Gallery Walk (ice breaker activity)

The Gallery Walk is an icebreaker activity that exemplifies the principles that people already know a lot, including knowing what they need to learn, and, if this knowledge is elicited and affirmed, they become better at learning from others.

As participants in a course or workshop arrive at the first meeting, they can be given marker pens, grouped in 2s or 3s, asked to introduce themselves to each other, and directed to one of a number of flip chart stations. Each flip chart has a question. Participants review the answers already contributed by any previous groups and add their own, then move on around the stations. When the first groups returns to where they began, volunteers can be recruited to summarize the main themes and contrasts on the flip charts—one volunteer to each flip chart. They present these to the whole group, with the aid of an overhead transparency or simply as they stand by the flip chart in question. A sheet listing the flip chart estions can be distributed for participants who want to take notes.

Example 1: Gallery Walk Questions for Class 1 of a course on Educational Change

  1. What changes (big & small) are being pursued in teaching, schools, and educational policy?
  2. What kinds of experience prepare teachers, administrators, and policy makers to pursue change in constructive ways?
  3. What things would tell us that positive educational changes had happened?
  4. What do you hope will come from this semester’s experience?

Example 2: Gallery Walk Questions used at the start of a year long professional development course for math and science educators to promote inquiry and problem-solving in a watershed context.

  1. What factors (big & small) are involved in maintaining healthy watersheds?
  2. What watershed issues might translate well into math. and science teaching?
  3. What pressures & challenges do you see facing teachers wanting to improve math. and science teaching?
  4. What has helped you in the past make improvements successfully (+), and what has hindered you (-)?
  5. What things would tell you that positive educational changes had happened?
  6. What kinds of things do you hope will come from this course/ professional development experience?

Here are the specific reasons for using the Gallery Walk given by the hosts of the STEMTEC workshop (http://k12s.phast.umass.edu/~stemtec/) where I first experienced this activity:

“A useful classroom practice–

  1. Breaks the ice and introduces students who might otherwise never interact.
  2. Begins the community-building process so central to cooperative learning and emphasizes the collaborative, constructed nature of knowledge.
  3. Suggests to students their centrality in the course, and that their voices, ideas, and experiences are significant and valued.
  4. Allows for both consensus and debate – two skills essential to knowledge-building – and facilitates discussion when the class reconvenes as a larger group.
  5. Enables physical movement around the room, an important metaphor for the activity at the course’s core.
  6. Depending on the gallery walk questions, provides one way for the instructor to gauge prior knowledge and skills, and identify potentially significant gaps in these.
  7. Depending on the gallery walk questions, provides a way to immediately introduce students to a central concept, issue or debate in the field.
  8. Through reporting back, provides some measure of closure by which students can assess their own understandings. “

from http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/gallerywalk.html
Updated: 6-17-02, with revisions on 12-6-10.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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