The Paper Clip Experience

I just returned from presenting three sessions for the LEADER Summit in Marksville, LA. One of the presentations was entitled "Let's Get Unreal! How to Plan and Facilitate a Creatively Engaging Group Experience for Older Adults."

I promised the constituents I would provide the lesson plan for "The Paper Clip Experience" which we experienced together at the Summit, and which I field-tested with two groups of older adults last week. The following lesson plan is an example of the type of "Experiences" I've included in my book, "Engage! 28 Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults" (ArtAge Pub.). To purchase a copy, click here.

The Paper Clip Experience

By Kareen King

When to Use: March, April, September, October and November


-          A box or container filled with a variety of paper clips


As a prop, bring a box or container filled with a variety of paper clips and hold it in front of the participants. Ask them to guess what’s inside. Shake it. Then ask them to fill in the blank in the following quote by U.S. Baseball Executive Bill Veek: “Baseball is the only thing beside the ______________ (paper clip) that hasn’t changed.”

Background information:

A paper clip is a device made of bent wire or plastic used to hold several sheets of paper together by means of pressure. Paper clips, which are called “binders” in Norway, were worn on the lapels of Norwegians as a symbol of resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II. Notable dates:

-          National Paperclip Day, according to internet algorithms,  is observed on May 29.

-          The first patent for a bent wire clip was awarded in the United States to Samuel B. Fay on April 23, 1867.

-          The “Gem” (Swedish for “paper clip”) which is the most common type of wire paper clip, was introduced to the United States on March 1, 1892.

-          The modern paper clip was patented to William D. Middlebrook of Waterbury Connecticut on November 9, 1899.

-          The machine for making wire paper clips was patented on November 27, 1899 (Source:

-          Johan Vaaler, the Norwegian inventor who was erroneously credited with the invention of the common “gem” paper clip, was born on March 15, 1866 (died on March 14, 1910).

-          Joe Fab, the award-winning and Emmy-nominated producer, writer and director who produced, wrote, and co-directed the feature documentary Paper Clips, was born on October 4, 1951.

-          Paper Clips, the documentary film about the Paper Clips Project, was released on September 8, 2004.

Activity: Human Paper Clip Sculptures Improv

Invite a group of volunteer performers to act as human paper clips. Instruct them to move among one another improvisationally until they link their bodies together in a creative prose.  Yell “Freeze!” Have them repeat this activity several times, each time with a new way of linking, then posing. At the conclusion, ask the participants to describe what they saw. Acknowledge answers verbally and on a dry erase board for visual learners. Then ask what each pose had in common, the answer of course being they were linked or bound together. Then have them rove about the participants to make brief connections via linking arms, fingers, ankles, etc. as they move from person to person until everyone has experienced a connection.

Activity: Paper Clip Sculptures

Distribute one paper clip to each person. Instruct them to fiddle with the clips during the Experience. Later, check to see how the paper clips have been reconfigured. Some research suggests that how you reshape your paper clip reveals something about your psychological profile or personality traits.

Activity: Paper Clips Project

The Paper Clips Project was an endeavor to answer a middle school student’s question regarding the Holocaust, “What does six million look like?” This led to a commitment to honor every person exterminated by the Nazis. The end result was a memorial railcar filled with not just six million, but eleven million paper clips which represented the six million Jews and five million gypsies, homosexuals, and other victims of the Holocaust. The railcar was placed in the Tennessee schoolyard as a reminder of the difference that can be made by educators and their students. For more information, visit Ask the participants to think of other individuals or creatures that might be honored by collecting paper clips. Consider starting a “project” of your own to honor the humanity of those otherwise overlooked.

Activity: The Paper Clips Link Game

The Norwegian Resistance Movement which began as a means to resist Nazi Germany’s occupation of Norway included an outbreak of civil disobedience in 1940, when students of Oslo University wore paper clips on their lapels as a symbol of solidarity and unity. At the time, the wearing of paper clips as a symbol of being bound together was illegal and could lead to arrest and punishment. Most recently, Americans have attached safety pins to their lapels, shirts and dresses to show their support to those including minorities, immigrants, women, and members of the L.G.B.T. community who are vulnerable to emotional abuse. Ask the participants what they think the word “solidarity” means. Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” Polarity is defined as diametrical opposition. Ask what would happen if we aimed to find what we have in common with one another rather than focus on what keeps us apart? Then lead the group in a game of The Paper Clips Link.  Instructions are as follows: With your container of paperclips in hand, make statements of unity or agreement of feeling or action that may spark a common interest or mutual support within the group. For example, “The paper clips link for everyone who has eaten breakfast today.” Ask for a show of hands for those in agreement. If even one person raises his hand, link two paperclips together. Continue until you have a long chain of paper clips. Say that the chain represents what we have in common, or what binds us together. The following is a list of possible topics: Favorite foods, favorite colors, loneliness, happiness, fear, excitement, disappointment, beauty, friendship, hunger, love, loss, family, justice, heroes, patriotism, work, youth, age, etc.

Activity: Aesop’s Fable: The Father and His Sons

With the help of some playful volunteers, act out the following story.

·         Once there was a father whose sons were always fighting with one other. (Players improv quarreling)

·         With each fight, the father commanded them to stop, but they ignored him. (Players demonstrate various ways in which the father fails to break up the sons’ fights)

·         Grieved, he decided to teach them a lesson about the power of unity. So, one day, he ordered they gather a pile of sticks, each stick about the thickness of a pencil. (Players pantomime gathering sticks)

·         When they returned with their sticks, the father then asked them to each choose one stick from the pile. (Players pantomime gathering one stick each)

·         One by one, he asked each son to break his single stick. (Each player takes a turn easily breaking his “stick”)

·         Finally, one of the sons laughed and said, “Father, this is ridiculous! Why are you making us do this? Obviously we have the strength to break these puny sticks!”
The father smiled and replied, "Just you wait and see."
He then ordered the first son to take the remaining sticks and tie them into a bundle. (Players demonstrate)

·         “Now try to break the sticks," the father commanded. (Players pantomime repeated efforts to break the bundle of sticks, yet without success)
At last the father explained his reasoning saying, "You boys are like these sticks. If you cooperate and stand united, no one will be able to break you. If, on the other hand, you fight and argue with one another and act on your own, it will be easy for your enemies to break you. Please take this lesson to heart and stick together."

·         The moral of the story: Strength comes from unity.

Activity: Paper Clip Haiku

Create a haiku about the paper clip. A haiku consists of three lines, the first and third lines have five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. For example:

Paper Clip

By Kareen King

One lone paper clip

Resistance and connection

Symbolizes much

Activity: Red Rover Wishes

Ask for a show of hands for those who remember playing Red Rover as children. It is game played between two lines of at least five players each who are positioned approximately thirty feet apart. The first team calls a player out by saying or singing, “Red rover, red rover, send ________ right over.” The person called then runs to the other line and tries to break the first team’s chain which is formed by the linking of hands. If the player fails to break the chain, he must join that team. If he breaks through the chain, however, he may select either of the two broken “links” and take one of them to join his team. This continues until only one player is left on a team. He must also try and break through a link in the opposing team. If he doesn’t succeed, the opposing team wins. Otherwise, he is able to get a player back for his team.

As a variation to this game, say that we’re going to make this a well-wishing game. For example, say that you’re going to wish something good upon a participant by saying something like, “Red rover, red rover, send candy right over.” They in turn make a wish for another participant such as, “Red rover, red rover, send giggles right over.” Do this until everyone has received a wish.

Activity: Song Fest

-          I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing by Billy Davis

-          Put Your Hand in the Hand by Gene MacLellan

-          We Shall Overcome originally by Charles Albert Tindley

-          Bind Us Together by Bob Gilman

-          Love Will Keep Us Together by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield

Closer: Link Arms

To link arms is to put the bend of your arm into the bend of another person’s arm. The linking of arms was demonstrated by the Seahawks during the National Anthem at a game in September, 2016. It was their way to show solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s controversial preseason protest against racial injustices in the U.S. “We are a team comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, and as a team we have decided to stand and interlock arms in unity.” -  Doug Baldwin, Seattle Wide Receiver

Invite the participants to close by linking arms. Then have them repeat after you, “We are like paper clips – bendable and linkable. Let’s link together!”

Note: For those who lead devotionals for older adults, the following scriptures relate to the "binding" theme of paper clips:

Paper Clips Devotional

Colossians 3:12-17: “ 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Ephesians 4:1-2 “2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.