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Open Sentences

Posted by Jutta Goldammer from Visionautik Akademie


Group size

2 – 500

Subgroup size


Is participant experience relevant?

It's okay if participants haven't seen the inside of a classroom in years.

Physical trust needed

Mental trust needed



10 minutes – 30 minutes

Experience level of the facilitator

taken part OR some facilitation experience

Number of facilitators


Location requirements

It can be done anywhere, even in a lecture hall, but it is nice if you can spread out in a room so the pairs don't disturb each other while talking.
A timer and a bell.


Level of activation


Hidden curriculum

-There's no thought, feeling or idea that is not worthy to be expressed and heard.
-We can support each other.
-Everything you express is right as it is your unique way to feel and to see the world.

Woo-Woo Level – How touchy-feely is this method?

From 1.Rationalist-Materialist “No feelings here, folks.” to 5.Esoteric-Shamanic Bleeding Heart:

Innovation Phases:

2 Creating an Innovation-Friendly Culture
3 Fostering New Perspectives & Ways of Thinking
4 Idea Generation
5 Grounding the Idea
9 Evaluation

Method Category:

Appreciative / Community building
Awareness raising
Idea generator
Integration of input into daily life
Problem Solving
Social skills
Team Building / Trust Building


“Open Sentences” is an easy-to-lead interactive process in pairs. It is a structure for spontaneous expression and attentive listening. The Open Sentences Process helps explore a topic and often brings to light surprising thoughts, feelings, and new ideas.


Incomplete Sentences



Incomplete sentences trigger the wish to finish them. Just like questions, open sentences can be used in many different ways, for all kind of topics. We present to you Open Sentences, an exercise we had especially good experiences with, introduced by Joanna Macy.

This exercise is embedded in a setting of pairwork with a deep listener as a support to explore thoughts, feelings and ideas around a topic. This method helps people listen with rare receptivity as well as speak their thoughts and feelings frankly. It helps dive right into things that matter, creates trust, and vitalizes the group.


Joanna Macy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUB-h9SlJs8 (Descriptive Video Link)


1 Selecting Open Sentences for your purpose

Find a few open sentences around the topic you want your participants to explore. Four or five sentences is a good number for your group to dive into the topic but not get exhausted. When you choose the order of your sentences make sure you start with something people find easy to talk about, e.g. on gratitude, to make it easier to gain confidence with the partner and the exercise.

For your inspiration you can find a collection of open sentences. Most of them are from the book "Coming back to life" by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, with some alterations and amendments by Visionautik Akademie:

Open Sentences on Gratitude
Some things I love about being on earth are...
A place that was magical or wonderful to me as a child was...
A person who helped me believe in myself was...
Some things I enjoy doing or making are...
A highlight in my life when I felt very strong and wonderful was...
Some things I appreciate about myself are...

Open Sentences on Honoring our Pain
What concerns me most about the world today is...
When I see what's happening to the natural world, what breaks my heart is...
When I see what's happening to our society what breaks my heart is...
When I think of the world we will leave our children, it looks like...
Feelings about all this that I carry around with me are...
Ways I avoid these feelings are...
Ways I use feelings are...

Open Sentences about Time
When I am in a hurry, my body feels...
When I am in a hurry, my mind is like...
Nowadays I don't have time to...
Lack of time affects my relationships in these ways...
If I had all the time in the world, I would...

Open Sentences for Going Forth
Something I can do every day to help life on the Earth is...
Something I can do with other people to be part of the Great Turning is...
A thought that encourages me to move on is...

2 Pairing up

Let your group find pairs. In an auditorium you can just ask them to pair up with their neighbour. If the room allows it, it is nice to let the group stand up walk around, look at each other and ask them to stop at a certain point and pair up with the person next to them. This is especially helpful if the people in the group don't know each other yet or if there are always the same people hanging around together and you want to bring some fresh air into the group constellations. Make them spread out in the room and sit down with their partner opposite them. Tell them that to determine who of them is person A and who is person B. This helps giving directions later on.

3 Explain the exercise

Tell them that after your explanation you will say one incomplete sentence. Person A's task will be to repeat the open sentence and complete it with whatever spontaneously comes to their mind. Person B's task will be to listen as attentively and supportively as they can. Underline that their role is just listening: it is not a conversation. This will go on for a minute or two. When they hear the bell it is time to swap roles. Make sure everyone has understood.

4 Completing Open Sentences

Start with the exercise by saying out loud the first open sentence. Repeat it for clarity. And then partner A repeats the sentence again and keeps talking while partner B listens until the bell rings. Then partner B repeats the open sentence once more and continues with his/her own words and thoughts.


It the exploration is about personal topics let your participants journal after the exercise what they have experienced and close the exercise by sharing some impressions and insights in the plenum.
If it is a more general topic or about collecting insights and ideas from the group, you might form triples instead of pairs and have person C take notes of what person A had said (the roles rotate here too, of course). Do not combine the roles of the listener and the harvester, the listeners needs all their focus to listen carefully. After the exercise you can ask everyone to condense their harvesting into the most important insights, write them on post-its, and gather/cluster them in the plenum.



We at Visionautik Akademie often use Open Sentences right at the beginning of a workshop or seminar. We usually then use appreciative open sentences that invite storytelling about strengths and good moments in the lives of the participants. You can see how talking about those topics makes the participants grow and become more and more alive and confident in a new group. With such a start where everyone feels seen and heard and is being encouraged to talk about themselves in a positive way, the participants lose the fear of making mistakes or being laughed at or not being accepted in the group. That is a wonderful base from which to enter into an innovation process with ease.


If the questions build on one another, it might be better to stick to person A during all questions till the end and only swap roles after a whole run-through.


What do I do if my group has an uneven number of participants?

Trainers for this method can be hired here:

Visionautik Akademie, The Work That Reconnects Network www.visionautik.de

Train-the-trainer seminars for this method can be found here:

The work that reconnects network http://workthatreconnects.org/events-7/

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