Imaginary Buffet (or Potluck)
The purpose of this activity is to engage students with each other’s ‘small talk’, by making a game out of active listening.
Since each person’s response builds on the previous person’s contribution, it is a great activity to help participants ideate and focus. The activity might be especially useful as an exercise after a break (i.e. upon students’ return, before diving into the next task).
No preparation is required other than explaining the activity.
A facilitator sets up a scenario: “Imagine a buffet line.” Then, the facilitator animates the scene and invites participants to add objects to that scene:
- “I’m going through the buffet line and I’m adding food to my plate. I’m eating an orange and…”
This is the cue to the next participant who repeats what the previous person said and adds something to the growing list:
- “I’m eating an orange and roasted potatoes and...”
- “I’m eating an orange and roasted potatoes and one lettuce leaf and…”
- “I’m eating an orange and roasted potatoes and one lettuce leaf and my grandmother’s rice pudding and…”
In effect, this activity relies on two tasks: repeating what the preceding person said verbatim and then adding to it. This activity can be turned into a memory game, but it can be just as fun when the particular items have creative flair or personal importance.
The length of time depends on the number of participants and how many items are added to the scene. It can be designed with a limit in mind (“let’s have ten people speak”), but it can also be open-ended (or end in absurdity). While this activity can be adapted in an asynchronous format, part of the fun is in trying to recall all of the previous items in real time.
Adaptations and examples
- Vary the scenarios (e.g. “I’m hosting a party and I’m going to prepare…” or “I’m decorating a dessert and I’m going to add…” or “I’m going to a potluck and I want to bring…”)
- Add structure (e.g. items on the list must follow the sequence of an alphabet)
- This activity can be used in language learning contexts when needing to practice a specific vocabulary set (e.g. I tripped and fell and hurt my [list of body parts] or Yesterday I [list of verbs in past tense]).
- This activity can also be adapted into a course assignment in the form of an elaborate recap: “In this course, we covered concept A by this thinker, concept B by that author, concept C...”
Of note: food is inextricably tied with identity, values, memory, place, and cultural practices such that seemingly benign comments ‘about food’ are never just about food, for those judgments may reverberate in an affective register of pain and/or shame. This can also extend to ‘food truths’ where what may be ‘true’ for one person (e.g. I eat beef, I eat with my hands) may not resonate with others.
While food can ostensibly bring us together, it can also enable distinction and discriminate, so facilitation and creating judgment-free spaces will be key to this exercise, especially if the lists are comprised of food items! Ultimately, the goal of this activity is to create virtual inclusivity through imagined food events and rely on intentional hospitality to make people feel comfortable, not alienated.