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

Rapid Instructional Design
Review and Practice Games, part 2
Activities that wrap around content.

Guest Gamer
Interview with Michelle Cummings
Conversation with a Big Wheel.

Card Game
Get 20 by Michelle Cummings
Elementary math.

Practical Guidelines from Conceptual Breakthroughs
Culture, thinking, and leadership.

Event Alert
Three Workshops in Switzerland
Summer 2008 near Zurich.

Brian's Words
Mud Season by Brian Remer
Are you really out of the rut?

Check It Out
Card Games from Around the World ( )
Thousands of games with playing cards.

Single Item Survey
What's Wrong with Training Games?
Equal time for the other side.





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

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Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2007 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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

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Rapid Instructional Design

Review and Practice Games, part 2

Effective training involves two critical activities: presenting content and facilitating learning activities. Traditionally, instructional designers focused their efforts and resources on analyzing, outlining, and rewriting the content and presenting it through a variety of media. In contrast, designing activities was either completely ignored or relegated to asking participants to talk to each other.

Unlike the previous decades during which instructional design models were created, content is abundantly available nowadays in various formats and media. Once the training content is presented, we can then use different types of learning activities to review this content and provide practice opportunities for applying them.

There are several different types of review and practice activities, depending on different types of content resources. In an earlier article published in the March 2007 issue of TGL, we explored these five types of activities:

  1. Interactive Lectures
  2. Textra Games
  3. Audio Games
  4. Double Exposure
  5. Picture Games

In this article, we explore five other types of activities that reinforce the presentation of training content.

Table Games (for use with Tables of Information)

Tables effectively organize complex information and enable users to understand the similarities and differences among related items. Table games help participants extract the maximum information from tables, identify key trends, and recall useful facts and data.

Here are a couple of examples of table games:

Asian Nations

This activity involves a table that provides information on the area, population, languages, religion, government, and political leaders of five Asian nations. To get ready for the activity, print sections of the table that show only one column or one row. Give one of these sections to each participant. Ask participants to study their section carefully to discover the relationship among the items. Later ask all participants get together and create the complete table.

Development Stages

Prepare a table showing different aspects of a team's development during the four stages of forming, storming, norming, and performing. However, do not give this table to the participants. Give a minilecture on the developmental stages of a team, encouraging participants to take ample notes. Organize participants into teams and ask them to summarize key pieces of information from the lecture in the form of a reference table. After participants prepare their tables, give them copies of your table for comparison purposes.

Application Games (for use with Job Aids)

Job aids are documents that provide just-in-time support to professional performance. An effective approach to rapid training involves designing job aids and training participants to use them. Application games incorporate job aids as a strategy for improving performance.

Here are a couple of examples of application games:


This application game uses a step-by-step job aid on how to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for a project. Begin the activity by dividing participants into as many teams as there are steps in the calculation procedure. Distribute different sections of the job aid to participants so that members of each team learn how to complete one of the steps. Reorganize participants into mixed teams so that each person in this new team knows how to perform a different step and the team as a whole can perform all the steps. Give sets of information about different projects to each team. Ask team members to work collaboratively and compute the ROI for each project. Encourage participants to teach their step to the other participants and to learn the other steps. Give a final assignment to each participant for working independently to compute the ROI for a new project.

Feedback, Feedback

This application game uses a checklist for giving constructive feedback to employees. Distribute copies of the checklist to teams of participants. Ask each team to prepare a skit featuring a feedback conversation between a manager and an employee. After a suitable pause, ask each team to present its skit. After each skit, ask members of the other teams to evaluate the skit using the job aid as the rating scale. Repeat the procedure until all teams have had a chance to present their skits.

Assessment-Based Learning Activities (for use with Tests and Other Assessment Instruments)

Inventories, questionnaires, and surveys of the type found in this annual (and other resources) along with information on how to interpret participants' responses contain valuable training content. Similarly, written and performance tests along with their scoring keys provide content related to technical topics. All of these materials can be incorporated into review and practice exercises called assessment-based learning activities.

Here are a couple of assessment-based learning activities:

Logic Or Intuition?

This assessment-based activity uses cards with individual items from a thinking-styles inventory. Each card contains a number and a statement. Distribute eight randomly selected cards to each participant. Ask everyone to exchange cards and end up with statements that best reflect the participant's personal preference. After a suitable time for these exchanges, ask everyone to choose the six best cards and discard the rest. Explain that the cards with odd numbers are associated with intuitive thinking while those with even numbers with are associated with logical thinking. Divide participants into three groups (logical, intuitive, and mixed). Ask each group to discuss the advantages of their preferred thinking style and list them on a flip chart. Finally, encourage participants to study the different lists and figure out strategies for working in a team with diverse thinking styles.

True Or False?

This activity uses a true/false test related to customer service. Begin the session by distributing copies of the test and asking participants to independently decide whether each item is true or false. After a suitable pause, read the first item and ask participants to indicate their choice. Randomly select a few participants and ask them to justify their true or false choice. Present information related to the item so participants can make the correct response. Repeat the process with each item until the training topic is thoroughly explored.

Item Processing Activities (for use with Unorganized Information)

Sometimes authentic content that is relevant to the training objectives could be in an unorganized form (for example, complaints from customers or frequently-asked questions about a product). As an instructional designer, your immediate reaction will be to analyze and organize the content and make it easy for the learners to recall it. In this analysis and organization process, you get a deeper understanding of the content. A more effective approach for handling this type of content is to provide the raw information to participants and have them analyze and organize it. Item processing activities do exactly that.

Here are a couple of item processing activities:

Complaint Clusters

The training objective for this item processing activity is to identify major categories of customer complaints and to come up with examples of each. To get ready for the activity, collect several customer complaints and print each complaint on a separate card. Lay out the cards on a table in a random order. Ask participants to silently study the complaints and sort them into categories by moving the cards around. Ask participants to study each cluster of cards and discuss suitable labels for the category. Finally, ask participants to study different categories and discuss similarities and differences among them.

Top Suggestions

To get ready for this activity, collect different ideas from a suggestion box and print each suggestion on a card. Give a single card to each participant. Ask participants to turn their cards down, walk around, and exchange the cards with each other. Blow a whistle to stop the exchange process. Ask participants to pair up. Ask each pair to review the two items they have and distribute seven points between these two items to reflect their relative merit. Participants should write these points on the back of the cards. Repeat the process (of exchanging suggestion cards, pairing up with another participant, and distributing seven points) four more times. At the end of the fifth round, ask participants to add the five score points and write the total. Finally identify highest-scoring suggestion cards. Read and discuss the suggestions.

Online Activities (for use with the Internet)

The Internet is a major source of information, especially among the younger generation. Google has become the most important elearning tool and Wikipedia contains over 7 million articles on diverse topics. Several online games and activities help participants to effectively interact with these content sources.

Here are a couple of examples of online activities:

The Four-Door Approach

The training objective for this elearning activity is to prepare a business proposal for a client. Ask participants to visit the online library and read articles about business proposals, review different sample proposals, and learn to use proposal templates. Ask participants to visit the playground and play flash-based games that test and improve their mastery of the principles and procedures they learned from the library. Ask participants to visit the café and discuss open-ended questions related to the content of the library. Encourage participants to visit these three different locations (library, playground, and café) any number of times and in any sequence. Finally, ask participants to visit the assessment center and take a performance test to demonstrate their ability to write a business proposal for a real-world client.

Outsourcing WebQuest

The WebQuest method was originally created by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University. Let's pretend that you are going through a WebQuest on the topic of outsourcing. As a participant, you have two tasks:

  1. Collect information on the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing.
  2. Create a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes your findings.

The WebQuest provides you with links to relevant websites. It also contains a checklist for evaluating the quality of your research presentation.

Closing Assignment

In the true spirit of practicing what we preach, let's transform you from being a passive reader into an active collaborator. Here's a list of practice and review activities for you to complete:

Guest Gamer

Michelle is the Big Wheel and creator of her business Training Wheels. Training Wheels is a known leader in the teambuilding equipment industry and prides itself in creating quality activities, books, and trainings for those seeking experiential resources. Michelle has created a wide variety of facilitation, debriefing, and teambuilding activities that have collectively changed the way experiential educators and trainers work. She has facilitated a wide variety of programs from therapeutic populations, corporate and school groups, to train-the-trainer programs for professionals. Michelle has authored three books:

  • A Teachable Moment: A Facilitator's Guide to Activities for Processing, Debriefing, Reviewing, and Reflection
  • Bouldering Games for Kids: An Educational Guide for Traverse Walls
  • Playing With a Full Deck: 52 Team Activities Using a Deck of Cards.

She is currently working on her fourth book, Setting the Conflict Compass: A Facilitator's Guide to Activities for Conflict Resolution and Prevention.

Interview with Michelle Cummings

TGL: Michelle, what would you say is your specialty area?

Michelle: I have a true passion for the processing and debriefing of experiential activities. Experience in itself is not enough, it is how you reflect on it that makes it significant or not significant. In modern society, people are not taught to be reflective learners. Adults are bombarded with endless items on their to-do lists. Children are programmed in 50 minute increments throughout their school day, followed by structured activities after school, and homework in the evening. The challenge for team development practitioners is to swim against the current and help participants who live in a world without time for reflection, to find the time—to help them make the time. And not just so that we can check it off our “to do” list: “Yep, I reflected for 4 minutes today. Time to move on!” Reflection and processing helps learners make connections between their educational experiences and real life and future learning. It helps learners realize that they can apply the lessons they learn and the skills they use in a contrived environment (such as a teambuilding program) to real life issues such as resolving a conflict with friends, co-workers, or significant others. Processing helps create purpose, meaning, and focus of an activity. It helps learners take advantage of teachable moments.

TGL: How did you get into designing and using games? How long have you been designing and using games?

Michelle: I grew up on a remote farm with a lot of brothers and sisters, so I used to make up games to entertain us on the farm. Professionally, I got my start in adventure therapy and had to be very creative in getting participants to share. The first debriefing activity I remember creating was the Body Part Debrief™: I found a collection of body part balls in a toy store and asked the group to connect an experience to the props before them. I invited them to tell the group something they had learned with the brain ball, something new they saw in themselves with the eye ball, and something that took guts to do with the stomach ball. I was amazed at how much easier it was for them to share using this activity. That was well over 15 years ago.

TGL: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you had in conducting games?

Michelle: One time I flew to California to facilitate a training session and my luggage with my props did not make the trip. So in a pinch I gathered a bunch of magazines from the hotel I was staying at and cut out some pictures I could use as metaphors for processing. One picture was of a policeman in front of some barbed wire fence. I thought it might be a good metaphor if someone felt trapped or guarded. Unbeknownst to me on the other side of this picture was a painting of a naked woman! Needless to say our debrief went a little differently than I had planned! It was quite a memorable moment for myself and I laminated the page to keep in my personal collection just for fun.

TGL: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Michelle: Most recently I have been mainly using games from my Playing With a Full Deck. I'm amazed at how far a deck of cards can go! I actually facilitated a group of 1600 people by myself for 8 hours and all we used were playing cards and a wireless microphone.

TGL: What is your most favorite game?

Michelle: My favorite Ice Breaker activity is called Handshakes. It allows participants to connect with 4-5 others in the group with a creative and active handshake. I love telling stories, so when I facilitate the activity I invite the group to go on a fictitious trip with me to places where I learned the various handshakes. It's a fun way to get them introduced to a few others in the room and it breaks the ice a bit.

TGL: Who are your favorite game designers?

Michelle: I have several favorite game designers, but my mentor, Karl Rohnke, is by far my favorite. He has authored over 18 game books over his long career and the first game book I owned was one of his. My other favorites are Chris Cavert, Sam Sikes, Faith Evans, and Jim Cain.

TGL: Do you have any book recommendations?

Michelle: Well, I obviously recommend a few of mine. A Teachable Moment is one of the only books out there with over 130 different ways to process and debrief with groups. It also utilizes the concepts of multiple intelligence and includes activities for the many different learning styles. My most recent book, Playing With a Full Deck: 52 Team Activities Using a Deck of Cards, has allowed trainers to travel light and deliver powerful training sessions with a simple deck of playing cards.

One of my favorite game books authored by Sam Sikes is called Raptor and other Teambuilding Activities. Sam's creative use of mousetraps and trust sequences have transformed my workshops and groups dealing with trust issues.

TGL: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Michelle: I think as long as there are groups that work together with new challenges, there will be new games. I like to call it MacGyver facilitation: looking at what props you have in your game bag, the size of group you are working with, the space you have to do it, and the length of time you have to complete it! I also think that the internet will have a significant impact in the future of games. There is already a new games database website called It's like iTunes for games. You can download games right to your iPod or Blackberry! I'm an author for this site and love the search capabilities it has. My online newsletter also reaches thousands of people and I send out free activities a few times a month. Everyone who signs up for the newsletter gets a free ebook of several of my games.

Michelle's contact information:

Phone: 888.553.0147
Michelle says, “You can purchase Playing With a Full Deck by visiting . It is on sale this month!”

Card Game

Get 20
by Michelle Cummings

Here's a game from Michelle's Playing With a Full Deck.


Invite your participants to get into groups of four or five. Give each participant one playing card. The value of the cards equals the number on the card. All face cards (Jack, Queen, and King) are treated as 10. The Ace can be treated as a 1 or a 10. Try not to have two numbers of duplicate values in each group. (For example, do not have a 10 and a Jack in the same group as they are both treated as 10s.)

Playing the Game

Invite your participants to get into groups of 4 or 5. Give each participant one card. Ask them to use any mathematical functions (addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) to get their cards into a sequence that would equal the number 20.

For example, if one group had a cluster of a King (10), Ace (1 or 11), 5, 6, and 8, the group would get into a line and explain how they equal 20: a King plus an Ace would be 11, 11 plus 8 equals 19, 19 plus 6 equals 25, and 25 minus 5 equals 20.

After each small group has at least one equation that equals 20, challenge them to see how many different equations they can come up with using the exact same cards in different sequences. (The record to date is 16 different equations using the same 5 cards.) This requires those groups who have an easier hand to continue working while those groups with more challenging hands are struggling with their equations.

A big hint that you can give to groups that are having a hard time is to remind them that they can go below zero in their calculation. For example, if your group has 2, 3, 4, 5, and 10, your equation could be 2 minus 5 is negative three, plus 10 is positive eight, multiplied by 3 is twenty-four, subtract 4 and you have 20!

After about 10 minutes of game time has passed, ask the group to pick their favorite equation to stand and share with the group. Each group can go around and be as creative with their equation as they want.

I rarely have groups that will not be able to make their cards work for a value of 20. If this case, you can invite other groups to contribute a card to their group and make a new sequence. You can also switch up cards to keep the same group intact but with new cards.

Debriefing Questions


Practical Guidelines from Conceptual Breakthroughs

To order a book from Amazon, click its cover art below. We receive a small commission if you do this.

[Book Cover] Hampden-Turner, Charles M. and Fons Trompenaars (2000). Building Cross-Cultural Competence: How to create wealth from conflicting values. Yale University Press. (ISBN: 0-300-08497-8 ; ISBN-13: 978-0300084979)

Other cultures sometimes adopt values that are the mirror images of our values. Such reversals are frightening to most people. In this book, Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars lead the readers from this type of fear into fascination. They do this by carefully working through six mirror-image pairs of cultural diversity (example: personal freedom vs. social responsibility). For each pair, they systematically define the dilemma, explain why Americans espouse one extreme, point out what happens when the value is at its best, warn about what happens when it is taken too far, and specify what happens with the contrasting values. Using stories and business case studies that illustrate both extremes of the value, the authors logically derive possible vicious and virtuous circles.

Sample practical idea from the book: Talking about the cartoon illustrations (by David Lewis) in the book, the authors recommend the combined use of text and illustrations to appeal to both diffuse culture that prefer diffuse patterns, configurations, and image and to specific cultures that prefer numbers and words.

[Book Cover] Lowy, Alex and Phil Hood (2004). The Power of the 2x2 Matrix: Using 2x2 thinking to solve business problems and make better decisions. Jossey-Bass. (ISBN: 0787972924 ; ISBN-13: 978-0787972929).

Thought leaders do not solve problems: They tackle dilemmas. The authors explain a simple thinking approach for probing complex issues. They discuss how to leverage creative tension, opposition, iteration, integrity, and transcendence to benefit from this way of thinking. The book contains a discussion of eight archetypal dilemmas: head and heart, inside and outside, cost and benefit, product and market, change and stability, known and unknown, urgent and important, and content and process. It also contains an inventory of 55 2x2 frameworks dealing with individual and organizational issues.

Sample practical idea from the book: When you are exploring a 2x2 matrix, stay open to what emerges. One observation leads to another insight, which eventually sheds important light on the central topic.

[Book Cover] Zigarmi, Drea, Susan Fowler, and Dick Lyles (2007). Achieve Leadership Genius: How You Lead Depends on Who, What, Where, and When You Lead. FT Press. (ISBN-10: 0132353768 ; ISBN-13: 978-0132353762).

It is easy to summarize the breakthrough conceptual framework of this book. Effective leadership depends on recognizing one of five settings (represented by the acronym SOTOA): self, one-on-one, team, organization, and alliance. Within each setting, you perform an appropriate version of these five acts: prepare, envision, initiate, assess, and respond. The practical and thoughtful chapters of the book are directly aligned with these specific acts and settings.

Sample practical idea from the book: Identify your behaviors that are driven by your disposition and replace them with behaviors that are driven by your values.

Event Alert

Three Workshops in Switzerland

The Thiagi Group is happy to announce three workshops in Switzerland during the summer of 2008:

  1. Interactive Training Strategies by Thiagi (Three days: June 30-July 2, 2008)
  2. Training Clinic by Thiagi (with Matt and Sam) (One day: July 3, 2008)
  3. Motivating Your Employees by Matt Richter (with Thiagi) (One day: July 4, 2008)

For more information, download a pdf brochure (3,247,067 bytes).

Brian's Words

Brian Remer is Creative Learning Director at The Firefly Group ( ). In addition to writing 99 powerful words every month for this column, Brian invents games and interactive strategies to expand learning and deepen insights.

Mud Season
by Brian Remer

Mud Season

One muddy spring day I loaded the garbage into the car for a trip to the dumpster at the bottom of the hill. I inched carefully down our unpaved road trying to avoid the deep sloppy tracks by riding the high ground. No use! The muck grabbed the tires and I could only hang on and keep moving. The car steered itself, scraping bottom all the way.

Reaching the pavement I congratulated myself and sped off. How glad I was to be out of a rut!

But I wasn't really. The garbage was still in the car!

Check It Out

Card Games from Around the World ( )

I am convinced that playing cards are a gift from some superior alien civilization whose members visited our planet a long time ago. Without doubt, they are the best example of versatile and sustainable technology.

I play games with playing cards. I perform sleight-of-hand tricks with them. I design training games and simulations that use playing cards.

I have several shelves of books about playing cards. However, these books have become collector's items. Whenever I want to check on an old card game or learn a new one, I just visit the Card Games website.

This website, maintained by John McLeod, contains rules of hundreds of card games from Abyssinia to Zwickern. You can locate the game you are looking for by using the alphabetical index, classified index, or national and regional listings. In addition to traditional card games, this web site contains listings of a selected set of invented and commercial card games.

If you are looking design ideas for training games that use traditional playing cards, this is the site to visit.

While visiting the website, be sure to check out a game called Ninety-Nine created by David Parlett. This is our favorite game. All Thiagi Group employees (the three of us) play this game frequently.

Single Item Survey

What's Wrong with Training Games?

Many people claim that I have an unreasonably optimistic outlook toward training games. They accuse me of ignoring major disadvantages, problems, and limitations of a game-based approach to training.

I would like to listen to complaints about training games. Can you help me by taking a few seconds to respond to this single survey item:

What is one major complaint about training games that most people have?

Here are a few responses from an international group of participants at a recent workshop that I conducted:

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 along with your response or keep it anonymous.