Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Using a Simulation as the Core of a Training Session
Stimulate learning through a simulation.

Interactive Lectures
Six More Formats
Completing our collection of 36 interactive lectures.

Reflective Teamwork Activity
What to do when your team gains or loses members

44 Ways To Improve Your Training Games
Results from an interactive exercise.

Interactive Fiction
Participate in co-authoring an online story.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Managing Editor: Brenda Mullin

Editorial Advisory Board: Andrew Kimball, David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Julie England, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2003 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. 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 PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2003 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( for permission.

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All registered subscribers receive PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE free of charge.

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Using a Simulation as the Core of a Training Session

In this approach, a simulation game provides the organizing structure for a training session. The facilitator begins the session by briefing participants on the core simulation game. All learning activities during the session are wrapped around this core simulation.

Here are some details of this approach, from the participants' point of view:

Application to a Soft Skill Topic

Here's how this core simulation approach is used in a course on a leadership:

There are 23 participants for the course. They are divided into four teams (three teams of six and one of five).

The workshop facilitator uses two simulated performance tests:

Scoring rubrics are provided for each of the three simulations:

Teams have access to these different learning resources:

Deadlines are set for the afternoon of the second day of this 2-day workshop.

During the performance assessment, a random player from one of the teams is presented with the leadership challenge. This person role-plays the leader with the instructor playing the role of a disgruntled employee. After the role-played conversation, members of another team provide evaluative feedback, using the rubric.


Here are some of the reasons why the core-simulation approach stimulates learning in teams:

It uses blended learning. The training course combines simulations, lectures, mediated materials, group work, individual work, and a variety of other methods and media.

It appeals to different learning styles. Because of the variety of learning resources and activities, the course appeals to different learning preferences.

It incorporates effective instructional design. Specifically, it applies Dave Merrill's first principles:

It uses situated learning. The simulations bring the learning environment as close to on-the-job training as possible. This approach incorporates many of the effective techniques of action learning.

Interactive Lectures

Six More Formats

For the past six months, we have been exploring the technique of interactive lectures. This technique incorporates highly motivating game elements with lecture presentations, and gives you complete control of the instructional session.

Here are brief summaries of six more interactive lecture designs, bring our total to 30. (You can refer back to the overview of interactive lectures in October 2002, and the previous lists of interactive lecture formats in the November 2002, December 2002, January 2003, February 2003, and March 2003 issues of PFP.)

31. Question Cards

Basic idea. After your presentation, ask teams of participants to write 20 short-answer questions based on the content. Collect all questions, shuffle the cards, and conduct a quiz program.

Application. This interactive lecture format is especially useful with factual content. It is suited for participants who are capable of constructing valid short-answer questions. The quiz program part of this activity requires ample time.

Sample topics. The Hispanic culture. Product features and benefits. Drug dosage, interactions, and abuse. Background information about the corporation.

Flow. Make your presentation and stop at 10-minute intervals. Ask teams of participants to write a set of short-answer questions along with answers on individual index cards. Continue with the next part of the presentation. After the last part of the presentation, collect all question cards and shuffle them. Ask each team to send a representative to the front of the room. Conduct a question program using the questions from the cards (avoiding duplicate questions).

32. Rapid Reflection

Basic idea. Presenter pauses at different junctures during the presentation. Participants reflect on the latest segment of the presentation and write down one insight or application idea. A few random reflections are shared with the entire group.

Application. This interactive lecture format is especially useful with content that generates insights and application ideas.

Sample topics. Changing your job into a calling. Professional growth and development. Empowerment. Double-loop learning.

Flow. Stop your presentation at the end of each 7 - 10 minute segment. Ask each person to reflect on what they heard during the most recent segment of the presentation. After a pause, ask each participant to write down one insight or application idea on a piece of paper and fold it so the writing is hidden. Ask participants to exchange the folded pieces of paper repeatedly. Randomly select three or four participants and ask them to read what is written on the piece of paper they received.

33. Selected Questions

Basic idea. A list of questions (generated before the presentation) is reviewed, organized, and prioritized by audience members. You begin your presentation by answering the question selected by most participants. You repeat the process by responding to “popular” questions that are successively selected by the listeners.

Application. This interactive lecture format is especially useful when your audience members represent different areas of interest and levels of knowledge. It is suited for presentations that involve a broad survey of a topical area. The format requires a willingness on your part to let go of the control of the session.

Sample topics. Introduction to complexity theory. Future trends in global marketing. Characteristics of Hispanic culture. Internet commerce.

Flow. Prior to the presentation, invite participants to send you questions. Prepare a list of these questions, each identified by a number. At the beginning of the presentation, distribute the list of questions to each participant. Ask participants to individually select the question they would like to be answered first. At a signal, ask participants to shout out the identifying number of the selected question. Determine the most “popular” first question and respond to it. Ask participants to identify the next question to be answered using a similar procedure. Repeat as many times as time permits.

34. Slide Sets

Basic idea. The presenter distributes copies of key diagrams used during the presentation, a different diagram to each team. After a suitable pause, each team sends a representative to make a summary presentation of the major points related to the diagram it received.

Application. This interactive lecture format is especially suited for technical content that uses several diagrams during the presentation.

Sample topics. Changes in the change process. Decision-making in ambiguous situations. Product-design cycle. Installing and implementing a customer-response software system.

Flow. Make your presentation around presentation around 4 - 6 key charts or diagrams. After the presentation, divide participants into as many groups as there are diagrams. Randomly distribute a different diagram to each group. Tell the group that they will have 7 minutes to prepare a 1-minute presentation to summarize the key points related to the diagram. After a suitable pause, ask the teams (in the correct sequence) to send a representative to display the diagram and make the summary presentation.

35. Superlatives

Basic idea. Interrupt your presentation at the end of each logical unit and ask teams to identify the most important, the most disturbing, the most surprising, or the most complex idea presented so far.

Application. This interactive lecture format is especially suitable when participants know how to take notes and discuss them. It is appropriate for presentations that can divided into 7 - 10 minute sections.

Sample topics. How to improve security in office buildings. Different types of performance interventions. Tips for avoiding heart attacks. Leadership strategies.

Flow. Stop your presentation at some logical location after about 7 minutes. Ask participants to work in teams to identify the most important piece of information you presented so far. After a suitable pause, ask each team to share its decision. Now ask teams to select the most controversial statement that you made in your presentation. After team responses, make the next unit of presentation. Repeat the teamwork procedure by specifying different types of information to be identified (such as the most radical, the most surprising, the most interesting, or the most humorous).

36. Two Minds

Basic idea. Teams of participants prepare a list of questions about a topic. Two experts give independent responses to each question. After listening to both responses to a question, teams identify key similarities and differences.

Application. This lecture game is especially useful for exploring controversial topics without getting bogged down in unnecessary debates. It requires two experts on the topic, preferably with divergent points of view.

Sample topics. Psychic phenomena. Knowledge management. Capital punishment. The future of computer technology. Political correctness.

Flow. Ask each team of participants to generate five questions on the topic and write each question on an index card. Spread the question cards on the experts' table. The first expert selects one of the question cards and gives the response while the second expert listens to music through headphones. After the first expert's response, the second expert gives her response. Each participant team now compares their notes and identifies two similarities and two differences between the responses from the two experts. The two experts now sort through the question cards and select the top 5 questions. The second expert begins the next round by responding to a question while the first expert puts on the headphones. The same procedure is repeated for the remainder of the session.

What Next?

You now have 36 interactive lecture formats in this issue and the preceding issues of PFP. You will not get another set in the next issue. May I invite you to review these 36 formats and send me an email note ( identifying any of those you would like for me to provide additional details. I will write more complete sets of instructions with sample applications, variations, and other useful information. Also, let me know if you have designed, used, or observed other interactive lecture formats.

Reflective Teamwork Activity


In a reflective teamwork activity (RTA), the process and the content merge with each other. Participants work through an activity and use the outcomes to evaluate the process they used. Here's an RTA that explores challenges associated with losing and gaining team members in the midst of a project.


30 minutes to an hour


10 to 40


Organize teams. Divide participants into an even number of teams, each with 4 to 7 members. It does not matter if a few teams have an extra member. Seat the teams as far away from each other as possible.

Example: You have 22 participants and you divide them into four teams. Two of the teams have five members and the other two have six members. You send the four teams to four separate breakout rooms.

Assign topics for brainstorming. Ask half of the teams to discuss this topic:

How can we handle problems associated with losing some members of a team in the midst of a project?

Ask the other half of the teams to discuss this topic:

How can we handle problems associated with new members being assigned to a team in the midst of a project?

Tell teams that they will have 12 minutes to complete their discussion and to record their ideas on a flip chart.

Example: The first two teams are assigned the “losing” topic (how to handle losing some team members). The other two teams are assigned the “gaining” topic (how to handle new members).

Switch team members. After the teams have been brainstorming for about 6 minutes, randomly select one or two members from each “losing” team and ask them to join a “gaining” team. Do this switch without attracting too much attention.

Example: You go to the first team that is discussing the “losing” topic and ask two of its members to follow you. You take them to the room where a team is discussing the “gaining” topic. You ask the two members to join this team and to work on the “gaining” topic. You now return to the original team and inform that two of its members have been given another important assignment. You repeat the same procedure with the other pair of teams.

Conclude the brainstorming activity. At the end of 12 minutes, assemble all teams at the same location. Explain that two of the teams lost its members and other two gained some members in the midst of the activity. Point out that the team working on the “losing” topic lost some members while the team working on the “gaining” topic gained some members.

Conduct a reflective debriefing. Ask each team to reflect on how they reacted to losing or gaining members. Invite each team to review its list of brainstormed ideas and discuss these questions:


44 Ways To Improve Your Training Games

How can we make our training games more effective?

In early March we asked this question and used an online activity called the Best Answer RAME (for details of this tool, visit see our March issue) to invite an international group of players to help us contribute alternative answers to this question. During the RAME activity, players contributed their answers, selected the top three answers from five sets of answers, and selected the rank ordered the top five answers.

Here are the results:

Best Of The Best

Here are the top five answers, arranged in order of the scores they received during the final poll in which 39 players participated:

  1. (100 points) - Become a double looper - a designer as learner. Experience your games from a learner's perspective and at the same time observe the process. Discover the colour of the grass on the other side of the fence - is it really greener or is that a trainer's illusion! - Marie Jasinski
  2. (95 points) - A four-part answer: 1. Honor the learning objectives 2. Understand the culture of the players 3. Have an opportunity to be successful in the game 4. A robust and participative debrief - Kenneth Stein
  3. (92 points) - The games should simulate the on-the-job skills and requirements as closely as possible. Adult learning theory tells us this--instruction should be relevant, respectful, participative, and purposeful. - Barbara Watters
  4. (68 points) - By adding a touch of humour and some physical action to them. It then gets easier for the participants to recall the game and remember the learnings. It is necessary for them to enjoy the game. - Murtuza Charania
  5. (59 points) - My answer is the one way to make training games more effective is to let the group choose some of the rules. Before beginning, I tell the group they will be designing a game for the office to play for team-building. I give them certain options...all which lead to the outcome of whatever skill-set we will be working on. By getting them involved in the decision making and development, I've found that they are more enthusiastic about playing by the rules, rather than finding the loophole through the rules. I work with a competitive group, so any challenge, including rules-making, makes the games more enjoyable and personalized to wants and needs...or so they think. Getting their “mental buy-in” is sometimes the hardest thing to do when attempting training of any sort. To have them believe that they “designed” it, it makes them have pride in how it is played by them and others. - RoseAnn Penn

High Scoring Answers

Here are 13 more answers (arranged in a random order) that received high scores during the previous round:

  1. Ask participants what work problems or challenges they need help with. Base the game on their input. The product of the game is then certain to be something participants can apply immediately when they return to work. - Sarah Hundt
  2. By always starting with our target group's business and organizational goals to drive the selection, tailoring, setup and debrief of our games. I think we sometimes are more in love with a game than with solving a group's challenges in a sustainable fashion. This biases us towards the game instead of their goals. - Alain Rostain
  3. By ensuring that the game links the learning material and the learners. This usually means using the game to make concepts relevant and recognisable via the set up, participation and debrief. - Margaret Dix
  4. By introducing them often, but not carelessly. Only when they add value to several instructional topics that need reinforcement, and only when in line with the values of the firm/people. And FUN! - Tim Ritter
  5. Develop games that are focused on results - how new skills or information directly impact the learner's job performance - rather than just building awareness or using games for “edutainment.” - Dave Fisher
  6. For simulation games: We need to focus the participants on observation of their behaviors when playing the game. They need to get the relevance to their job. - Maxine Vogt
  7. Generally, tying the games and outcomes directly to situations and tasks the group currently faces or just recently faced. Without a tie to the individual's daily business life, they can't see the relevance. - Chai Voris
  8. Introduce games and set them up in such a way that everyone can participate feeling comfortable from the very beginning. - Maggi Payment
  9. Let's find ways to tailor the games as specifically as possible to the participants in the room. Perhaps by using their real life experiences in the game design? - Kat Koppett
  10. Make the games fun, but ensure that participants have the opportunity to explore and understand how the results may be transferred to other learning environments. - Gordon Ferrier
  11. Take time to rehearse the game prior to doing it in a large classroom to prepare yourself for some of the great answers you'll receive. Use these answers to further make the point of the game. - Jodi Lenkaitis
  12. These kinds of experiential activities need to have clear and clean metaphorical links to a business reality. Too many of these activities are VERY difficult to act on or implement. I will use “FISH!” as one example of a fun concept but one that is quite difficult to actually do something with. - Scott Simmerman
  13. Training games are more effective when the activities within the game most closely mirror the performance outcome that is a fun and engaging way, of course. - Rob Stevens

Other Answers

Here are the remaining answers contributed by different players. They all contain useful and practical ideas for improving the effectiveness of training games:

  1. Assuming that the game is relative to the topic... simplicity in directions and implementation. Practicing them helps to find the trouble spot. - Shirley Legaux
  2. Base our games on actual experiences from the work place. - Windell Craig McElroy
  3. Be prepared - have teams, if you are using them, identified ahead of time, have everything you need prepared and ensure your instructions are clear and understood by everyone - Carolyn Darell
  4. Be sure to make instructions for the players explicit -- the more clear the instructions are the easier it is for the players to play. Sometimes this requires repeating the instructions and/or providing them in writing. - Russ Powell
  5. Build them into rich worlds that people will return to even after the class is over. - Bill Wake
  6. By catering to the learning needs of gender, ethnicity, age that may be represented in the group. It helps to know some background knowledge about the group also. - Debbie Hodson
  7. By effective we are looking at making the concept “stick” for the participant. First, there should be a frame of reference from which the game generates it learning. Something the participant can relate to. So the game is simply taking the new concept and either attaching it to an already learned concept to enhance to behavior/skill/ability/ or one is creating a link to act as the trigger for the desired new behavior/skill/ability - Bart Frost
  8. Debrief. - Raja Thiagarajan
  9. De-emphasize the fun part and emphasize the learning part. Follow up the game with debriefing that stresses principles and procedures. - Sivasailam Thiagarajan
  10. Enable capacity to include graphic elements, or do graphic drag/drop matching. - Brad MacBeth
  11. Ensure that participants know the purpose of the game before it begins and afterward they have sufficient time to “digest” what has happened and why. - Marjorie A. Taylor
  12. Ensure their impact is life relevant. - Richard Buck
  13. Germane Active Magical Engaging Simple - Jenni Harding
  14. Get participants to suggest work situations related to the game, have a practice at putting the game learning into practice and then other participants contribute suggestions for improvement. - Lee Wilkinson
  15. Getting more people involved and contribute good ideas - Albert
  16. In my opinion, training games are more effective when using the following guidelines: 1. Directions that are easy to understand. 2. The game is related to material covered in the class/lecture. 3. Adaptable to different group personalities. 4. Leads the group to new ideas or reinforces material covered. - Karen Katz
  17. Integrate links to learning applications. - Kate Mayo
  18. Let learners participate and feel that they have some control over the outcome of the game. - David C Davis
  19. Look at the elements in processes we train on and compose games based on parts of these processes. - Michael G Croteau
  20. Make sure that the game fits into the culture or environment of the audience. E.g., if there is a step that requires touching others and it is not deemed acceptable in the agency, then change that step or use another game. - Eva Reynolds Martony
  21. Make sure there is immediate feedback in the form of correct answers or a “yes”/“no” in response to actions; include humor as part of the game/training. - Marcuss Oslander
  22. Organize and present training games so that they provide a contrast to the preceding activity or activities: Experiential/Intellectual, Pairs/Teams, Standing/Sitting, Studying/Practicing, Absorbing/Teaching, etc. - Daniel Klein
  23. Provide means for participants to gain, share, and utilize insights as the game progresses. - Patti Shank
  24. Provide participants with very clear instructions for how to play. Make sure that you have not asked participants to move too far from their comfort zone before trust has been established. - Matthew S. Richter
  25. Remember the hand is connected to head and the heart. Have the player get up, move around, and handle tangible objects. - Onnu Rendu
  26. Training games should take relatively little time to prepare. They should not require hours of typing, printing, and preparing. - Eric Fields

Your Choice?

The most popular ideas in this list may not be the most useful ones to you. Review the list at your leisure and select 3 - 5 ideas that make the most sense to you. If you want, combine related ideas into one big idea. Once you have selected your personal set of practical ideas, implement them in your training games.


Interactive Fiction

Remember your childhood days when you made up stories with your friends, each person contributing different segments to the story? Have you ever watched (or participated in) an exciting improv game in which players take turns to add a sentence (or a word) to an ever-growing story?

An Online Version

For several years, I had dreamt of designing an online approach for collaborative story-making. I was not very successful because inexpensive versions were cumbersome and effective versions were very expensive. Fortunately, however, Patti Shank, a highly-respected authority on online learning, came up an elegant program that was easily converted into a highly functional interactive fiction device.

We play tested Patti's online interactive structure last month. The test group included PFP editorial crew of Raja Thiagarajan, Les Lauber, and Matt Richter along with regular PFP readers Chris Saeger, Sarah Hundt, Diane Dormant, and Judee Blohm. The group collaboratively created a story and posted their insights, suggestions, and reactions on a specially-devised online form. The current version of this interactive fiction program is a new and improved one based on our experience and reactions.

An Invitation

We would like for you to come and play with us in our interactive fiction website.

The website has two pages. The story page contains the title for a story and the first two paragraphs. These are written by me to get things started. From now on, I will be an outsider and let you and the other players take over. To participate, you read the current version of the story and use a simple web form to add a paragraph to it. You type your name (as a co-author) and type your paragraph to advance the story from where it ended. Then you click a button and immediately see the evolving story with your paragraph appended at the end.

You can come back to story and watch it grow. You may add additional paragraphs, but with this important constraint: You can add more paragraphs only after at least two other players have contributed their paragraphs.

The website also contains a debriefing page. This page uses a similar web form for your comments about the story and the collaborative story-making process. It also enables me, as the facilitator, to post additional instructions and suggestions.

By the way, you may visit the interactive fiction website to see what is happening and to read the story without actively participating in the process. You may also visit and read the debriefing page and add your comments—only if you feel like it.

Some Suggestions

Based on our play-test experience, here are some suggestions:

Don't set your standards too high: The evolving story is not going to win a Pulitzer or get published in an anthology.

You don't know how you will react until you try it out. Some players love the creative freedom and the unexpected twists while others hate the chaos and lack of control. If you don't like it, you don't have to come back and play more. However, when you drop out, please leave a debriefing comment about your reactions.

This activity does not have any direct training objectives. However, the setting of the story lends itself to exploring concepts from intercultural communication. (In a later issue of PFP, I will discuss some exciting training applications of interactive fiction.

Before adding your contribution to the story, read the previous paragraphs. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph. Make sure that your addition maintains the style and the logic of the story.

If You Are Ready

Click to go to Patti's Interactive Fiction Website.