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 Four or five people sit in a circle, preferably around a table or with some other writing surface available. Ordinarily, these would be people who do not know one another well, or at all. But the process also works with people who know each other pretty well (or think they do).

  1. Each person talks about herself/himself for a few minutes, while all the others listen and do not interrupt for any reason. Reassure people that private or confidential material is neither expected nor wanted. The hope is, however, that your participants will include something special or unusual about themselves – an interest or hobby, a trip they’ve taken, something special that happened to them, etc. This could be something that even people you see frequently might not know.
  2. After everyone has spoken, the group works on connections. Each person tries to complete the sentence:
  3. "You ought to meet or be in touch with…" for as many other people in the group as she/he can. The idea is to think of another person, not in the circle, who might have something to share and/or learn from this person, a "good contact", in terms of the special thing the person spoke about.

    Try to identify the connection as clearly as you can: name, phone number, address.

    The group as a whole tries to get at least one connection for every person in the circle; more than one if possible.

    The discussion point for later is that successful networking depends on linkage thinking. Instead of seeing himself/herself as always needing to be in the helping equation either as giver or taker the connector is skilled and sensitive in identifying mutually beneficial linkages between two or more other people. This is a kind of matchmaking (though not usually in the romantic sense) which believes we can connect a lot more helping than we can provide ourselves, or otherwise control.

  4. Once people have thus practiced being connectors, they should know a fair amount about each other. Now have each person put their name on a slip of paper. In a column below each row, we place affirmations of that person by every other person in the circle. Each person now writes on a slip of paper, one thing they like about every other person in the circle, a separate slip for each person, placed under their name. Don’t sign your name to the compliment. You might even print it, to preserve anonymity.*

*Writing compliments down, and giving them anonymously, might make it easier and less embarrassing for people to give compliments, especially when they barely know the complimentee.

With five people in the circle, we would end up with four affirmation slips under each name. You must write a nice thing about every other person in the circle. And do try to avoid left-handed compliments such as, "You’re looking so much better than you did last week" or "I really like the way you comb your hair over your bald spot".

Now, one other person (say, the person to your right) reads aloud, all the compliments which have been paid you. We go around the circle until everyone’s compliments have been read aloud to them, by another person in the circle. Take your time. Bask.

The point for later discussion is that networks are more likely to be successful when people look for and emphasize one another’s strengths rather than weaknesses. Accent the positive. When you’re oriented to seeing strengths in others, you’ll more frequently find them.

The critic type may be fine for analytical purposes, but affirmers are the soul of a network.

Comments on the Process
Allow at least 30-45 minutes. There’s no reason why you can’t have a number of circles in a room together, joining forces for the discussion phase.

The facilitator should be careful not to anticipate in the instructions to participants. Thus, don’t forewarn people that the connector and affirmation phases are coming, until it is actually time to begin them. For the same reason, don’t give people this handout until the exercise is over.


Where there are no teachers at all for a topic, options include a focused search for someone who has knowledge to share in this subject area. Another choice is to drop this topic entirely from the learning network.


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A Link-for-Learning Network Process

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 This process is designed to activate learning networks, particularly in al – or mainly volunteer groups. The process assumes that, in any network, no one is so inexperienced or "dumb" that they can’t teach something. Similarly, no one is so smart or superior that they can’t learn a thing or two.

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First choose a subject area. Try to strike a middle ground between too narrow and too broad; for example: leadership of volunteers, gardening, and crime prevention.

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On one side of the room people write on newsprint or posters, things they know a lot about and would be happy to share with others, in the subject area. Encourage people to contribute at least one and up to several of these, if they wish. But don’t pressure the reluctant.


Entries should be reasonable specific, for example: "recruiting teenage volunteers" rather than just "recruiting volunteers".

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On another wall, people record in the same way, things they would like to learn more about in the subject area. Again, be reasonably specific. Each person is encouraged to write down 2 or 3 of their learning needs. If someone else has already written down one of your learning needs, put a checkmark after the description. It isn’t necessary to repeat the description.

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The facilitator then helps, the group cluster, collate, and combine the results, to produce a list of their top 5 or 10 learning needs.

We then review the list, asking for volunteers who’d like to share their knowledge and experience in each of these priority subjects. We also check the other or "Give List" wall for teaching offers which might match our priority learning needs.

Where more than one "teacher" turns up for a topic area, they may arrange to co-teach the topic. Or the person who is more heavily engaged sharing knowledge on other topics, might drop out of this one.

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Ivan Scheier
607 Marr
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 87901
Tel (505) 894-1340

For comments and editing suggestions please contact Mary Lou McNatt