SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.
Does your list include ideas from the other list?
Vicarious feelings and experiences.
An Activity from Mark
Chopped! (Item Processing / Pair Work) by Mark Isabella
A free activity and a special discount on 53 more.
Learn to unlearn. Unlearn to learn.
A Cryptic Rule
Before you become an unconventional genius.
The Origin of Barnga
How I designed a simulation game.
Thiagi's Workshop in Singapore
Pieces of Advice
Follow @thiagi on Twitter.
LOLA 2: Interactive Storytelling
Taking storytelling to the next level.
Who Are These People?
A large crowd.
From Brian's Brain
Peerology: Learning from Everyday Expertise by Brian Remer
A link to the latest issue of Brian's newsletter.
In the beginning.
Are You Learning?
A summary of your responses.
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.
Author and Editor : Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor : Raja Thiagarajan
Associate Editors: Jean Reese and Tracy Tagliati
Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Matthew Richter
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2014 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 © 2014 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) for permission.
To sign up, or to donate and help us continue this newsletter, please see the Online Newsletter page on our website ( http://thiagi.com/pfp.html ).
Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to email@example.com . Thanks!
Here's a fast-paced game that we use with List and Compare cards from our Fluency Card decks. These games enable you to get maximum mileage out of open-ended questions.
Each team writes down two responses that are associated with a category or to an open-ended question. Later, another team tries to guess these two responses by rattling off a long list of probable items. The team wins if its list includes the two responses recorded by the original team.
To come up with a list of appropriate items that belong to a category. Or, to come up with a list of appropriate responses to an open-ended question.
Maximum: 30, divided into teams of three to five
Best: 10 to 30
Minimum: 5 minutes
Maximum: 10 minutes
Best: 7 or 8 minutes
Divide participants into teams. Organize them into two or more teams, each team with three to five members.
Give an open-ended question to each team. We use listing categories from our fluency cards:
Instead of these categories, you may use any set of open-ended questions related to your training topic. Make sure each team receives a different question.
Ask each team to write down two responses. Tell the team members to brainstorm alternative responses to the category or the question it received. Ask them to select any two of these responses and record them on a piece of paper. Announce a 2-minute time limit for completing the task. At the end of the time, blow the whistle, and ask the teams to conclude their activity.
Send team representatives. Select a team member and send this person to the next team, with the list of the two responses. The representative from the last team goes to the first team. (If there are only two teams, they exchange their representatives.)
Ask the teams to present a long list of responses. Tell each representative to state the open-ended question they received and keep the list of the two responses hidden from the members of the other team. Invite members of the team to present a list of responses to the question. This list could be as lengthy as the team members could rattle off within a 3-minute time limit.
Announce the results. Ask the representative from the other team to read the two responses recorded earlier on the piece of paper. If one or both responses (or reasonable facsimiles) are included in the list presented by the other team, they earn one or two points. Identify the winning teams and congratulate them.
Sorry to disillusion you, but people don't learn from experience. They learn from reflecting on their experience.
As a facilitator, you encourage appropriate reflection by conducting a debriefing discussion. During this debriefing, your participants reflect on their experience, relate them to the real world, discover useful insights, and share them with each other.
In conducting research on debriefing, I have discovered that you can debrief real experiences (such as being downsized) as well as contrived experiences (such as participating in an immersive roleplay). More importantly, you can debrief first-hand experiences as well as vicarious experiences. In other words, you can debrief people's interaction with a story.
This fact enables us to design and use debriefed stories for training purposes.
I use a convenient set of six questions for conducting the debriefing discussion of a story:
In a workshop on cultural differences, I used a short story called “A Death in My Family”. The training objective for the workshop is to explore the differences and similarities in the way different cultures handle major life events.
After briefing the participants about the training objective, I distributed copies of a short story called “A Death in My Family”. I ask the participants to read the story individually and come back to the classroom in 20 minutes.
When the participants returned, I conducted a debriefing discussion using a prepared set of questions.
The short story and the debriefing questions are included after this article. You may want to read the story and respond to questions to experience this approach to interactive storytelling. You may write down your responses to the debriefing questions or just think of the answers.
Training topics in diversity and inclusion lend themselves nicely to the interactive storytelling approach. In addition, you can use this technique with short stories to explore soft skill topics such as leadership, conflict management, critical thinking, motivation, negotiation, and team work. All you need is to find (or write) a suitable story. Very often, you may not want to use an entire story. You can select a self-contained excerpt that illustrates the key principles and concepts you want to get across.
Different participants have different reading speeds, making it difficult for you to keep your group synchronized. But you don't need to present the story in a printed format. You can read the story or use an audio or video recording.
You can display the story on a web site and ask the participants to read the story. You can follow up with a debriefing discussion through a forum or a chat room.
Whether you use text or audio or video to present your story, remember that the effectiveness of this training technique depends on the interactive elements of the debriefing. This discussion should not be an afterthought. You should carefully structure your debriefing questions and set aside sufficient time.
There are a couple of problems in holding the participants' attention in conducting a debriefing discussion:
Following the lead of Roger Greenaway, a specialist in debriefing, we have been using fast-paced games to involve everyone in debriefing discussions. Here are a few sample debriefing games:
Although we have described the debriefing games in a face-to-face classroom context, with minor adjustments we have used them in virtual classrooms and in elearning sessions.
The important principle that contributes to the effective use of debriefed stories is to make sure that these four elements are tightly aligned with each other: the training objective, the story, the debriefing questions, and the activity to structure the discussion. As long as these elements are effectively integrated, it does not matter where you begin your design activity. You may start with any element as long as you remember the design of interactive storytelling activities is always an iterative process.
These questions are organized under the six key questions used for debriefing. They encourage the participants to discuss the content and the impact of the story.
Begin with the first few questions to start the discussion. Encourage a free-flowing conversation among the participants. Return to pick up more questions when the conversation slows down:
While the story has several different aspects, let's focus on its cross-cultural factors. What are the similarities and differences between your culture (and religion) and the culture (and religion) of the narrator with respect to these factors?
How would your reactions to the story been different if—
Copyright © by Sivasailam Thiagarajan
When I woke up, it was not yet daylight outside. The electric light was on and my big brother Maniannan was combing his hair in front of the mirror.
“Are you going somewhere?” I asked.
“Yes, Father wants me to go to take a letter to uncle.”
I looked at the letter written in Father's tight handwriting. I recognized some words but the others were too big for me to sound out. I asked Maniannan, “What does it say?”
Maniannan read the letter in a low voice:
After a lengthy illness, Mrs. Valliammal attained gracious peace at the feet of Lord Siva at 3:30 this morning. The cremation will take place at 11:30 in the Mambalam mayanam.
I did not understand what the letter said. I asked Maniannan, “What does it mean?”
“It means Mother's dead.” Maniannan said softly.
* * *
Maybe “Mother's dead” meant that she was sicker and in greater pain. I went to the sick room where Mother stayed the last few months. Several grown-ups were whispering to each other.
I quickly understood the reason for their whispers. Mother was in her bed, fast asleep. She was wearing her silk sari and had a big rose garland around her neck. Her face looked beautiful so she could not be hurting.
I looked around for Father, but he was not in the room. Neither was Granny.
I got closer and whispered into Mother's ear, “Mother, are you sleeping?” She did not reply. I asked her in a louder whisper: “Mother, what does dead mean?”
She did not reply.
* * *
Granny knew everything and I would ask her. I went to the back room.
Granny was in a corner, crying silently. I had never seen Granny cry, not even when she broke her hip. But she was crying now and the tears were running down her cheeks.
Several women around Granny were also crying. When aunt Kalyani saw me, she started wailing. “Oh my sister, why did you have to die at such a young age? Who's going to take care of your little ones?”
This served as a signal for the other women to begin sobbing. I heard some words but could not understand what they were saying. One woman complained about God's cruelty. Another woman recalled the time Mother took care of her when her husband lost his job. Another woman said that Mother was the kindest friend she ever had.
The wailing of the women became so loud that I got scared and went back to the sick room.
* * *
Mother was still sleeping. The cook placed some incense sticks in different corners of the room.
I followed him to the kitchen. I asked, “What's Mother going to do?”
The cook looked confused for a moment and said, “She's going on a trip.”
“Are we going with her?”
“Will she be gone for a long time?”
“When will she come back?”
“Not for a long time.”
If Mother was going on a trip, I wanted to go with her.
Some men brought in a mat made of green coconut palm fronds. My cousin's grandfather, the oldest man in our family, put some holy ash on Mother's forehead. Some women put flowers in Mother's hair. Aunt Kalyani removed Mother's gold wedding chain from around her neck and replaced it with a yellow string.
And all through these activities, Mother continued to sleep.
* * *
At 11 o'clock, Father and my uncle lifted Mother from the bed and laid her on the coconut mat. Four men lifted the mat and moved Mother to the verandah. After placing another garland around her neck, they carried Mother on the mat to the street.
Mr. Natarajan, the nice man who was a clerk in Father's office, picked me up. I told him, “I want to go with Mother.”
“That's what we are going to do.”
He put me behind the handlebar of his bicycle and propped it up by the window. Then he went into the house and brought back my little brother Chidambaram—who was crying softly—and put him on the saddle.
Mr. Natarajan pushed his bike and we followed the others in the procession behind Mother. Maniannan walked with Father up ahead, carrying a small clay pot.
We went through several side streets. I listened to the conversation among the people who were walking with us. One of them said he liked processions with music. Another announced that they had declared a holiday in the school where Mother taught.
There were no women in the procession, but some women in the street looked at Mother and reverently patted themselves on their cheeks. A milk woman walked a little while with us and chatted with Mr. Natarajan.
“They say it's a good omen to see the body of a sumangali who dies before her husband. She looks so young. What did she die of?” Mr. Natarajan replied that she was sick for a long time and that she was indeed a virtuous sumangali.
The procession continued. I asked Mr. Natarajan, “Is Mother going on a long trip?”
He was taken aback. After thinking for a while, he said, “Yes.”
* * *
We stopped behind a small temple that had a hut behind it. The hut looked strange because it had a tin roof and mud floor, but no walls. A lot of firewood was piled up neatly near the hut.
The men who were carrying Mother placed the mat on top of the firewood pile. I was worried that it might hurt Mother. But she did not wake up.
Mr. Natarajan put the bicycle on the stand. Chidambaram was drooping on the saddle and Mr. Natarajan straightened him up and covered his eyes.
The men poured something on the firewood. It smelled like ghee. Father put a sliver of firewood inside the pot Maniannan was carrying. When he took it out, I saw a flame at the end of the stick. Father touched the firewood pile with the burning stick and the whole pile lighted up suddenly.
I shrieked and closed my eyes.
When I opened my eyes after a long time, the flames were roaring. I tried to figure out what was happening. Was Father angry at Mother and punishing her? But Father did not look angry. Actually, I could see tears rolling down his cheek.
I asked Mr. Natarajan, “When the fire goes out, will Mother be better?”
He looked perplexed. “When the fire goes out,” he said finally, “We will collect your Mother's ashes and sprinkle them in the holy river.”
For the first time, I thought I might not see Mother again.
* * *
“Will she look older?”
“No, she will be born a baby. She could be a baby ant or a baby elephant. She could be a baby bird. She could be a baby boy.”
I did not like that. “How can I talk to her if she becomes a baby ant?”
Granny did not answer my question but continued with her explanation. “ It all depends on God's will.”
“Granny, why does God do these things?”
Granny pulled out the old book, The Legend of the Graceful Games. I had seen that book before. It had pictures and funny stories about the playful things that God did.
Granny read a verse from the book. The only word that I understood was play.
“I don't understand what it means, Granny.”
“Remember how you play hide and seek? God is a great game master and he has all of us playing hide and seek. God plays with the whole universe that has many worlds. When you play hide and seek, you have a boundary. But in God's game, there is no boundary. When you play hide and seek, the game comes to an end when it gets dark. But God's game never ends. Your Mother and you and I will be playing His game for ever and ever.”
“Granny, I want to die so I can see Mother.”
Granny said, “You cannot do that.”
“Because those are the rules of the game. The game must go on. We need you to explain the rules to your little brother Chidambaram. And when you become a big man, you will have your own children and you will have to help them learn the game. Remember, you have to make sure that the game never ends. ”
Granny patted my cheeks.
I went looking for Chidambaram to explain the rules of the game that never ends.
Mark Isabella has created a card deck called Engagement Emergency that contains 54 activities for instant interaction. The activities take 2-10 minutes to run and require little setup or preparation. These a la carte activities come in a variety of formats including action planning, feedback, group formation, openers, pair work, and reflection. If you are in the midst of rapid instructional design and need an opener, you can consult the deck and find one quickly. If you are in the middle of a presentation and need a shot of engagement and interaction, you can thumb through the deck right before you begin your session or during a break.
Present 3 distinct solutions to a problem or challenge experienced by audience members. Have participants find a partner, compare your 3 solutions, and jointly dismiss the option that has the lowest probability of achieving success. In the larger group, have 3-4 volunteers explain their rationale for chopping the weakest solution.
Engagement Emergency decks usually sell for $59.95 (plus $10.95 for shipping within the USA). If you order now, you will receive a $10 discount. You can purchase each Engagement Emergency deck in our online store for $49.95. No need to enter a coupon code—as long as you order before October 31, you'll get the discount automatically.
This is another jolt in my facial anatomy series. I enjoy using parts of my body as props because they are so portable. This jolt deals with a familiar concept of the importance of unlearning demonstrated in several of my other jolts.
The facilitator gives instructions to cover one of your ears or eyes. Later, the facilitator refers to the left ear as nose and the right eye as mouth. Subsequent instructions slow down your performance.
To unlearn old terminology before you can learn new terminology.
Maximum: Any number
Best: 5 to 30
3 minutes for the activity
3 minutes for debriefing
Brief the participants. Explain that you will specify the right or left eye or ear. Each participant should cover the specific eye or ear. Demonstrate the activity by calling out “Left ear” and cupping one of your hands over the left ear.
Get the participants following your instructions at a rapid rate. Keep calling out the specific eye or ear in a random order:
Just call out the specific eye or ear. Don't cover your eye or ear.
Change the terminology. Explain that saying right ear or left eye is time consuming. To increase the speed of action, you are going to use this single-word terminology:
Ear refers to the right ear.
Nose refers to the left ear.
Mouth refers to the right eye.
Eye refers to the left eye.
Explain that you will merely name the part of the face without saying anything. The participants have to correctly interpret the terminology and cover the appropriate part of their face.
Repeat the terminology and demonstrate the appropriate covering behavior.
Call out parts of the face using the new terminology. Randomly repeat these words: eye, ear, nose, and mouth. Do not demonstrate the activity. Pause after each word and encourage the participants to check if everyone is touching the correct part of their face.
Ask the participants if they found the new terminology more difficult to interpret than the old one. Ask them why this is so.
Ask the participants if it would have been easier to use entirely new words or foreign words (such as our for the left ear and ague for the right eye). Encourage the participants to justify their response.
Explain the concept of negative transfer of training: Previously learned (and overlearned) habits interfere with the learning of new habits that share similar cues. To avoid this type of interference, people have to unlearn their previous habits in order to master the new habits.
Ask the participants for examples of negative transfer. Ask them specifically for examples where the same word (such as objective) means different things in different contexts.
Recently I came across a rule about rules. It made a lot of sense and I would like to share it with you. But to prevent other people from stealing it, I have encrypted this powerful rule.
Cryptograms are highly engaging language puzzles. If you are unfamiliar with cryptograms, we recommend our explanation from our October 2006 issue of TGL.
Please try the puzzle out at http://thiagi.com/pfp/onlinepuzzles/tgl-2014-10/ and tell us what you think by using the comments link below.
A hint for this puzzle
The cross-cultural communication game Barnga has been around for 34 years. This is the story of how I designed it, retold from the introduction to the game manual.
Assistant Editor's Note: Barnga is perhaps Thiagi's most famous and popular simulation game design. It is available for purchase in our online store.—Raja
The loud banging on the door woke me up at 3:30 in the morning. I staggered to the front of the house, undid the four bolts, and opened the heavy door to confront three armed people, two in camouflage fatigues and one wearing a Michael Jordan T-shirt.
The man in the T-shirt said hoarsely, “Give us the keys to your vehicles.”
He reeked of beer and stumbled over the word “vehicles”.
Feigning innocence, I asked him, “Who are you and do you have some authorization?”
The man pointed his rifle to my head. One of the other soldiers did the same.
“This is all the authority we need, old man. We are now the government. The vehicles belong to us. So give us keys quick.”
I silently handed him the keys to the five trucks.
That was the morning of Sunday, April 13, 1980. I was the Chief of Party for a USAID-sponsored primary education project in Liberia. I lived in a large house in a small town called Gbarnga with my wife Lucy and my son Raja. My exalted title and the large house resulted in all the project trucks being parked in front of my house at night. During the day, the trucks transported instructional materials to 30 primary schools in 12 different Liberian counties.
Later during the day, we listened to the BBC News and found out that Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe had conducted a coup and taken over the Liberian government.
Without our vehicles, we closed down the project office to prevent looting. Many of our Liberian colleagues visited us frequently and gave us the latest news about which cabinet members got decapitated.
We spent most evenings playing Scrabble with Samba, Edwin, and Elizabeth. For a change of pace I lent my copy of Hoyle's to my friends to read and master the rules of the Euchre game. We started playing the game after everyone assured me that they knew the rules. After about 5 minutes, it became very clear that each person had a different interpretation of the same rules. This resulted in some quarrels about trumps, accusations about cheating, and complaints about lack of intelligence. The most interesting thing was that everyone was sure that his interpretation of the rules was the correct one.
This episode presented me with a blinding flash of design thinking: What would happen, I thought, if we deliberately give different rules to different people and pretended that everyone is playing by the same rules?
This was the origin of Barnga, the simulation game—and its name.
Thiagi will be conducting a 3-day workshop in Singapore during January 8-10, 2015. The workshop, Interactive Training Strategies, will enable participants to design and deliver interactive techniques for instructor-led training. Download our brochure (1.1M PDF) for additional details.
Only last month, Thiagi conducted this workshop in Singapore. But the demand for the workshop continues unabated.
We are working with our partners to bring Thiagi's workshops to Hongkong, Shanghai, Mumbai, Dubai, and other places around the world. Watch out for announcements about these workshops in future issues of TGL.
If you would like to organize a Thiagi workshop in your part of the world, send him a note at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Every day, Thiagi tweets ready-to-use pieces of practical advice on HR topics such as coaching, creativity, customer service, feedback, leadership, listening skills, and management.
Here are some recent pieces of advice that were retweeted frequently:
Don't believe when people say, “The content we need does not exist.” Surely it is stored inside some SME's cranium. Interview this person.
Develop an effective packet of job aids. Create a training package that helps the participants to use these job aids.
Content without activity results in inert knowledge. Activity without knowledge produces headless chicken. Combine content with activity.
You don't have to be on all the time. You don't have to fight fires continuously. Set aside blank slots in your calendar for reflection.
The most important leadership skill is listening. Shut up and listen to suggestions and feedback from your colleagues and your followers.
For a leader, unlearning is as important as learning. Deliberately unlearn your habitual patterns of dysfunctional behaviors.
Join the thousands of people who follow @thiagi on Twitter. If you don't have a Twitter account, it is easy to sign up for one at twitter.com.
Last month we launched a webinar series (on interactive webinars) for TGL readers. The first webinar was on the structured sharing approach in which participants generate appropriate content and the facilitator conducts a debriefing discussion.
We conducted a poll at the end of last month's webinar to determine the topic for the October webinar. From the menu of LOLAs (Live Online Learning Activities), the participants selected interactive storytelling.
Thiagi and his team will conduct a webinar on interactive storytelling on Tuesday, October 14 at 12 Noon US Eastern Time.
Register for this free webinar at https://attendee.gototraining.com/r/4222671468950179842 .
In this webinar, you will explore different types of interactive stories in which you and the other participants will actively participate in creating, sharing, analyzing, modifying, debriefing, and completing relevant pieces of short fiction (instead of passive listening to the trainer's stories in a trance). You will learn how to use a dozen templates for interactive storytelling to suit your training topics and participant preferences.
The faces are probably too tiny for you to recognize anyone from this enthusiastic crowd.
Can you recognize the event and the location? Respond by typing in the comment area.
This is a pithy rule about rules. The word “rule” appears twice in this message.
How often do we long for expert advice but ignore the expertise of those who surround us? At a time when information is readily available through the internet, people need opportunities for peer-to-peer learning. Conference and meeting organizers should use keynote speakers less and face-to-face activities more.
Power Tip: Play creates an ideal environment for peer-to-peer learning.
Read more in the September 2014 issue of Firefly News Flash: http://www.thefirefly.org/Firefly/html/News%20Flash/2014/September%202014.htm .
The ancient Hindu philosopher Plato :-) said: The beginning is the most important part of the work.
This is probably true of training sessions also.
How do you get your training sessions started?
(The poll opens in a new window.)
Can you briefly describe your favorite opening activity?
(The survey opens in a new window.)
You may include your name along with your response, or if you prefer, keep it anonymous.
In the September 2014 issue of TGL we asked our trainer-readers to rate themselves as learners.
As of September 29, 2014, 55 readers responded. Thirty-five of them (64%) said that they were busy learners, and twenty (36%) said they were average learners. Nobody confessed to being a non-learner.
As a follow up to the poll, we asked this open question:
What types of topics do you spend your time learning? Or what types of things would you like to learn if you had the time?
Here are some of your responses, as of September 29, 2014:
Thanks to everyone who responded.
This survey is still open. Feel free to add your comments by visiting the survey page.
You cannot break a rule unless you know it. So master a rule before you begin to ignore it.
I spend half of my time flying around the world and living in hotels. Overpacking tops the list of my biggest travel mistakes.
My travel behavior has changed drastically ever since I discovered the onebag.com website. This is a non-commercial web site that teaches the art and science of travelling light. In this website, you can learn how to go pretty much anywhere, for business or leisure, for an indefinite length of time, with no more than a single carry-on bag.
The website contains advice on what to pack, what to pack it in, and how to pack it—along with packing lists and other resources.
Here are a few random tips I got from this web site:
By the way, the web site presents lots of advice for traveling women. The list above contains only a sample of ideas that I have personally adopted.
Whether you are an occasional traveler or a mercenary facilitator, take a look at this web site. While you are there, consider making a donation to keep the site non-commercial.