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

Tool Kit
Debriefing Games
Five games to play after the game.

Jolt Principles
Serial Jolts
Repeat, repeat.

Four Events for Game Designers
Indianapolis, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Houston, and somewhere in India.

Learning Activities
Learning Activities Revisited - 6
Table activities and assessment-based learning activities.

Game Review
Are You DISCfunctional™?
The only DISC board game on the market.

Brian's Words
Great Groups by Brian Remer
Reading between the lines.

Check It Out
The Firefly Group
More of Brian Remer.

Single Item Survey
Unusual and Useful
What should be included in the facilitator guide?





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

Associate Editor: Jean Reese

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Les Lauber

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Matthew Richter, Samuel van den Bergh, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2008 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 © 2008 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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

Subscription Info

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.

Feedback Request

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 . Thanks!

Tool Kit

Debriefing Games

Debriefing is an instructional process which is used after a game, simulation, roleplay, or some other experiential activity for helping participants reflect on their earlier experiences to drive meaningful insights. Debriefing can be used with any experientially rich, emotionally intense, cognitively complex learning activity. To determine if a debriefing session will add value to an activity we ask these questions:

An answer of “yes” to either (or both) of these questions suggests that debriefing would be useful. Debriefing need not be limited to pre-designed instructional activities. We have found that the following types of non-instructional activities benefit from debriefing:

During the past decade, I have been designing, using, and modifying several debriefing games with practical results. All debriefing games are framegames which are deliberately designed to permit easy removal of the old content and loading of new content. This feature of the debriefing game enables us to apply it to different types of experiential activities.

A Model for Debriefing

Our procedural model for debriefing is summarized by seven phases of questions to be used in a flexible chronological sequence. These seven phases are briefly described below:

  1. How do you feel? These questions provide an emotional outlet. The questions and discussions in this phase make it easier to more objectively analyze participants' experiences during the later phases.
  2. What happened? These questions serve a basic data-collection function. During this phase, participants recall their experiences from the base activity and discover similarities, differences, and patterns.
  3. Do you agree? These questions facilitate hypothesis generation and reality testing. They suggest cause-effect relations and explore their generalizability. They encourage participants to support or reject the hypotheses on the basis of the data from the base activity.
  4. Deja vu? These questions examine the real-world relevance of data from the base activity. They encourage participants to discuss analogues from everyday experiences in the workplace. They also reinforce future applications of present insights.
  5. What would you do differently? These questions bring out the second thoughts among participants. They basically take the form of “If you were to go through the same experience again, how would you behave differently—knowing what you know now?”
  6. What if…? These questions encourage participants to extrapolate their insights to new contexts. They require the players to speculate on the impact of changes in the context.
  7. Can you improve this activity? These questions invite participants to suggest modifications to the experiential activity. They brainstorm ideas to improve the instructional and motivational impact of the activity.

Our belief in the importance of debriefing and in the utility of the structured variety led us to the construction of various debriefing protocols. This approach frequently resulted in undesirable rigidity on the part of the facilitator and unmitigated boredom on the part of the participants. Continuous improvement of the procedure eventually resulted in the development of several debriefing questions which returned a part of the control and ownership to the participants and resulted in more excitement and enthusiasm.

A Sample Activity: Dollar Auction

Before describing several debriefing games, it is a good idea to introduce an experiential activity to provide a common base. While a complex and lengthy simulation provides a rich base for debriefing, we shall use a briefer example here: an activity called Dollar Auction. This activity takes 3 minutes to conduct and lends itself to 30 minutes or more of debriefing. I was introduced to Dollar Auction by Fred Goodman and I believe it was created by Martin Shubik.

Here are the steps in the current version of Dollar Auction:

  1. Borrow a dollar from the audience. This adds suspense to the activity.
  2. Explain the rules of the auction.
    • The minimum bid is 50 cents and other bids should be in 10-cent increments.
    • Bidders cannot skip an increment. For example, the only acceptable bid after the 50-cent opening is 60 cents.
    • The highest bidder pays the amount bid and receives the dollar.
    • The second-highest bidder also pays the amount bid—but does not receive anything in return.
  3. Begin the auction. Encourage participants to enter into the bidding in a playful spirit.
  4. Keep the bids coming. You will notice a definite slowing down around 80 cents.
  5. After the 90-cent bid, wait to see if the momentum carries the bidders forward. If there is a pause, remind the person who made the 80-cent bid that the rules do not prohibit bids of a dollar or more. Usually the bidder will figure out the “strategy” of cutting his or her losses by bidding more. If necessary, say something like this:

    If you stop now, you lose 80 cents, but if you bid a dollar you lose nothing. You pay your dollar and get back my dollar.

  6. Continue the auction. Encourage participants to yell out suggestions to the two bidders. Stop only when bidders refuse to bid any more. Collect the money from both bidders and give the dollar bill to the highest bidder. (You can return the money to the bidders later, but for now maintain the impression that the auction is for real.)

Descriptions of Debriefing Games

Five different debriefing games are described below. Dollar Auction is used as a common example to illustrate some of the activities in different debriefing games.

Mood Check

This debriefing game provides a safe environment for participants to talk about their feelings and emotions. Here are the steps for conducting Mood Check:

  1. Prepare a checklist of probable participant moods. For example, these adjectives are appropriate for the Dollar Auction mood checklist: confused, amazed, relieved, embarrassed, uncomfortable, and entertained. Your checklist may contain several synonyms.
  2. After the base activity, supply each participant with a copy of this checklist. Ask participants to circle words which best reflect their mood during and after the experiential activity.
  3. Wait a minute or two to allow participants to complete this task. Then ask them to make a prediction of the top three adjectives selected by the participants. Ask the participants to write these adjectives on the backs of their checklists.
  4. After everybody has completed this task, read each adjective and, through a hand count, find the frequencies of choice.
  5. Identify the players who have correctly predicted the top three adjectives and congratulate them.
  6. Organize the high-frequency moods into appropriate categories and discuss them.

Live Likert

This is an alternative debriefing game for use in the how-do-you-feel phase.

  1. Place five index cards with the numerals 1 through 5 on the floor, equal distances apart.
  2. Call out an appropriate feeling (for example, anger) and ask the participants to stand next to the index card whose number best describes the intensity of their feeling on a 5-point scale. For example, participants who feel extremely angry should stand at 5 while those who don't feel any anger at all should stand at 1.
  3. Repeat the procedure with other feeling words. Use at least a half dozen words such as uncomfortable, embarrassed, surprised, exploited, and relieved.
  4. After exhausting your list, ask participants to suggest other feeling words.
  5. Discuss different feelings. Later, in the hypothesis-generation phase, you may want to review various intense feelings and relate them to the base activity.

Group Scoop

This debriefing game enables participants to express, explain, and exchange a wide range of feelings and insights to each other.

  1. Begin with an open-ended question such as “What important insights did you gain from this activity?” or “What useful lesson did you learn from this activity?”
  2. Tell the participants, “There are many things you would like to say about your experience. Let us structure our discussion by playing a game. This game will help us recall our experiences, reflect on them, and discover how they relate to the real world.”
  3. Hand out four blank index cards to participants. Ask them to write down four different answers to your open-ended question.
  4. After a couple of minutes, collect the response cards from participants. Mix them well, and randomly deal three cards to each participant. Ask each person to independently study the responses on the cards and to arrange them according to how strongly he or she agrees with the response.
  5. While the participants are doing this, arrange the remaining cards on a large table. Tell the participants they may discard any response cards and pick up more agreeable replacements. The participants are not permitted to talk to each other during this phase.
  6. In the next phase, instruct the participants to exchange cards with each other to make their sets better reflect their personal opinions. Any participant may exchange any number of cards with any other participant; but every participant must exchange at least one card.
  7. In the next phase, direct the participants to compare their cards with each other and to form coalitions with people with similar opinions. There is no limit to the number of participants who may team up, but a team may keep no more than three response cards from their combined hand. It must discard all other cards, keeping only the three which meet with everyone's approval.
  8. At the end of the selection, instruct each team to prepare a poster which non-verbally reflects its response cards. This poster should not use any text and should summarize the critical points in the three final cards.
  9. After five minutes, conduct a show-and-tell session. During this session, call on different teams in random order. Each team reads aloud its three cards, displays its poster, and (if necessary) relates the poster to the cards.

The Envelope

This debriefing game is most suited for the what-if phase of debriefing.

  1. Before the game, prepare three or four what-if scenarios. As a follow up to the Dollar Auction, we might use these:
    • What if we auctioned off $500 instead of just $1?
    • What if the auction were held among strangers?
    • What if participants were encouraged to form coalitions?
    • What if you used play money instead of real money?
  2. Divide the participants into teams of four to seven members. Discuss various what-if scenarios using the examples you have prepared. Ask each team to come up with one or two what-if questions. After about a minute or so, have teams report their questions. Select a set of questions so each team has a unique one.
  3. Distribute an envelope to each team. Ask its members to write their what-if question on the face of the envelope.
  4. Ask each team to pass the envelope to the next team. The team studies the what-if question and comes up with a suitable response. Within 2 minutes, the team is to write down its response and a brief justification on an index card.
  5. At the end of the time limit, ask the teams to put the index cards inside the envelopes and to pass them to the next team. Each team now reads the new what-if question and (without looking at the response inside the envelopes) comes up with its own response (and justification) within the next 2 minutes.
  6. Repeat this procedure until the what-if envelopes return to the teams that originally wrote the question.
  7. Ask the teams to open the envelopes and review the response cards. Each team compares the different responses and distributes 100 points among them to reflect their relative merits. Ask the teams to record the number of points on the back of each card.
  8. After 5 minutes, ask each team to read the what-if question on the envelope and the response cards starting with the one receiving the lowest number of points, ending up with the best response.
  9. When all teams have done this, have the teams retrieve their response cards. The team with the highest number of points is the winner of this game.

You can use the Envelope Game during other phases of debriefing. For example, by writing various generalizations from the game (“The Dollar Auction always ends up as a battle between two bidders”) you have teams report supporting data. You may write down concepts illustrated by the game (for example, escalation) and have teams respond with real-world analogues.

Take Five

This debriefing game is best suited for generating and organizing hypotheses from the base activity.

  1. Prepare an open-ended, reflective question such as the following:
    • What similar behaviors have you seen in your workplace?
    • What important lesson do participants learn from this activity?
    • What factors encourage people to plunge into the auction without pausing to consider the consequences?
    • With what groups can you use the Dollar Auction?
  2. Divide the participants into teams of about five members. Specify your question and ask each team to brainstorm different answers for 5 minutes. Tell participants to narrow down the response list to the five best items.
  3. After 5 minutes, ask the teams to take turns calling out one of their responses. Prepare a common list on a flipchart. Ask teams to avoid redundant items. Continue this procedure until the flipchart contains 10 items.
  4. Ask each team to secretly select the best item from the common list and to write down its identification number.
  5. Collect the numbers from the teams. Explain that the score for each team is equal to the number of teams selecting the same item. (For example, if teams A, B, C, and E chose Item 3, and Team D chose Item 9, then the score for Teams A, B, C, and E will be 4 points and for Team D, 1 point).
  6. Draw a line through the item selected by the most teams. Now ask the team to select the second best item. Continue the procedure of selecting, scoring, and drawing a line through the most-frequently chosen item until you have identified the top five.
  7. During any round, if there is a tie among selected items, score as usual. But do not draw a line through any item on the list. Give each team a minute to make a persuasive speech to convince the other teams to select the same item they selected. Proceed as before.
  8. Identify the team with the highest score and congratulate its members.

Jolt Principles

Jolts are interactive experiential activities that lull participants into behaving in a comfortable way and then suddenly delivering a powerful wake-up call. Jolts force participants to re-examine their assumptions and revise their habitual practices. A typical jolt lasts only a few minutes but provides enough insights for a lengthy debriefing. Not all jolts entrap the participants; some of them suggest thought experiments and activities to provide enlightening insights.

I am currently working on a book of jolts in collaboration with Tracy Tagliati. This book will contain a collection of jolts interspersed with short articles exploring different principles related to their design and delivery. Here's one of those articles:

Serial Jolts

When I was doing my graduate studies on operant conditioning, I was fascinated with the concept of single-trial learning (as in the case of children learning that fire burns). As my grandson Jason recently taught me, single-trial learning works only in theory. Even adults who get blinding flashes of insight from an intense experience have difficulties in applying those insights to the real world.

This is why you use serial jolts. In this approach, you focus on a single principle and approach it through several different jolts. One of my favorite set of serial jolts deals with the way people make unnecessary assumptions. Each jolt requires participants to rearrange a set of six tiles, each with three letters, to form words. I present seven jolts, one after another, each lasting for 2 minutes. Each jolt entraps participants into making different (and unnecessary assumptions). Just when participants think they are too smart to make any more silly assumptions, they get trapped into making another assumption (such as the words have to be in English or each word must be six letters long).

You can check out the original version of this serial jolt in our March 2002 issue.


Four Events for Game Designers

NASAGA 2008 Conference

Don't miss the NASAGA 2008 conference in Indianapolis (October 15-18). Visit the conference website for more information.

Preconference Workshops

On October 15, 2008 you will have a choice of three preconference workshops:


Each day of the regular conference (October 16-18) will begin with an important, inspiring, and intriguing keynote presentation from a thought leader in our field:

Conference Sessions

Here are some of the facilitators who will be conducting sessions at the conference:

Cynthia Beale, Dan Block, Ken Bellemare, Judee Blohm, Debi Bridle, Leeva Chung, Jim Clark, Michelle Cummings, Matt DeMarco, Tim Gustafson, Greg Koeser, Kate Koski, Les Lauber, Christine Martell, Chuck Needlman, Debbie Newmann, Chuck Petranek, Dave Piltz, Brian Remer, Matt Richter, Lou Russell, Chris Saeger, Becky Saeger, Nick Smith, John Steiner, Tracy Tagliati, Raja Thiagarajan, Sivasailam Thiagarajan, Stella Ting-Toomey, Samuel van den Bergh, William Wake, and Marian Williams

If they seem familiar, that's probably because they are all well-known training game designers and many of them have appeared as Guest Gamers in TGL.

Thiagi (and Tracy) in South Africa

We have been working with our South African representative Nigel Bailey of Gateways Business Consultants to bring the Thiagi Training Games workshop to South Africa for the first time.

Based on the recent highly successful 3-day workshop in Switzerland, the workshop will deal with the design and facilitation of training games, learning activities, and simulations.

Here are the basic details:

For more information, please contact Nigel (email: ; mobile phone: +27 82 7843981 ; fax: +27 866707324 ; postal address: PO Box 87674, Houghton, 2041)

IAL 2009 Conference: Liftoff for Learning

The International Alliance for Learning (IAL) is the premier organization dedicated to promoting accelerated learning with its development of teaching processes and methodologies that make learning a joyful, meaningful, and effective process for all learners.

IAL invites you the 34th International conference 2009: Liftoff for Learning

What if you

Join us in Houston to Liftoff for Learning with Accelerated Learning professionals from around the world. Benefit from the many concurrent sessions offering practical tools, proven materials and processes, time for deep conversations about things that matter, inspiration, and support.

At the conference, Thiagi (and Tracy) are scheduled to do a preconference workshop on Jolts. Thiagi will also conduct a session on accelerating the training design process.

Liftoff for Learning - January 15-18, 2009 - Houston, Texas - Omni Houston Hotel Westside

For more information about the conference (and about accelerated learning), please visit the IAL website:

Thiagi Workshop in India?

Sometime in 2009, Thiagi and associates are planning to run a training games workshop, similar to the one conducted annually in Switzerland and planned for November 2008 in South Africa.

We are in very preliminary stages of planning this workshop. If you are interested in attending the workshop or helping to organize it, please contact .

Learning Activities

Learning Activities Revisited - 6

Content and activity are the yin and yang of training. You need both to produce effective and engaging learning. Content without activity produces sterile knowledge. Activity without content results in wasted effort.

It is not enough if you have both content and activity. These two have to be carefully balanced, aligned, and integrated.

We have access to different sources of training content:

Over the past several years, we have been exploring different types of learning activities that can be used with different sources of existing content.

I discussed two or three learning activities in greater detail during each of the past six months. This month, I explore learning activities associated with information tables and test instruments.

13. Table Activity

(Content Source: Information tables)

Table activities help participants to learn from reviewing tables of information and recalling useful facts, discovering interesting relationships among variables, identifying key trends, and predicting outcomes. Some table activities require participants to organize information from other sources into structured tables.

Sample Table Activity: Rows and Columns

The training objective for this table activity is to discover relationships among five corporate values.

  1. Create a table in which the columns and the rows have the same labels that refer to each of five corporate values.
  2. Ask teams of participants to fill in the boxes along the diagonal line (where the column and row labels are the same) with a brief definition of the value.
  3. Ask teams to fill in the boxes above this diagonal with speculations on how the two values support and reinforce each other.
  4. Ask teams to fill in the boxes below the diagonal with speculations on how the two values clash and weaken each other.
  5. Ask different teams to compare their tables.

14. Assessment-Based Learning Activity (ABLA)

(Content Source: Test instruments)

This activity involves participants taking a test (or some other instrument) and receiving feedback. Whenever appropriate, ABLAs encourage interaction and discussion among participants about future action.

Sample Assessment-Based Learning Activity: True or False?

The training objective for this activity is to replace common myths about customer focus with objective facts.

  1. Begin the session by distributing a test with true-false items related to customer service.
  2. Ask participants to work individually, read each item, and decide whether it is true or false.
  3. After a suitable pause, read the first item and ask participants to indicate their choice of true or false.
  4. Randomly select participants and ask them to justify the true or false choices.
  5. Present information related to the item so participants can make the correct choice.
  6. Repeat the process with each item until the topic is thoroughly explored.

Coming Next Month

In the next issue of TGL, we will explore two other types of learning activities that incorporate sample materials and cases.

Game Review

Are You DISCfunctional™?

Photo of the game board and pieces

DISC The Game™ is a fun and easy-to-play board game created by the founders of Stecin Leadership Solutions LLC and designed for HR, Training, Coaching, and Counseling professionals to use in their classes and sessions. Its design makes it uniquely suitable for youth groups and families as well. It teaches and reinforces the principles of DISC and was designed to be used with most quadrant behavioral systems. (DISC is a popular quadrant behavioral system used to help people understand their own as well as others' behavioral tendencies, and is useful in all interpersonal communications. Therefore, it is often used for team-building, customer service, management, and family counseling.) This game was developed for use with individuals, teams, groups, or families to initiate DISCussions that bring behavioral tendencies to light in a comfortable and fun environment.

Well over 50 million people around the world have taken DISC (not counting all the other quadrant systems available). Steve Settimo and Cynthia Beale were surprised and extremely disappointed with the current training activities on the market for use with DISC. The games they found were merely card-sort activities that weren't much fun. So they co-created their own game. In their workshops, returning participants are requesting to play the game again, which is a testimony to their success in producing a fun learning game.

Notes from my Playtesting

I have reviewed and tested the game. One of the best features of the game cards is the wonderful variety of authentic questions and the use of behaviors associated with the other categories as distracters for the correct answer.

Through a combination of luck and skill, individuals (or teams) compete with each other to become DISCfunctional™ by advancing game pieces around a quadrant-shaped board. The roll of the dice and participants' knowledge of DISC determine the speed with which a player (or team) gets to the center square to win. People learn how to better interact with others as they answer unique real-world questions about their own and others' tendencies. 2-4 individuals (or up to 12 players in teams) play for approximately 45-60 minutes, depending on the amount of DISCussion that arises and the luck of the dice. The game is recommended for players from age 12 to adult.

More Information

Stecin Leadership Solutions LLC is a training and consulting firm that specializes in providing Leadership Training, DISC Training, and Sales Training in addition to training and sustainability tools. For further information, contact Cynthia Beale, Director of Training, at 1-888-STECIN-1 (1-888-783-2461) or visit .

Play the Game at NASAGA 2008

Cynthia and Steve will be demonstrating their game at the NASAGA 2008 conference in Indianapolis. DISC The Game™ will be a featured part of the Game Night program.

Brian's Words

Brian Remer will be facilitating a NASAGA 2008 conference session, Briefly Stated: 99 Words That Teach at the NASAGA 2008. In addition to being a master of the 99-words format, Brian invents games and interactive strategies to expand learning and deepen insights.

Great Groups
by Brian Remer

Great groups

Andy is a wonderful musician, teacher, and storyteller. He teaches in schools, calls at square dances, leads choral groups, and plays a mean accordion. What Andy doesn't realize is that he's an expert at fostering teamwork. He has the ability to lead without being in charge—even though he's the “director.”

One comment while leading a choir of novice singers summarizes his philosophy. He said, “Here's how you harmonize. Listen to the person next to you and sing something a little different.” One objective but each contributes uniquely.

Whether musicians, teams, families, or communities, great ones harmonize.

Check It Out

The Firefly Group

If you are a regular reader of TGL, you have enjoyed Brian Remer's monthly 99-words contribution. (Our plan is to publish 99 of them.)

Brian has many other talents also. He's a superb game designer. One of his specialty areas is exploring the instructional use of metaphors.

To learn more about Brian, read our Guest Gamer interview in the August 2004 issue.

To learn more about Brian's practical ideas for trainers and game designers, visit the website of his organization, the Firefly Group . Be sure to click on the Ideas button. While at his website, sign up for his monthly newsletter, Firefly News Flash.

Single Item Survey

Unusual and Useful

I use a standard template for writing up directions for conducting training games and learning activities. The template contains these types of topics:

This list of topics was originally generated by reviewing several books on games, especially on training games. It has evolved over a period of several years to its current form.

However, I am not happy with the list of topics. I realize that I am looking at the game from inside out: from the point of view of a game designer or author. Maybe game facilitators and participants may prefer other topics.

Here's a question for you: What unusual and useful topics should be included in the directions for a training game that will benefit you as a facilitator or as a participant?

Here are some sample responses:

To contribute your response, visit this survey page (opens in a new window). You may include your name along with your suggestion or keep it anonymous. You may send more than one response.