Basically for planning any youth activities you want to do 3 things, Engage, Experience and End. To engage is to set the tone with clear and eloquent instructions. Then the learning must be something experienced. When they are actively involved they will have more chance of concentrating and remembering. The end must be productive, having achieved all set goals. Reflecting on what was done or learned and how to apply it in the real world.
Make them feel comfortable
Create a nice atmosphere. Comfy chairs, relevant music or desks arranges in a circle. Make them feel as equals, there is no one better than the other. Break down the barriers of hierarchical thinking. Break down the power struggle between adult and youth immediately by the relaxed, non threatening environment where they feel safe to share and participate.
Play some opening, fun and easy games. This brings togetherness and nurtures trust between each other from the start. One such game is called “2 truths and a lie” where you all have to right down 2 truths about yourself and 1 lie, place the paper in a hat and participants must guess who it is. This immediately changes the mood in any environment.
Give quick and clear instructions
Be specific about what you are asking them to do but do not bore them with long detailed instructions. Make it sound fun and interesting. Be creative. Also give them a choice rather than telling them what to do. For example if it is to do a skit, give them a choice of 3 ideas they can chooses from.
Ways to get group quiet
You may have a large number of youth and when they are all brainstorming you may need to get their attention back. If you have set a time allocation maybe you could use a whistle or alarm to let them know how much time they have left. Maybe a clap to signal their attention while quietening the voices at the same time. Make it a game, that those groups quieten that down when you clap get a prize.
Get them moving their bodies; they have bouts of concentration from only 12-20 minutes at a time so get them physically involved. Physical activity, Games, Role play, Art and crafts are all ways of engaging the youth. Each person has a unique learning style. Some are visual learners, some are auditory learners and others are kinaesthetic learners. When you use a variety of different methods and tools you are able to engage all these types of learners.
Use visualisation and relaxation techniques
If they are losing focus or getting rowdy, take 3- 5 minutes to just sit and do some breathing. Or help them to relax by making them close their eyes and imagine they were in a different setting that you describe.
Words of affirmation and praise will get you much more respect than being rude and always pointing out faults. You will get much further with a kind word than a harsh one. Kind words build up but harsh words break down. We only want to build up the youth.
Understand their differences
Understand that they all have different strengths and weaknesses and different personalities. Allow those strengths to shine through and the different personalities to work together and learn from each other. A creative type and a serious type put together could form a formidable team. The creative person will have all the ideas and the serious structured person will know how to implement those ideas.
Deal with resistance
Understand that not everyone is going to be open or want to participate. Don’t force participation. Some may have strong opinions or feel threatened or sensitive around a particular subject. Acknowledge their views as important. By acknowledging it may be difficult or saying “you may feel silly doing this but…” you already win them over with your understanding. Be a good example of communicating respectfully and valuing another person. Show you believe in them and that you are confident in their abilities.
Vary the size of the groups
You could assign random names or let them choose their own groups. Divide groups into pairs, large groups or small groups. Those who are shy might respond better in a smaller group of 2 – 3. Mix the groups with adults and youth. Divide them by boys and girls and make it a competition. Provide each group member a task and set them an allocated time to work in. This allows time for collaborative creative thought processes, where youth are not spoon fed but are encouraged to think for themselves.