Envelopes Lecture

Envelopes is a flexible structure for designing training games. We have used this design as an effective follow-up activity to review to content of lecture.


After making your presentation, give an envelope with a different question to each of the four teams. Ask the team members to write a response, place it inside the envelope, and give it to the next team. Repeat this procedure three rounds. During the last round ask each team to comparative evaluate the three responses inside each envelope.


To review the content of a lecture by recalling the key points to respond to open-ended questions.


  • Minimum: 8
  • Maximum: 24
  • Best: 16 to 20


15 to 30 minutes for the lecture. 20 to 30 minutes for the activity.

Supplies and Equipment

  • Blank envelopes
  • Bank index cards
  • Timer
  • Whistle

Room Arrangement

This activity involves collaboration among the members of four teams. Arrange four tables in a roughly circular configuration. Explain that during the game, each team will pass an envelope to the next team in the clockwise direction.


Plan the presentation. Outline the content and estimate the estimate the time requirement. Identify the key points you want to make.

Prepare open questions.  Come up four open ended questions related to the content of your lecture. Make sure these questions require higher-order thinking and can be answered briefly in four or five sentences.

Write your responses. Use your most legible handwriting to respond to each question on a separate index card.  Place this set of four “expert responses” on your table.


Deliver your lecture. Playfully warn the participants that there would be a test after the lecture. Encourage everyone to listen carefully and to take notes. Make your presentation at a normal pace.

Conduct the first round. At the end of the lecture, give one of the envelopes (with a question written on it) and a blank index card to each team. Ask the members of the team to review and discuss the open question. Announce a 3-minute time limit. Within this limit, ask each team to write its responses to the question on one side of the card in a brief and legible fashion.

Conclude first round. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle and announce the end of the first round. Ask each team to place its response card inside the envelope, leave the envelope unsealed, and pass it to the next team. Instruct the the teams not to open the envelope they received.

Conduct two more rounds. Give another blank index card to each team. Ask the teams to read the open question on the envelope they received, but not to look at the response card inside the envelope. Tell the team members to repeat the procedure of writing a brief and legible response. When the 3-minute time limit is up, ask the teams to place their response cards inside the envelopes and pass them to the next teams. Repeat the same procedure once more to conduct the third round.

Evaluate the responses. Announce that you will use a slightly different procedure for the fourth round. Ask each team to open the envelope, pull out the three response cards, and review the responses. The team members should evaluate the responses on a comparative basis and distribute100 points among the cards to indicate their relative merits. The teams should write the scores on the cards. Announce a 3-minute time limit for this activity.

Announce the results. Randomly select a team to make the first announcement. Ask the team to read the open question on the envelope and the items from the response cards, beginning with the lowest scoring card and progressing through the cards in an ascending order of scores. Finally, the team should announce how it distributed the 100 points.

Read the expert’s response.  Give the team the card with the response to this question that you wrote earlier. Explain that this response to the same question was written earlier by an expert. Ask a member of the team to read this response. Invite all participants to compare this response with the earlier responses.

Repeat the procedure. Ask each of the three other teams to read the question, read the answers in order of their scores, announce the scores, and read the expert answer.

Identify the winning team. Ask the teams to place the response cards on a table at the front of the room. Now call for a representative from each team to collect their three response cards, and ask the teams to compute their total score. Congratulate the team with the highest total score.

Debrief the participants. Ask the participants to comment on the key ideas they learned from the lecture and the activity. Tell the participants that you have one more open question as a homework for them to reflect and respond individually. Present this question: How would you apply the new skills and knowledge in your workplace?

Conclude the session. Thank the participants for their collaborative work and announce the end of the training session – and the beginning of the application activities.

Variations and Adjustment

Too many participants? Write another question on one more envelope and create five teams. Alternatively divide the entire group into eight teams and play two games, each with four teams.

Don’t have envelopes? Write the questions on four index cards. Ask each team to paper clip its response card behind the question card. After exchanging the paper clipped cards, instruct the teams not to read the response cards from the previous teams.

Play Sample

Recently we presented an Envelopes Lecture on how to give effective feedback. Here are a few notes from this training session.


These are the questions we wrote on the four envelopes:

  • What are three things to avoid when giving constructive feedback? What should we do instead?
  • What are different types of feedback given by the manager in the workplace?
  • Why do most managers avoid giving feedback to their associates?
  • What two suggestions do you have for giving feedback to your boss?

Expert Response

Here’s the expert response that we provided for the first question:

  • Do not pile up too many pieces of feedback in the same meeting. Focus on a single piece of feedback.
  • Do not give feedback in public. Have a private meeting.
  • Do not make your feedback sound like complaints. Present them as a collaborative problem-solving conversation.

Reuse the Template

You can use the game plan for Envelope Lecture as a template for designing training activities for your own topics. A key design strategy in this approach is to generate provocative questions that can be answered briefly. Here are some recent topics that we incorporated in Envelope Lectures, each with a sample open question for one of the envelopes:

Business Start-Up

Sample Question: Do you agree or disagree with this piece of conventional wisdom about starting a business: Follow your passion and money will follow you. Justify your response.

Decision Making

Sample Question: Decisions can be made by individuals and by groups. What is one important similarity and one important difference between these two approaches?


Sample Question: What are the three different definitions of authentic leadership?


Sample Question: What are some intriguing opportunities in store for this country’s future?


Sample Question: What are the major differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?