SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
The Playhouse Platform
The Playhouse Platform: An Introduction by Kat Koppett
Welcome to Kat's new column.
Recommended Improv Resources by Kat Koppett
Learn more about improv and its implications.
Word Drill by Kat Koppett
Exercise your spontaneity muscle.
Rapid Instructional Design
Practice and Review Games
Providing practice is more important than providing extra content.
Half a test is better than the whole one?
Content Analysis by Sonia Ribaux
Serious use for a playful game.
Reading More with Les
Openers and Closers by Les Lauber
Two more useful books for your library.
The Need To Talk by Brian Remer
An important insight in exactly 99 words.
Single Item Survey
Results and a Request
Here's what you said. Can you say some more?
SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.
Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan
Associate Editor: Jean Reese
Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2007 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:
Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2007 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for permission.
All registered subscribers receive Thiagi GameLetter free of charge.
However, to prevent us from becoming bankrupt, we have decided to adopt a Busker Protocol. If you like what you read, if you find it useful, and if you'd like us to continue publishing the newsletter, please feel free to chip in with any financial contribution. Our estimated annual cost for this newsletter is $30,000. So we suggest an annual contribution of $30 (which is less than one-third the subscription cost of Thiagi's earlier paper-based newsletter). We would appreciate any amount that you send us, but make sure it is less than $30,000 (since we don't want to make a profit). You can mail your check to Thiagi, 4423 East Trailridge Road, Bloomington, IN 47408 or call us at (812) 332-1478 to charge the amount to a credit card. Or you can charge your credit card online, through The Thiagi Group, Inc. Please let us know if you need an invoice for financial record keeping.
Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to email@example.com . Thanks!
Let me start by telling you how I met Thiagi. A mutual colleague invited me to sit in on one of his public workshops in 1997 or so. I was fascinated immediately by his philosophies and techniques, of course, though at this point what I remember most vividly is compulsively doing magic squares for hours on end.
That was the extent of our contact until I got a call from him, through the grapevine for help on a video project he was planning. I was so flattered. I was still relatively new to the field, but clearly, I had impressed him if he was tracking me down. Turns out he wondered if I would be willing to play the part of an R2D2-type robot in a video he was working on. I guess my acting background had some influence, but mostly he said he thought I was short enough for the costume they had in mind.
In the decade since then Thiagi has been a full-fledged mentor. I owe most of my professional success and a large chunk of my effective programming to him. Even before I was an official member of his team, he sponsored me at conferences, wrote the foreword to my book (Training to Imagine), offered sage advice (but only of the solicited variety) and oh, yeah, introduced me to my husband.
Now, he has adopted my company and helped us create The Thiagi Playhouse, a division of The Thiagi Group devoted to the use of theatre and storytelling techniques—especially improvisational theatre—to enhance organizational performance.
What's the deal with improv in business, anyway, you may be asking. Or maybe not. The use of improv in organizations had become so popular that there is an entire network devoted to its practitioners. But for those of you who are not familiar with the concept, improvisers make up scenes, songs, stories, sometimes entire plays on-the-spot, collaboratively, with no script or pre-planning. In order to succeed at this daunting task, they have developed philosophies and techniques that can be applied to any environment in which individuals need to interact and cooperate with others. And, as the world moves faster and becomes less predictable, good improv skills become a necessity. Improvisers have found ways to exercise their spontaneity and risk-taking “muscles”. They have discovered principles that encourage innovation and flexibility. They practice a philosophy which supports a culture of teamwork, accountability and continuous learning. In fact, improvisers have been working for years on those skills that have been promoted in such recent business books as A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink and Mindset by Carol Dweck, which propose that it is only by fundamentally changing how we interact with the world that we will continue to prosper. In each of these columns we will offer you tips, philosophies and exercises from the world of improvisational theatre that you can apply to your training and organizational lives. We look forward to the conversation.
The Applied Improv Network is the source for practitioners of improv in organization and other non-performance settings.
This book is a wonderful introduction to improv philosophy.
This is a rich source of activities and games.
An exciting exploration of how our 21st century world demands new ways of thinking and working.
(Inserted by Thiagi.) Kat's Training to Imagine is a collection of practical improvisational theater techniques to enhance creativity, teamwork, leadership, and learning.
This book has ideas that change the way you see the world and help you make positive changes in your life.
People often tell us that their ideas are not heard and accepted. Often a participant will say, “Nobody ever says ‘yes’ to my ideas. Everyone always listens to _____, but no one listens to me.” In response, we have been relating the following tale.
Keith Johnstone is an improv guru famous around the world, the author of one of the improv “bibles”, Impro, and the creator of a number of popular improv formats, “Theatresports”, among them. He is also the founder of the Loose Moose Theatre Company in Calgary, Canada. At one of his stints teaching at the BATS Improv Summer School in San Francisco, he shared this experience.
When “the Moose” was first founded, there were a group of artists who collaborated on the work. They would meet, discuss ideas, and jointly create. One day, someone said to Johnstone, with a patina of resentment, “We always do what you say. We always go with your ideas.”
“That's not true,” Johnstone replied. “You guys reject my ideas all the time.” He listed six or seven ideas he'd had in the past months that the group had nixed.
“It's not that you don't reject my ideas,” he concluded. “I just keep coming up with new ones. Eventually, you're bound to like one of them.”
What Keith Johnstone knew was that the way to get your ideas accepted, is to continually offer more ideas. If one solution or plan is rejected, do not get offended or overly attached to it. Offer another. Easier said than done, you might say. How can I keep coming up with ideas?
What improvisers learn is to exercise their “spontaneity muscle”, and therefore gain access to the cornucopia of ideas that they might otherwise not have access to.
Here is an activity designed to help you bypass your internal censor and increase your creative output—not just during official “brainstorming” sessions, but all the time.
This is a straightforward word association game. In groups of three to five, participants take turns sitting in the “hot seat”. The other participants shoot words at them, and they respond with the first word or phrase that comes to mind.
Arrange the participants into groups of three to five.
Ask one of them to stand facing the others, who form a horseshoe in front of them.
One by one the other members of the group throw out a word. The person on the “hot seat” responds to each word with the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Then he fields the next word and responds.
After a few minutes, the participants switch, and a new person takes the hot seat.
Effective training requires these two critical activities:
My friend Clark Aldrich is fond of repurposing a quote from Abraham Lincoln and announcing that if he had eight hours to learn something, he would spend six of those hours in practice activities. If we accept this guideline, then training should allocate a significant portion of time for practice activities.
In the previous issue of TGL, I explained how participants can actually create training content. However, this approach works only if participants have sufficient (and, preferably, varied) levels of experience and expertise on the training topic. When we are dealing with a brand new training topic, we have to provide new content before conducting practice activities.
Several resources are available for presenting new content. Once content is presented, we can then use different types of training activities to review this content and provide practice opportunities for applying them. We call these activities PRGs (Practice and Review Games).
Here are five different types of PRGs, depending on different types of content resources:
Let's begin with the time-honored technique of presenting new content through the lecture mode. Although we frequently make fun of this technique, lectures have several advantages, including a tight structure, latest content, and the knowledge of a subject-matter expert. What traditional lectures lack are interaction and two way communication. A special type of PRG called interactive lectures closes this gap by presenting the basic content through a lecture and then using a structured activity to encourage participants to interact with the content, with each other, and with the facilitator.
Here are a couple of specific examples of interactive lectures:
This type of interactive lecture makes use of the principle that the best way to learn something is to teach it. During the first round of Multilevel Coaching, the facilitator gives a demonstration to a small group of participants (for example, four) on a topic where hands-on practice is essential (for example, the Heimlich maneuver). You then organize the participants into two teams (for example, Red and Blue) of two people each. During the second round, members of these teams individually recruit, demonstrate, and train a new participant. Once a team member of the Red team has taught a new participant, she takes the learner to a member of the Blue team for performance assessment. The Blue team member observes the participant demonstrate the newly learned skill and either awards a passing certificate or provides constructive feedback for remedial learning. When the new participant passes the performance assessment, she becomes a certified member of the Red team (the team whose member taught her). The process of recruiting additional participants and training them continues until all participants master the skill and pass the performance assessment.
During the first round of this interactive lecture, participants listen to a presentation. They are then divided into groups of five. Each group is given an open-ended question that requires the recall and synthesis of important information from the earlier lecture. Each participant independently writes an answer to the question. The facilitator collects answers from each group and gives them to another group. During the second round, the groups now work as teams and jointly review different answers and select the best one. During the third round, each team reads the best answer, and briefly comments on the criteria they used. The facilitator identifies the author of the best answer and leads a round of applause.
These PRGs involve participants completing a reading assignment and working through a structured activity to review the content and apply it to a suitable task. The source of the training content may range from a short aphorism to a lengthy book.
Here are a couple of examples of textra games:
During the first round of this PRG, each participant picks a different book on the same topic (for example, leadership) and spends some time scanning, skimming, and highlighting six practical guidelines that can be immediately applied back on the job. During the second round, each participant pairs up with another and takes a turn to share the practical ideas gleaned from the book, listening carefully to each other and taking notes of the guidelines. During the third round, each pair of participants joins another pair. In the group of four, participants takes turn presenting one of the guidelines that they learned from the partner during the previous round. After all guidelines have been shared, the group selects the one best idea. During the final round, a representative from each group presents this best idea to the entire group.
In this PRG, the facilitator distributes a dozen or so pithy sayings related to the training topic (for example, change) to the participants in such a way that each participant receives two different sayings and each saying is given to two different participants. During the first round, participants reflect on the two pithy sayings and come up with their own interpretations and explanations. During the second round, the facilitator announces one pithy saying. The two participants who received this pithy saying take turns to present their personal analysis to the entire group. This process is repeated until all pithy sayings are explored.
In these days of MP3 players and podcasting, audio recordings provide a useful content resource. Some audio game PRGs require participants to listen to authentic recordings of on-the-job conversations (for example handling customer complaints or conducting exit interviews) and learn from them. Other audio games use recorded lectures as the content source.
Here are a couple of examples of audio games:
In this audio game, the facilitator assigns teams of participants to three or four listening stations where different audio recordings of job-related conversation are replayed. After carefully listening to these recordings and taking notes, each team comes up with a checklist of effective behaviors demonstrated by the key players in the recordings. During the next round, teams are reorganized in such a way that each new team includes a member of different original teams. Members of the new teams discuss their checklist items and develop an improved checklist. During the final round, participants plan for personal application of selected checklist items.
In this audio game, participants listen carefully to an audio recording of a lecture. Later, participants work as teams and prepare posters that graphically summarize the key ideas they heard in the lecture. When all posters are completed, teams move from one poster to another and identify graphical interpretations of key ideas.
Videos are powerful media for presenting training content in a dramatic fashion. Unfortunately, they sometimes tend to lull participants into a passive mode. Double exposure games (a memorable label coined by my friend Bill Matthews) is a type of PRG that involves viewing a videotape and working through a structured activity that requires review and application of the content.
Here are a couple examples of double exposure games:
In this double exposure game, participants watch a video documentary on some process (for example, stages of team development). Let's say that our video begins with a brief explanation of the four stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing in the growth of a work team. The video proceeds through a dramatized documentary of a team engaged in building a sailboat. Participants watch the documentary as the team goes through the three stages of forming, storming, and norming. The facilitator pauses the video at this stage, even though there is a 5-minute segment that deals with the performing stage. Participants now work in teams to come up with an outline of the concluding segment of the documentary. The teams take turns presenting their version of the final segment. The facilitator plays the rest of the video recording and participants discuss the relative merits of their concluding segments and the official one.
In this double exposure game, the facilitator forewarns participants to pay careful attention to important points in a video recording. After watching the presentation, participants work in teams to come up with a summary of the key points in exactly 16 words. The facilitator listens to summaries from different teams and selects the best summary. The activity continues with teams shrinking the summaries to exactly 8 words, borrowing memorable phrases and key points from each other. As before, the facilitator listens to these shortened summaries and selects the best one. During the final round, teams produce a four-word summary (in the form of a slogan or bumper sticker) and present them to the entire group.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, they could be used as efficient resources for presenting training content. Picture games rewards participants for carefully analyzing and interpreting key ideas that are presented visually.
Here are a couple examples of picture games:
Let's imagine that the facilitator is using a discovery approach to safety training. Teams of participants examine a portfolio of photographs of workplace situations. They attempt to identify violations of safety procedures. After a suitable time, teams are given a list of violations identified by a panel of safety experts. Teams compare their list with the experts' list and prepare a generic list of safety rules. They apply these rules for analyzing another set of photographs.
The facilitator gives teams of participants a graphical flowchart of different stages in a process. She also gives each team a close-up of a different stage that provides additional details. Teams study the overall graphic and the detailed depiction of one of the stages. Later, each team takes turns to explain details of what happens in different stages in the correct sequence.
Here are some main points about practice and review games:
The whole point of training is to enable participants to recall and apply new skills, knowledge, and attitudes.
In designing training, we should set aside ample time for structured practice-and-review activities.
Most training content is readily available in different forms such as lectures, reading materials, audio recordings, video recording, and pictures.
We can design activities that require participants to recall and apply the content they learned from different resources.
Practice opportunities contribute more to effective learning than the presentation of additional content.
We should hold participants accountable for practice and review.
Participants can assess each others' performance and provide useful feedback. This act of assessment works as an excellent learning tool.
Here is another important point that I did not emphasize earlier because I felt that you would have figured it out for yourself:
Although PRGs are organized according to different content resources, with suitable modifications, we can apply most of these activities with content presented through any resource.
Here's a quick example: We can use the Essence activity (in which teams write summaries that keep shrinking in their size) with a lecture, a reading assignment, an audio recording, a video recording, or a graphic.
Here's a practice and review activity for you: Recall different PRG activities and figure out how they can be attached to different content resources.
A recent new-hire orientation session in a large multinational company included a presentation about the company's IT policies and procedures, emphasizing security precautions. The presentation was followed by a test and collaborative scoring procedure that involved interactive learning.
Participants receive one of two different tests, one containing odd-numbered items and the other, even-numbered items. After answering the questions, each participant receives the answer key for the other half of the test. Participants pair up and help each other score their answers and discuss any discrepancies between their answer and the official answer. Participants also identify a fake (incorrect) answer in each answer key.
Interactive lecture. Tests. Answer key. Pair activity Incorrect answers.
To understand and recall key facts, concepts, and ideas from a presentation.
Maximum: Any number
Best: 10 to 30
This depends on the length and complexity of the content. In addition to the time for the lecture, be sure to include the time for answering the test and scoring the answers.
Prepare the test. Construct an objective test with 20 to 30 items related to the content of your lecture presentation. Use questions that require a short answer. If necessary, use multiple-choice and fill-in-the blank items. Arrange the test items in a logical order.
Prepare the answer key. Write the answers to each item. If necessary, specify alternative (but acceptable) answers.
Split the tests. Prepare two tests, one with all odd-numbered items and the other with all even-numbered items. Check to see if the two half-tests are at approximately equal levels of difficulty. If necessary, redistribute (and renumber) a few questions to make the two tests more balanced.
Split the answer keys. Split the answer keys so they correspond to the final versions of the two half-tests. In each answer key, select an answer somewhere in the middle and replace it with a fake answer that sounds plausible but is incorrect.
Make color-coded copies. Run off copies of the half test with the odd-numbered items (the Odd Test) and the answer key to the even-numbered items (the Even Answer Key) on green colored paper (or any other color of your choice). Notice that the test and answer keys duplicated on this colored paper do not correspond to each other. Make copies of the remaining half test (the Even Test) and the answer key (the Odd Answer Key) on a paper of different color.
Assemble test sets. Divide the total number of participants by two. Pick up that many tests of each kind. Mix up the tests so they are randomly arranged. Do the same with the answer keys. Keep the tests and answer keys in separate piles.
Make a lecture presentation. Begin your presentation by warning participants that there will be a test immediately following your presentation. Use slides or flip charts as needed.
Distribute the tests. Make sure that equal numbers of the Odd Test and the Even Test are distributed to participants in a random order.
Administer the test. Explain that you have distributed two different types of tests. Ask participants to respond to the tests independently without talking to each other or reading other people's answers. Announce a suitable time limit. At the end of time, blow a whistle and ask students to stop writing.
Score the tests. Distribute copies of the answer keys. Make sure that participants with the Odd Tests receive the Even Answers Key and vice versa. Tell participants to pair up with each other making sure that they have different types of tests (and answer keys). In each pair, ask participants to collaboratively score their answers by comparing them with the answer keys. In case of discrepancies between these answers, encourage participants to discuss the differences and decide whether the participant's answer is close enough to the answer in the key. If it is not, ask participants to discuss the answers and understand why the answer in the key is more accurate or appropriate.
Identify the fake answer. Soon after participants begin to cooperatively score their tests, blow the whistle to get their attention. Explain that one of the answers is actually incorrect (reflecting the real-life situation where not all official answers are correct). Invite participants to find the fake answer in each answer key and circle it.
Discuss the questions and answers. When you see that most participants have scored the tests, blow the whistle to get everyone's attention. Ask people to announce the fake answers. It is possible that some participants have misidentified the fake answers. Give feedback, discuss the fake answers, and supply the correct answers. Invite participants to discuss test items that were difficult or confusing. Provide suitable remedial instruction.
If you have a lot of content, divide your lecture into segments. As a rule of thumb, try to avoid straight lectures that are more than 20 minutes long. Intersperse the interactive test taking and scoring activity between one segment and the next.
If you have an odd number of participants, you will end up distributing one more Odd Test (or Even Test). When participants pair up, assign an extra participant to a pair so it becomes a triad. Members of this triad collaboratively score and discuss the answers just like the pairs.
|1. Make a lecture presentation.||Present a lecture on the training topic.||Listen and take notes.|
|2. Administer the tests.||Distribute equal numbers of the two different tests randomly to participants. Announce a time limit. Keep time and announce the end of the test-taking period.||Answer the test items without consulting with anyone else.|
|3. Score the responses.||Distribute the two different versions of the answer keys. Give instructions.||Pair up with a partner. Score both sets of answers. Identify the fake answer in the answer key.|
|4. Discuss the answers.||Ask participants to identify the fake answers and difficult questions. Provide suitable explanations.||Participate in the discussion.|
In the January issue of TGL, we introduced a card game called Dozens, and showed how it can be used with different content areas (such as outsourcing and critical thinking), and invited readers to contribute their own content for the cards. In the February issue, we published an interesting application of the game by Cathy Tencza. Here's another application of Dozens by Sonia Ribaux, my friend and past president of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association. (See our interview with Sonia in an earlier issue of TGL.)
Sonia's topic for the Dozens game is content analysis. During the initial stages of training design, this game could be used with subject-matter experts or experienced performers and it would be related to a given performance. The results would generate a content analysis, provided that the responses were recorded.
The game works very effectively. I tried it out with a client group that was providing inputs to a new employee orientation program. I got a lot of useful topics suggested in a rapid and spontaneous manner.
Here's the list of Sonia's categories for Content Analysis:
My friend Les Lauber is one of the most voracious readers I know. I have blackmailed him into reviewing a couple of useful books every month. Here is his third set of reviews.
Click the book covers to order them through Amazon. (We receive a small commission if you do this.)
When I train or facilitate I have no time for activities and events that accomplish only one goal. I look for things that meet multiple needs or desires. This book contains 61 multipurpose tools.
Pike and Solem write clear, concise directions for each opener or energizer. With very little effort, the activities can be adapted to different needs by changing questions. (Instead of asking “What is your favorite hobby,” for example, you can ask “What skill do you most use on the job?”)
In the opening pages, the authors provide a matrix so you can identify at a glance whether an activity is most useful as an icebreaker, networker, team builder, task tension reducer, relationship tension reducer, personal tension reducer, or Focuser. Each of the 61 activities falls into a minimum of three of these categories—helping me to accomplish multiple goals in my meetings and training sessions. The nine-page introduction offers hints and tips from Pike and Solem's years of experience. The combination of the matrix and the introduction provide incredible added value.
I have been consistently pleased with the results I get from these activities. The Four-Quadrant Name-Tent, Dreams and Nightmares, Group Milling, and Uniqueness and Commonalities have produced consistently useful results for me. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to trainers and meeting facilitators.
Lynn Solem and Bob Pike teamed up to present 50 of the best closers they have used in their Creative Training Techniques Workshops. Trainers looking for ways to end their sessions on a high note will find lots of opportunity lurking between the covers of this book.
Each activity is coded for its use in one or more of four categories: review content; action planning; celebration; and motivation. The instructions for each activity are clearly laid out, listing the activity's source, objective, class length, appropriate audience, group size, amount of time, equipment required, and the activity process. I have used over two-thirds of these closers at one time or another, and each one has hit its mark—even when I have been afraid that the activity was going south for a few minutes! The A to Z Review is one of my favorites for coming back to a group after a lunch or evening break. Colored Dots is a splendid technique for giving the participants a chance to commit to using the learning points on the job. Consulting Envelopes works well for both review and real-world problem-solving, and after trying the Geometric Close about four weeks ago I cannot imagine why I did not use it earlier. Trainers looking for creative ways to have participants reviewing material—enthusiastically—will find this book a useful one.
Brian Remer is Creative Learning Director at The Firefly Group ( firstname.lastname@example.org ). In addition to writing 99 powerful words every month for this column, Brian invents games and interactive strategies to expand learning and deepen insights.
I awoke excited, looking forward to the day's discoveries. But on the radio I heard distressing news. As it rolled around in my head, I sank deeper into the doldrums. By the time I arrived at the office my mood had become a mirror of that bleak, rain-swept November Monday.
Then I spoke to a colleague about the story I'd heard. He listened, nodding, silent. Immediately I felt better, less burdened.
Saying something out loud, getting it off your chest and onto the table, can change the mood. By noon, the sun had come out.
In the February issue, I presented the concept of the single item survey and requested TGL readers to respond to this single item: What one change in our newsletter would dramatically improve its effectiveness? Thirty-eight of you responded on last month's OQ page.
Thank you for your useful response.
Three of the popular suggested changes involve PDF versions of the newsletter, more ready-to-use games, and increased use of graphics. We are exploring ways to implement these suggestions.
Are you familiar with the concept of appreciative inquiry (AI)? It is an alternative to the traditional problem-solving approach. Instead of focusing on what is wrong, AI emphasizes positive aspects of a situation. The process typically involves encouraging participants to share stories of positive experiences with each other. The facilitator reviews these stories to identify themes for further inquiry. Participants create and share images of a preferred future and brainstorm ways to create that future.
For this month's single-item survey, I decided to use the AI approach. Here's the survey item:
What one feature of this newsletter do you like the most?
To respond to the question, visit this OQ page (opens in a new window) and type your short answer. You may include your name or keep your response anonymous. I will combine all responses, analyze them, and report the results. I will also make use of the information you supplied to maintain and enhance the positive features of TGL.