This activity is borrowed and adapted from Dave Burgess' book “Teach Like A Pirate”, namely his “Day One” class activity - with a twist. Dave's book is a natural follow-up activity after you complete a “Designing Education” workshop, and makes a great, light read for a group book study among educators. You should buy his book. I neither get, nor want, any commission from your purchase. Just your unending gratitude for turning you on to such a great resource.
This activity should work well on its own in the one-day version of this workshop, or as the first activity for a group who do not all already know each other. Don't overlook it for a group who do already know each other, though. The group can learn new things about each other, and it can provide valuable insights for the presenter.
A batch of varied materials for each group. Some ideas to go in the batch are: Small or mini-cans of modeling compound (aka “Play Dough”), craft sticks, markers, glue sticks, glitter, books or magazines that can be torn up, wax-covered bendable sticks (e.g., "Wikki Stix"), pipe cleaners, pretty much anything from the craft section and beyond. There shouldn't necessarily be enough of everything for everyone in the group to have their own.
One piece of posterboard or a large piece of paper (tabloid size, 11“x17”) per participant, or one unfolded pizza box per participant. These are available online, at food service supply stores, or by special request at your local pizza place.
Organize the participants into pairs. If you have a group of 3 due to having an odd number of participants, that's okay. Tell the workshop participants that their first activity is to create something from the materials provided that represents their group partner in some way (in the group of three, if you have one, each person creates something that represents the person to their left - e.g., A creates something that represents B, B creates something that represents C, C creates something that represents A). Encourage them to think beyond purely professional representations. By producing something that represents someone else, participants get a quick lesson in developing empathy by asking questions to learn more about their group partner.
As an added twist, consider providing empty (unfolded) pizza boxes, one for each participant. When finished, each person's project must fit inside the (folded) pizza box. This helps contain the final size of the projects. This also makes the projects much easier to move, store , and stack.
Once the groups are done, there should be some space where a wall and a counter or table are available for all of the individual productions to be put on display for the rest of the workshop, like a gallery! Allow some time for at last a few participants to present their project to the whole group.