their hands on the shoulders of their inner circle partners, and whisper into their ears. Typical comments might include, “it was great meeting you, thanks for being in our group this weekend, I am looking forward to working with you, thanks for your help with the problem solving activity - I couldn’t have done it without you!” This activity however is NOT a two way conversation - the only response from the inner circle is “thank you.” This avoids breaking the mood with laughter, giggling or any other fun but disruptive conversation.

When finished, outside circle participants move one person to their right, until they have encountered all the inside circle participants. Then the inner and outer circles trade places.


During the above activities, try using some of the following music to reinforce the circles theme of the Raccoon Circle:

Circle of Life- Walt Disney, Lion King Soundtrack

All my Life ’s a Circle-  Harry Chapin, Greatest Stories Live

Circle of Friends-  Paul Winter, Consort Double Album

Lots of Knots

Begin by tying as many knots in an untied raccoon circle as possible. Then, pass this knotted Raccoon Circle around the group. As each member of the group expresses some commentary about the day’s events, they may untie a single knot for each comment. When all knots are removed, the processing is complete. This is a great technique for those groups that don’t always have enough to talk about at the completion of a program. Waiting for someone to untie one of the last remaining knots can be a bit anxious, but don’t worry, a voice will immerge from the group eventually.

Question Marks

Place a variety of numbers, letters or symbols along the length of a light   colored Raccoon Circle, using a permanent marker. Ask your group to connect up, and then pass the knot along to the left, using their hands. At the word stop, each member of the group is asked to describe their experience today, using a word that begins with that letter (or that has that letter within the word). Another variation is to ask the group to pass the circle along and then stop. One person from the group reads off the number or symbol nearest them, and then answers a corresponding question associated with that number or symbol. This technique allows you to make just one Question Mark Raccoon Circle, but continuously alter the questions used. Write these on index cards and keep them with your Raccoon Circles. You can find additional question books in major bookstores.

Inside/Outta Here

Inside/Outta Here places the members of the group inside the Raccoon Circle. The final goal is once they have finished their final processing and debriefing, they can choose to all leave the circle together, saying “we’re outta here!” in unison.

One of Many Parts

When tubular webbing is manufactured, there may occasionally be splices in the material, which do not allow the rolls of webbing to be uniformly cut into 15 foot long segments. For those undersized pieces, here is an opening activity that will also produce a prop for a closing activity at the end of the program. Either begin with undersized pieces of tubular webbing, preferably in a variety of colors, or cut a new roll of webbing into approximately 20 inch ( 51 cm) long segments. Have participants write their names on their piece of webbing using a permanent dark colored market. These shorter webbing segments can be joined together within the group (using multiple water knots) to form the Raccoon Circle of many colors to be used during the program. Participants can also create a wrist or ankle bracelet with their webbing - See Section 30 for details.

A Part of the Whole

During the first workshop that Jim Cain ever attended with Dr. Tom Smith, he mentioned that he often encouraged members of the group during debriefing sessions to (using a permanent marker or pen) write words of encouragement or significant phrases directly on the Raccoon Circle. He also encouraged them to write their own names. At the completion of their time together, he would cut the group’s Raccoon Circle into small pieces, so that everyone in the group could take away some portion of the whole “spirit” of the group. Names and words will be most visible when you choose a dark color marker, and a lighter color Raccoon Circle webbing (yellow, light gray, orange, etc.) If you would like to create bracelets from these Raccoon Circles, be sure to cut into lengths of about 18-20 inches (45 to 51 cm). A typical 15 foot long Raccoon Circle will make 9 to 10 bracelets.



For more resources see:  The Book of Raccoon Circles, Webbing

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