When working with a group at all, and especially when planning a program over a day or more, it is critical to have a good knowledge of how energy levels work, and how to manipulate them to get best results. Usually it is desirable to have high energy levels, as then participants are able to discuss, create, and learn more effectively. Some activities - such as story telling or meditation- work better with a slightly lower energy level. Jewish student leaders need to know how to predict energy levels, how to change them, and how to adjust to them so that activities are successful. Energy levels don't just need to be right at the start of a session, but need to remain at the right level through the session, which in itself can be fairly challenging.
Identifying Energy Levels
First of all, you need to know roughly when 'lulls' are likely to come. The low energy lulls that you can essentially plan for are those that happen due to natural energy fluctuations within an adult's day. The most obvious lulls are the first thing in the morning lull (which depends upon when people wake up), the after lunch lull (which is the biggest, as energy is used to digest - the more people eat the more significant the lull), before dinner (when people start to get hungry), and late at night (although this can also be replaced by hyper-activity). These lulls should be planned for, and activities planned with them in mind. Energetic activities can be run at these times, but it is important that a high activity level is worked up to, and an activity doesn't start too energetic.
Working with a group, you need to be able to observe energy levels from watching the participants. If participants are sprawled across the floor, they are unlikely to be keen to run around, but they might be keen to sit and discuss something easy. If people are throwing things around and running around, they probably don't want to be reading for the next hour.
Working With Energy Levels
To Get A Group More Energetic
Quick Physical Energisers - Have the group stand-up and move. Some movement suggestions are: clap hands, stretch or jump up and down. Although this may feel awkward at first, it does get the energy going for a short time. You may find that you have to do a number of these exercises through the course of the day, although after a few participants might get annoyed.
Quick Mental Energisers - Mental energisers are creative mental exercises with no relevance to the workshop agenda. They are used as a "cerebral break". The technique is to have the group take a few minutes to do quick, non-relevant brainstorming. The key here is to have the participants do brainstorming problems that are geared towards "as many solutions as you can come up with" rather then "find the right answer". Perhaps get groups to list songs with a certain word in the title, or famous Jews, or whatever.
Game - Play a game that involves expending some energy. You need to be enthusiastic when introducing it; participants might be slow to get involved but if they respect you they should join in.
Direct Question - When you experience a lull while working on the principle objective, you can ask questions directly to specific people. This can be pretty unkind as people really don't want to be picked on, and you should be very careful about who you use this technique with. But, if you are sensitive to the fact that people might not know and you will need to move things on, you can ask directly. It will definitely wake the group up, as everybody else will become scared of being asked. Smacks of school a little bit, and students could get annoyed.
Sweets - Putting sweets out for participants to eat will give them a sugar boost, which can provide valuable short-term energy. Use sweets that last a long time in the mouth.
Body Movement - By walking around the room, between and around the participants, you raise their awareness of you and focus their attention. Your movement gives a target for the participants to follow in so doing they need to wake up a bit.
Increase Your Energy - When you feel yourself losing energy, your participants probably feel the same thing. This is when they will rely on you to jump-start the process and to set the energy level. The challenge is to generate enthusiasm no matter how tired you are.
Music - Play very energetic background music.
Decreasing Energy Levels
Seating - Allow participants to relax, sit back, and lie down if they want. Allow them to bring cushions or pillows if available.
Lighting - Turn lights down or off, and students will either relax or try to get together. Usually the first.
Voice - Soothe participants with a very calm voice, like a parent telling a bedtime story. This will relax participants.
When The Energy Level Is Wrong
Take a Break - When all else fails and you have lost the group's attention or interest-take a break. It doesn't have to be long. Suggest that participants go to the toilet, get a snack, go for a quick walk, smoke, or whatever. Participants should appreciate that you have treated them as adults and will come back more ready to take part in your activity.
Be Flexible - This is the general rule of hadracha and it applies in particular to energy levels. You need to be able to calm down an activity by cutting bits out, but also to make an activity more energetic by introducing competitions, games, and physical activity.