SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
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Rapid Instructional Design
Participants Generate Questions
Asking questions is a great way to learn.
Six places in Europe.
Create hundreds of training games using a grid.
Thiagi's Workshops in Switzerland
Join Thiagi in exciting and engaging workshops.
20 Mistakes Presenters Make
All items belong to the same category.
Reading More with Les
OJT at Two Different Levels by Les Lauber
From comprehensive programs to individual training.
Climbing Toward Goals by Brian Remer
An important insight in exactly 99 words.
Check It Out
Clark Aldrich's Blog ( http://clarkaldrich.blogspot.com/ )
Click the links and play the games.
Single Item Survey
Characteristics of Effective Training Games
What one thing makes a training game effective?
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
Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>
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Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2007 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
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In earlier articles, I explored the advantages of letting the participants generate training content. I also described some training games and activities for leveraging these advantages. In many training situations, however, participants may not have the experience or the expertise to generate useful and valid content. In this article, I explore the strategies for encouraging participants to generate questions—and for using these questions—in training sessions.
Let's pretend that you are a participant in three different training sessions. Meet your three trainers:
Alan, the first trainer, lectures on the training topic without any interruption. You participate by listening to the lecture.
Barbara, the second trainer, gives a short lecture on the training topic and follows it up with a question-and answer session. You participate by listening to the lecture, asking questions, and listening to Barbara's answers to your questions and other participants' questions.
Charlie, the third trainer, gives a lecture on the training topic. He then asks participants to work in teams and generate questions based on the content he presented. Later, he uses participants' questions in a quiz contest.
Which of these three trainers would you prefer?
If you are like me (and like most participants), you will find Barbara and Charlie to be more engaging and effective than Alan. I am not suggesting that participants don't like the no-nonsense trainer who gives a straight lecture on the training topic. All I am suggesting is that inviting participants to generate questions (and incorporating them in the training process) results in more interesting and effective training.
Both Barbara and Charlie invited participants to generate questions on the training topic. However, they elicited two different types of questions:
I don't know the answers and I'd like to know them. Barbara's participants asked their questions because they did not know—and wanted to find out—the answers. These questions are based on ignorance and curiosity. They provide an instant needs analysis.
I know the answers and I want to test others. Charlie's participants asked questions for which they knew the answer. These questions are useful for a review or a test. The participants act as co-designers and help Charlie with additional training tools.
Inviting participants to ask questions encourages them to actively participate in the learning process. If you are a trainer like Barbara, answering questions generated by the current set of participants makes use of the proven principles of learner-controlled training. This approach helps you avoid explaining things that participants already know. If you are a trainer like Charlie, asking participants to generate questions on the content they had recently learned and competing in the subsequent quiz contest help participants to effectively review the content. This is a much more effective review than your repeating the presentation one more time.
After the training session, when you review, organize, and analyze the questions generated by participants, you get these types of indirect—but useful—feedback:
Participants ask the most questions from the topics that they clearly understood and consider to be important.
Participants do not ask questions about the topics they do not clearly understand or consider to be unimportant.
Participants ask “incorrect” questions about topics that they do not understand.
While my subject-matter experts and I can generate several valid questions about the training topic, participants generate more authentic questions. The intriguing twists in the content and format of participant-generated questions frequently make me exclaim, “I never thought of that!” Some of the questions generated by participants at the beginning of the training session effectively capture the participants' mental pictures. Subject-matter experts cannot duplicate this feat because they have lost their naiveté when it comes to thinking about the training topic.
Asking participants to generate questions for use in a training session is not without dangers and pitfalls:
If the trainer invites a group of beginning learners to ask questions, they may come up with naïve, shallow, and trivial questions because they don't know what they don't know. Providing some foundational knowledge, advanced organizer, or conceptual framework before turning the participants loose on producing their questions can reduce this pitfall.
A question from a beginning participant may be of great interest and use to her. But other participants may find it to be boring and irrelevant to their needs.
When we invite participants to generate review and test questions on topics that they have mastered, we may end up with redundant and poorly worded questions. We have to invest time and effort to sort through the questions, remove duplicates, eliminate trivia, and add questions from ignored topics to provide balanced coverage.
Some participants may indulge in a sadistic binge by constructing tough questions to stump their cohorts and to show off their mastery of esoteric information.
Reviewing, organizing, selecting, and editing questions from different participants is a time-consuming process. If you are planning to incorporate the questions in a subsequent quiz contest or some other type of review and practice games, you may have to give the participants a break while you clean up their questions.
Here's a more effective strategy that I have used in this situation to avoid the delay. When I collect the question cards from the current set of participants, I tell them something like this: “I am going to go through the questions, sort them out, organize them, and select the questions that cover all the important content. This process may take some time. To get us into the next activity, I am going to use a set of questions generated by previous participants. Before my next training session, I will expand this set to include your questions.”
Having a previous collection of valid questions that sample different topics enables you to invite participants to generate questions while avoiding delays in cleaning them up. The first time you use this approach, you have to use your own questions. Later, you can systematically replace them with effective and valid questions from participants.
When you invite participants to come up with their questions, they tend to use a limited set of formats. To encourage a greater variety (and to improve the quality of questions), I ask participants to generate two types of questions:
I frequently distribute sample questions to help participants
in the process of generating their own questions. Here are the
two sample sets, one of closed questions and the other of open
ones. The words with a line through them (
this) in these samples refer to the specific content. I
tell the participants to replace these words with words related
to their content and use the question structure as a
Closed questions have a single correct answer. Most questions of this type require the recall of some fact.
The best way to ask a closed question is to start with one
of the question words (or phrases) as shown in the following
samples. To use any of the question formats, simply replace
with a line through them with words
related to your content.
Open questions have more than one acceptable answer. However, most open questions permit you to compare two different answers and decide which one is “better”.
Here are some formats for writing open questions. To use
any of these formats, simply replace the words
line through them with words related to your
There are a lot more principles and procedures related to participant-generated questions. In future issues of the newsletter, I will present and discuss different training games and activities that incorporate these principles and procedures.
In diversity training, we sometimes become obsessed with differences among cultures, nations, and individuals. This mindset serves a useful purpose—and encourages us to ignore similarities that have an important role in understanding human interactions. European Neighbors invites us to take a more balanced approach between differences and similarities.
Three players (or teams) take turns to compete two at a time by supplying statements of key facts, similarities, or differences related to European countries. The third player (or team) acts as the judge to decide which statement is the “better” one.
Diversity. Geography. European countries. France. Switzerland. Germany. Belgium. Netherlands. Italy. Similarities. Differences.
To explore the similarities and differences among six European countries.
Best: 6 to 15
20 minutes to an hour.
A 6 x 6 grid with the names of the six European countries as column and row headings.
You may want to use our ready-to-print PDF version (10K).
20 markers (coins or plastic counters) each of three different types. Each participant uses her type of markers to identify the boxes she has won.
Brief the participants. Place the grid in the middle of the table and distribute the markers to each participant. Explain the structure of the grid, pointing out that the names of the same six European countries are repeated on the rows and the columns. Then explain that each box in the grid is to be filled with a specific type of statement about these six countries:
The boxes in the diagonal from the bottom left to the top right (which are marked with heavier lines) require a key fact about a country. Randomly select one of the diagonal boxes and, with the participants' help, come up with a suitable statement for that box.
Example: Key fact about Germany: This country has the largest population among European Union member states.
The boxes above the diagonal require a statement about a similarity between two countries. Randomly select one box in that area, and with the participants' help, come up with a sample similarity.
Example: Similarity between France and Switzerland: People in a region of Switzerland speak French—just like the French people do.
The boxes below the diagonal require a statement about a difference between two countries. Randomly select one box in that area, and with the participants' help, come up with a sample difference.
Example: Difference between Italy and the Netherlands: Italy is renowned for the love of sports from ancient times. The Netherlands is not particularly known for its sports fans.
Explain the object of the game. Participants win different boxes in the grid by providing “better” statements than their competition. At the end of the game, the participant with the most boxes wins the game.
Begin the activity. Choose a participant to be the Judge. The person on the Judge's right becomes the Selector and the other person is the Challenger.
Compete for a box. The Selector chooses a box in the grid and places a marker on it. She then writes a statement that meets the requirements for the box. The Challenger also does the same. The Judge reads the two statements and declares which one she likes better.
Occupy the box. If the Selector wins, her marker is left on the box. If the Challenger wins, the Selector takes back her marker, and the Challenger places her marker in the box.
Play the next round. The next round begins with a reallocation of the roles. The Selector becomes the Judge, the Judge becomes the Challenger, and the Challenger becomes the Selector. The play procedure is repeated as before.
Continue the game. The game continues in this fashion until all 36 boxes in the grid are occupied (or the specified time runs out).
Determine the winner. The person who occupies the most boxes in the grid wins the game.
Limited time? Conclude the game when one participant occupies four boxes in a straight line (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally). For a faster finish, conclude the game when a participant occupies three boxes in a straight line. For an even faster one, go for any three boxes.
Fixed schedule? Play the game for a specified period of time (example: 15 minutes). The participant who occupies the most boxes at the end of this time wins the game.
Too many participants? Divide participants into three teams of approximately the same size. Play the game as before—but ask teams to make joint decisions.
More participants than can be organized into teams? Conduct several games at different tables in a parallel fashion.
Not enough markers? Ask participants to write their initials in the boxes they have won.
Did you read the description of the European Neighbors game above? Did you play this game with a group of participants?
As you probably figured out, you can use the structure of this game as a template for creating other training games that explores the relationships among a set of objects, concepts, principles, rules, and other such items. We call the generic game (the framegame) Matrix-1.
All Matrix-1 games use a grid in which the columns and rows are labeled with the same set of headings. The boxes in the grid require participants to compare and contrast each item with every other item.
It is obvious that you can replace the six European countries with six others. Or you can use Asian countries, African cities, U. S. regions, or six planets in the Solar System. You don't even need to use six items; Matrix-1 games usually work well with three to seven items.
We have used Matrix-1 to create training games that deal with these topics:
Change Management. This game explores the five different stages (awareness, self-interest, evaluation, tryout, and use) of the change management process. Participants win boxes by identifying the key success factor in each stage, the impact of skipping one stage on the others, and the information from one stage that is used in another.
Interdependence. This game explores desirable interactions among the members of a cross-functional team (design engineer, psychologist, marketer, customer, and accountant). Participants win boxes by identifying the key role of each team member and the way each team member can help or hinder the others.
Matrix-1 Icebreaker. This icebreaker explores the characteristics of a group of participants in a training session or a meeting. Participants win boxes by identifying the salient characteristics of individuals and the differences and similarities among pairs of people.
Ground Rules. This game explores the relationships among different ground rules established by a team. Participants win boxes by identifying the critical element of each ground rule and how each ground rule supports and interferes with the others.
Terminology. This game explores the relationships among different concepts behind a set of technical terms. Participants win boxes by identifying the critical features of each concept and the similarities and differences among different pairs of concepts.
Apples and Oranges. This game helps a team select the best idea or solution from several alternatives. Participants win boxes by identifying the critical feature of each alternative (along the diagonal), relative benefits of two alternatives (above the diagonal), and relative costs of two alternatives (below the diagonal). At the end of the game, the winner is an idea—not a participant.
Here are some guidelines for designing your own Matrix-1 game for use in different training situations:
Identify the items. The key ingredient for creating a Matrix-1 game is a set of items that are compared and contrasted with each other. The items could be concepts, events, rules, people, places, or ideas. Review the sample items in the games described above. For an effective Matrix-1 game, you need three to seven different items that are related to each other.
Specify the question for the boxes along the diagonal. The basic idea behind Matrix-1 games is to compare and contrast every item with every other item. Since each item will be matched with itself along a diagonal, you need to specify the format of the question for these boxes. Usually this question requires participants to identify the key element, the critical feature, or the unique attribute of the item.
Specify the question for the other boxes. Typically, the questions for the boxes above the diagonal are the opposites of the questions for the boxes below the diagonal. Use such pairs of antonyms as similarity-difference, cost-benefit, and like-dislike in coming up with suitable questions. Also think of cause-effect relationships and cross impact among the items.
Create the grid. Select suitable (and identical) labels for the columns and rows. Prepare and print the grid.
Prepare additional play materials. For example, you may need a job aid or a reference handout.
Write the rules of the game. Borrow from the rules of the European Neighbors game presented earlier. Make suitable changes to fit your needs.
Play-test the game. Play the game with a few friends. Make suitable changes on the basis of their reactions and complaints.
Come up with a catchy name. Make sure that the name of the game reflects your training objective.
Try your hand at creating your own Matrix-1 game. Send a copy of your version of the game and we will share it with TGL readers. Of course, we will publicize your name and you can retain the copyright of your content.
There is still space available in Thiagi's 3-day workshop (June 12-14) on interactive training strategies. This will be the only time that Thiagi will conduct this public workshop in 2007. The workshop will be held in Winterthur (near Zurich) in Switzerland.
There is also space available in the 1-day workshop (June 11), Managing Diversity and Inclusion in High Performance Teams, that Thiagi will be conducting with his colleague Samuel van den Bergh.
For more information, please see the announcement in the December 2006 issue of TGL.
A cryptic cluster puzzle is a combination of a word association test and a cryptogram.
The puzzle displays a list of items that belong to the same category. The items are coded with a substitution code in which every letter of the alphabet is consistently replaced by another letter. (For example, every “A” is replaced by a “W”.)
Here's a sample cryptic cluster:
And here's the solution:
Here's a cryptic cluster puzzle that I recently used in a workshop on presentation skills. Try your hand at solving it.
TC RAKTCW PVS RCWYAHR.
-- ------ --- -------.
SYRPUUCPW YKKCSYPFCEI PXFCW FJC UWCRCVFPFYAV.
--------- ----------- ----- --- ------------.
SAV'F GJCGL AHF FJC CZHYUKCVF TCXAWCJPVS.
---'- ----- --- --- --------- ----------.
OCF SCXCVRYNC DJCV RAKCAVC PRLR ZHCRFYAVR.
--- --------- ---- ------- ---- ---------.
OYNC FJC RPKC RUCCGJ FA SYXXCWCVF PHSYCVGCR.
---- --- ---- ------ -- --------- ---------.
YOVAWC XCCSTPGL XWAK FJC PHSYCVGC.
------ -------- ---- --- --------.
LCCU FPELYVO TCIAVS RGJCSHECS FYKC.
---- ------- ------ --------- ----.
UPGC TPGL PVS XAWFJ.
---- ---- --- -----.
UWCRCVF P EAF AX YVXAWKPFYAV YV P RJAWF FYKC.
------- - --- -- ----------- -- - ----- ----.
WPFFEC GJPVOC AW LCIR YV IAHW UAGLCF.
------ ------ -- ---- -- ---- ------.
WCPS IAHW RUCCGJ.
---- ---- ------.
RUCPL AV P FAUYG IAH SAV'F LVAD PVIFJYVO PTAHF.
----- -- - ----- --- ---'- ---- -------- -----.
RFPVS XWAMCV TCJYVS FJC UASYHK.
----- ------ ------ --- ------.
TCOYV IAHW UWCRCVFPFYAV EPFC.
----- ---- ------------ ----.
HRC AXX-GAEAW BALCR.
--- ---=----- -----.
HRC YVPUUWAUWYPFC RUAWFR PVPEAOYCR.
--- ------------- ------ ---------.
HRC FCGJVYGPE BPWOAV PVS XAWKPE EPVOHPOC.
--- --------- ------ --- ------ --------.
HRC FAA KPVI UADCWUAYVF REYSCR.
--- --- ---- ---------- ------.
Here are some general tips for solving cryptic cluster puzzles:
The most commonly used letters of the English language are e, t, a, i, o, n, s, h, and r. The letters that are most commonly found at the beginning of words are t, a, o, d, and w. The letters that are most commonly found at the end of words are e, s, d, and t.
One-letter words are either a or I. The most common two-letter words are to, of, in, it, is, as, at, be, we, he, so, on, an, or, do, if, up, by, and my. The most common three-letter words are the, and, are, for, not, but, had, has, was, all, any, one, man, out, you, his, her, and can. The most common four-letter words are that, with, have, this, will, your, from, they, want, been, good, much, some, and very.
The most common word endings are -ed, -ing, -ion, -ist, -ous, -ent, -able, -ment, -tion, -ight, and -ance.
The most frequent double-letter combinations are ee, ll, ss, oo, tt, ff, rr, nn, pp, and cc. The double letters that occur most commonly at the end of words are ee, ll, ss, and ff.
A comma is often followed by but, and, or who. It is usually preceded by however. A question often begins with why, how, who, was, did, what, where, or which. Two words that often precede quotation marks are said and says. Two letters that usually follow an apostrophe are t and s.
A few hints for the puzzle
My friend Les Lauber, a Trainer and Program Manager for the University of Kansas Public Management Center, is one of the most voracious readers I know. I have blackmailed him into reviewing a couple of useful books every month.
Click the book covers to order them through Amazon. (We receive a small commission if you do this.)
This is a rare example of a second edition that improves significantly on the original. I read the first edition of this book in early spring 2004; I was satisfied with the quality of work. The additions, updates, and new tools and thinking that are reflected in the second edition are significant.
William Rothwell and H.C. Kazanas rank among the best when it comes to on-the-job training (OJT). Their book is not an academic study of OJT. It offers practical ideas for strengthening OJT programs. The authors spend three chapters walking the reader through various aspects of laying solid groundwork to ensure OJT success. Then they introduce a systematic model for creating and implementing programs that include analyzing whether OJT is an appropriate thing to do, how to plan for and conduct an OJT session, and how to evaluate whether the trainee has learned. They conclude with a section on reflections on various factors for OJT managers and directors to consider.
The CD-ROM includes 20 checklists and worksheets that can be modified to fit the readers' organizations and needs. They also provide a complete and customizable train-the-on-the-job-trainer program: leader's guide, participant's guide, and accompanying slideshow.
This is an excellent resource that far exceeded my expectations. In just the first 24 hours that I owned it, I had already found value and used several of the worksheets. I consult it repeatedly for my organization; consequently it has claimed a prominent place on my desk.
Three sections. Thirty-two techniques. Four adult learning principles. An eight-step instructional design process. Three bonus techniques.
By the numbers, this book adds up to one very valuable resource for on-the-job trainers who want to center their training directly on their learners.
Each activity in the book is categorized by the purposes it serves: revisiting content; promoting safety; honoring values; giving control to the learner; encouraging directed thinking; encouraging active listening; giving positive feedback; and promoting reading, writing, and speaking. A good number of these activities are from 50 Creative Training Openers and Energizers and 50 Creative Closers (see my reviews in the March issue), adjusted to suit the needs of an OJT session with a single trainee. The other activities are original to this book, and designed specifically for use with only one trainee. One-on-One Training also includes short sections with advice for lecturing and using videos.
I have found the Effectiveness Grid in this book to be a useful tool for previewing and reviewing material, and Create A File has been an excellent technique for providing learners with job aids. See One, Do One, Teach One is the heart of OJT and Interviews is a highly motivating activity for learners.
If you're looking for some ideas to focus your OJT on individual learners, their needs, and the transfer of their learning to the workplace, this book is a good place to begin.
F in the cryptogram stands for the letter T, C for E, and Y for I.
Back to the puzzle.
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.
Mt. Monadnock is located in southwest New Hampshire. At 3165 feet, it is the most frequently climbed mountain in North America! Fitness hikers, older folks, and families are among its 125,000 annual visitors. At the top, hikers enjoy a panoramic view of all six New England states.
Monadnock has one summit, one goal, for all those people yet there are five trails to reach it. What's important to you: vistas, wildflowers, history, solitude? Choose a path but get to the top!
If we agree on our goal, our values will help us decide the right path.
BE SOMBER AND SERIOUS.
DISAPPEAR IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE PRESENTATION.
DON'T CHECK OUT THE EQUIPMENT BEFOREHAND.
GET DEFENSIVE WHEN SOMEONE ASKS QUESTIONS.
GIVE THE SAME SPEECH TO DIFFERENT AUDIENCES.
IGNORE FEEDBACK FROM THE AUDIENCE.
KEEP TALKING BEYOND SCHEDULED TIME.
PACE BACK AND FORTH.
PRESENT A LOT OF INFORMATION IN A SHORT TIME.
RATTLE CHANGE OR KEYS IN YOUR POCKET.
READ YOUR SPEECH.
SPEAK ON A TOPIC YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT.
STAND FROZEN BEHIND THE PODIUM.
BEGIN YOUR PRESENTATION LATE.
USE OFF-COLOR JOKES.
USE INAPPROPRIATE SPORTS ANALOGIES.
USE TECHNICAL JARGON AND FORMAL LANGUAGE.
USE TOO MANY POWERPOINT SLIDES.
Back to the puzzle.
Clark Aldrich is the youngest smart person that I have ever met. (Sorry, Matt.) I shudder to think what he will be doing when he gets older.
For more about Clark, read (or re-read) the interview in the October 2005 issue of TGL.
Apart from designing simulation games, writing online commentaries, making conference presentations, and other such things, Clark has a very interesting and enlightening blog, which is actually his third book in installments.
You may think of this blog as a dynamic glossary. It clearly explains simulation design patterns and terms. Many of the entries include live links that provide interactive examples.
Warning: The first time you visit the blog you will suffer from information overload. The best way to reduce this feeling is to follow Clark's advice and start here: http://clarkaldrich.blogspot.com/search/label/Genres .
Full disclosure: I did not follow Clark's advice and experienced the wonderful feeling of being a kid in a candy store.
A couple of months ago I introduced the concept of single item surveys. Read about this approach in the February 2007 issue of TGL.
Here's a single item for this month:
What one factor contributes the most to the effectiveness of training games?
Take a stand. Don't wiggle out by saying, “It all depends…”
Be selective. You can name several important factors that contribute to the effectiveness of training games. But you are forced to select a single factor. (If you absolutely, positively cannot make a choice, visit the survey page several times and type in a different response each time.)
Here are a few responses that we have already received:
To contribute your response to this question, visit this survey page (opens in a new window) and type your short answer.
You may include your name or keep your response anonymous.