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

Changing Roles
Don't treat learners as learners.

Postcard to a Friend
An interesting final activity.

Postcard from a Friend
An interesting initial activity that uses the products of the above activity.

A Dozen Uses for Crossword Puzzles
Here's a flexible tool that makes learning happen.

Software Review
Crossword Compiler
Here's a flexible tool that makes crossword puzzles.

Debriefing Through Journal Writing
Write down your thoughts and insights.

Too Smart
Sometimes smart people think inside the box.

ISAGA 2004 Conference
Meet you in Munich, Germany.





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: Matt Richter

Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2004 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 © 2004 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

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

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Changing Roles

Subject-matter expert, instructional designer, trainer, learner.

These are some of the important roles in the training business. In my training activities, I have been mixing up these roles just to see what happens. My field research—and other people's research—reveals that several interesting things happen when we ask learners to pretend that they are trainers or instructional designers or subject-matter experts.

Learners as Trainers

A pithy saying suggests that an effective trainer should continue to be a learner. This principle makes a lot of sense. So does the opposite principle: An effective learner should be a trainer.

Each Teach is an example of a game that makes use of this powerful principle. You use this game to help learners master a step-by-step procedure such as calculating tax payments, writing a business memo, determining the price of a new product, or drawing a flowchart. Let us assume that the procedure that you are teaching involves four steps. During the first round of the game, divide learners into four groups and teach each group how to apply one of the four steps. During the second phase, reorganize the learners into teams of four members, each of whom has mastered a different step. Give each team a set of application exercises that require the use of all four steps of the procedure. Initially, the teams complete the task, with different “experts” taking care of different steps. Later, each team member is encouraged to learn the other steps from the other members. Eventually, this mutual teaching and learning process results in all learners mastering all steps of the procedure.

Here's another example: You can use a game called MLT (Multi-Level Training) for helping people learn physical skills such as first-aid procedures, karate moves, yoga postures, juggling technique, or magic tricks. Begin the game by appointing four learners as “Prime Trainers”—two for the red team and two for the blue team. Train these Prime Trainers on the physical skill and ask them to recruit and train as many of the other learners as possible, one person at a time. When a Prime Trainer feels confident about a learner's skill level, they make her an “Associate Trainer” and a member of their team. The Associate Trainers continue the process by recruiting, training, and certifying more learners. The game ends when all learners are trained. At this time, the team with the most Associate Trainers wins the game.

Immense amounts of research data reveal that when learners teach others, the overall effectiveness of the training activity increases significantly. Apparently, fellow-learners speak a common language and relate to each other better. As a result, learners learn more effectively from their peers than from expert trainers. An important and intriguing side effect of peer-teaching activities is that the teachers also learn in the process of teaching others. And the more often a learner teaches others, the more comprehensive and stronger his or her mastery of the skill and knowledge becomes. Although recent research strongly establishes this fact, people have been aware of this principle for several centuries. Even the ancient Romans had a Latin expression that clearly summarized the principle: docendo discimus (“teach in order to learn”).

Learners as Subject-Matter Experts

Here's another time-honored principle: Adult learners bring rich, varied, and relevant experiences with them. This principle implies that you should not treat adults as inexperienced children to be enlightened or empty containers to be filled. Instead, you should build upon adults' experiences.

Unfortunately, however, this principle is more often violated than followed. Until recently, role assignments in training have been that subject-matter experts create knowledge, instructional designers package it, trainers deliver it, and learners consume it.

Fortunately, this paradigm is shifting rapidly. Knowledge and content are no longer hoarded by Brahmins and doled out to the privileged few. Today, anyone can surf the Internet for immediate access to esoteric content, including items that were Top Secret only a few years ago. Also, the new field of knowledge management is ignoring self-proclaimed experts and collecting and distributing best practices from typical practitioners. In addition, new hires from the Nintendo generation enter the workforce with more computer expertise than their trainers from the earlier generation.

For several years, I have been experimenting with structured-sharing activities that treat adult learners as subject-matter experts who have a wealth of tips, tricks, and shortcuts based on their experience. In a typical structured-sharing activity, you invite people to share their best practices and reward them for doing so. This approach works effectively with interpersonal skills (such as conflict resolution) and technical skills (such as computer programming).

Here's a sample structured-sharing activity called 101 that treats experienced adults as subject-matter experts. You conduct this activity in several rounds that are separated by one or more days. Before the activity begins, randomly recruit a panel of five judges from the pool of participants. During the first round, assemble the participants, identify a topic, and invite everyone to write at least one-and not more than five-practical tips, each on an index card. After 10 minutes, collect all the tips and inform the participants that they will continue playing several rounds of the game until they have generated 101 useful tips. After the players return to their workplace, give the collection of tips to the judges and have them identify the top five tips. The next day, distribute a “gameletter” with copies of all the tips and a Hall of Fame announcement listing the names of the participants who contributed the top five tips. Also distribute instructions for the next round, which invites participants to send more new tips by recalling their personal experience, reading books and journals, or interviewing others. Specify a deadline for the round, collect all new tips, and ask the judges to select the next batch of five top tips. Continue conducting the game for several more rounds until you have collected 101 tips. At this time, ask the judges to identify not only the latest batch of the five top tips, but also the best ones among the previous batches. In the last issue of the gameletter, recognize and congratulate the participants who contributed the most tips. Invite everyone to select and implement his or her own set of high-impact tips.

Concept Analysis is another activity in which the learners act as subject-matter experts. In contrast to 101, this activity deals with conceptual knowledge rather than procedural skills. To conduct Concept Analysis, select a fairly ill-defined buzzword such as leadership, empowerment, inclusion, or coaching. Explain that the goal of the activity is to share, discuss, and identify critical features of the concept and to come up different examples. Organize participants into teams and ask them to provide a variety of examples of the selected concept in action, ranging from obvious, clear-cut illustrations to subtle, borderline cases. Ask teams to identify higher-level concepts (such as interaction between two people as a higher-level concept associated with coaching) and lower-level ones (such as giving a pep talk as a lower-level concept associated with coaching). Continue the activity by asking for synonyms (such as counseling and mentoring), antonyms (such as ignoring and punishing), word associations (such as sports and teams), metaphors (such as farming and bringing up children), and graphic representations. Throughout the discussions, keep inviting participants to identify the critical features (which should be shared by all examples of the concept), variable features (which may differ among different examples), and desirable features. At the end of the activity, participants end up with a better understanding of the concept and a common definition.

Concept Analysis, 101, MLT, and Each Teach all increase learning effectiveness by following a simple guideline: Don't treat learners as learners all the time.


Postcard to a Friend

Here's a closer that encourages participants to recall what happened in the session and to come up with second thoughts about how they could have benefited more. It also creates useful materials for an interesting icebreaker.


To review the training session and identify personal highlights.


Any number


15 to 30 minutes


A postcard-sized piece of card stock for each participant

Flipchart paper


Brief participants. Present the following scenario, using your own words:

Imagine it's three months ago, and you received an e-mail note from a friend indicating that she's going to attend this training session. She is curious about your experiences with the session and wants your advice on how to get the most out of it. You are ready to respond to her by sending her a postcard.

Begin the postcard writing activity. Ask participants to think back on the training session and recall one or two highlights. Also ask them to think about what two pieces of advice they should give this friend. Distribute a blank “postcard” to each participant and ask him or her to write a short, friendly note incorporating the highlights and the advice. Announce a 5-minute time limit.

Conclude the postcard-writing activity. Ask participants who have finished ahead of the others to decorate their postcards with doodles. When everyone has concluded, collect the postcards and thank the participants.

Ask participants to compare notes. Organize participants into teams of 3 to 7 and ask them to share what they wrote on their postcards.

Create joint postcards. Ask each team to write a joint note to the imaginary friend using large letters on a sheet of flipchart paper positioned horizontally (landscape format). Announce a 5-minute time limit.

Display the joint postcards. After a suitable pause, ask teams to tape their giant postcards to the wall of the meeting room. Encourage the participants take a gallery walk and review the products from the other teams.


Postcard from a Friend

Here's an interesting icebreaker that uses the postcards written in the previous closer activity (Postcard to a Friend). It involves distributing postcards from previous participants with their highlights and advice for a new group of participants. Be sure that you receive informed consent from the writers before using their postcards in this activity.


To provide a preview of the session and some advice on how to get the most out of it.


Any number.


15 to 30 minutes


Postcard written by participants in a previous session. If necessary, photocopy some postcards to make sure that all participants will receive a postcard.


Brief participants. Present the following scenario in your own words:

Let's pretend that one of your friends has gone through this training session earlier. You send her an e-mail note asking for her comments on the session and advice on how to get the most out of it. She sends you a postcard.

Conduct the card reading session. Distribute one postcard to each participant. Explain that it was written under the same scenario that you presented earlier. Ask participants to read the postcard and review the information. Tell them that you will be taking the postcard back in a few minutes.

Ask participants to compare notes. Retrieve the postcards from the participants and organize them into teams of three to seven. Ask each team to compare the advice from the postcards and to select the three most useful pieces of advice.

Prepare posters. Ask participants to prepare a summary of the three most useful pieces of advice on a sheet of flip chart paper. After a suitable pause, ask teams to tape their posters to the wall. Encourage participants to review the posters from the other teams.

Conduct a Q&A session. Ask the participants to return to their locations. Invite them to ask you questions about any of the items from the postcards they received. Give brief responses.


A Dozen Uses for Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles are ubiquitous. Everyone has seen them and most people have tried their hand at solving them at least once while waiting for their dentist or flying across the continent. Crosswords are also one of the most versatile puzzle formats for instructional use. Here are a dozen sample applications:

Entry test. Create a test to check if participants have all the prerequisite information and knowledge. Convert this test into a crossword puzzle and distribute a copy to each participant as he or she arrives at the training location. At the beginning of the session form participants into teams and have them solve the puzzle as an icebreaker activity. Go through the solution to the puzzle, providing just-in-time review of the necessary content.

Interactive lecture. Prepare an outline for your presentation in the form of short-answer questions. Create a crossword puzzle based on these questions and distribute copies of this puzzle at the beginning of your lecture. Make your presentation, and stop after about 10 minutes. Ask participants to solve as much of the puzzle as possible. This interlude helps participants to review your presentation and preview the topics to come. After a suitable pause, continue with your lecture. Repeat the puzzle-solving interludes once every 10 minutes. At the end of the session, make sure that all participants have solved the entire crossword puzzle.

Jolt: Mea Culpa. Prepare two sets of clues for the same crossword puzzle, one with easy clues (example: How much is four minus two?) and the other with difficult clues (example: number of planets in the solar system that take a longer time to rotate around their axes than to revolve around the sun). Make copies of the same puzzle with different sets of clues and randomly distribute them to participants. Ask everyone to solve the puzzle as soon as possible and to stand up when they have solved the entire puzzle. Participants with the set of easy clues will stand up sooner than the others. Stop the activity at this juncture and ask those who have not yet solved the puzzle how they feel. Learning point: Most people attribute failure to their incompetence rather than to external conditions.

Metaphorical simulation: Inter-Team Collaboration. Prepare three of four different sets of clues for the same crossword puzzle. Assemble participants into teams and announce that all teams will solve the same puzzle but with different clues. If a team solves the puzzle within 7 minutes, it wins. The best strategy is for the teams to share their clues because the multiple clues to each word make it easier to solve. However, most teams will mistakenly assume that only the first team to solve the puzzle will win the game. After 7 minutes, explain that all teams could have worked faster if they shared the clues. Learning point: It is important to share information and other resources among different teams (or departments) of the same organization.

Jolt: Team Power. Distribute a crossword puzzle to all participants. After 5 minutes, ask participants to stop working on the puzzle and count the number of words they have solved. Read the clues one at a time and ask participants to yell out the solution. It is very likely that no individual participant would have solved as many items as the group as a whole has. Point out the wisdom of the statement, “No one of us is as smart as all of us”.

Hidden message. Create a crossword puzzle with some of the clues printed in italics. After solving the puzzle, the words for the italicized clues reveal an important message.

Construct and solve. At the end of the training session, divide participants into two teams. Supply each team with squared paper (or crossword puzzle software). Ask the teams to construct a crossword puzzle using key words from the training content. Ask teams to exchange their puzzles and solve them.

Optimum level of difficulty. This is a variation of the previous activity. Divide participants into three teams and ask them to create a crossword puzzle that is neither too easy nor too difficult. After a suitable pause for puzzle construction, have each team solve the puzzles created by the other two teams. Keep track of the time required to solve each puzzle. Identify the team that solved the puzzles the fastest as the winning puzzle solvers. Then identify the team that constructed the puzzle that required the median amount of time as the winning puzzle constructors (because their puzzle was neither the easiest nor the most difficult).

Closer: Double Cross. Create a crossword puzzle and print out the partial solution sheets. Participants at one side of the room have half of the correct answers already filled one. Participants at the other side have the remaining half of the solutions. Teams take turn asking the other team for a clue for one of the missing words in their version.

Closer: Final test. Distribute the final test for your training session in the form of a crossword puzzle. Give 5 minutes for participants to tackle the puzzle individually. Then ask them to get into teams and share their solutions. Ask them to identify unsolved clues and provide immediate remedial review.

Web site follow-up. Here's an interesting strategy for administering a “delayed post test”. Ask participants to visit your web site a week after the training session. Publish an interactive crossword puzzle on the web site based on the contents of your training session.

E-mail game: Collaborative crossword compiler. Send an e-mail note to all participants asking them for a list of 3-5 key words from your training session along with crossword-type clues for each. Use the words and the best clue for each to construct a crossword puzzle and display it on your web site.

Software Review

Crossword Compiler

I may not have seen them all, but I have evaluated more than 20 software programs for creating crossword puzzles. Without a doubt, the best one is Anthony Lewis's Crossword Compiler. I use this program almost every day to create crossword puzzles for use in my training workshops and for export to my web site. If you are planning to create and use crossword puzzles for instructional purposes, I strongly recommend that you invest $49 in this software program.

Here are some exciting things that you can do with Crossword Compiler:

Create instructional puzzles. Type in technical terms and key words associated with your training content and ask Crossword Compiler to build a crossword puzzle using these words. The computer incorporates as many of your words as possible. Edit the puzzle and add additional words. Then type your clues in the form of test questions.

Print your puzzle. Copy the puzzle to the clipboard or save it as a file. Selectively export the puzzle, solution, numbered solution, clues, answers, and explanations. I export my puzzles in Rich Text format and print it, grid and all, using Microsoft Word. You can also export the puzzle as Bitmap, GIF, TIFF, or Metafile.

Display your puzzle on your web site. This is my favorite part of Crossword Compiler. Export your crossword puzzle as an interactive puzzle that can be solved on screen. The program includes license to use this interactive applet on one website. To experience the ease of solving a puzzle on the web, visit .

Learn by using the electronic performance support system. The program has an extensive context-sensitive help function. If you get stuck any place, just press a button to get a detailed job aid related to what you are trying to do.

More Information

I first wrote about this software in December 2000 (in Thiagi GameLetter, the paper-based predecessor to PFP). Crossword Compiler is still going strong and is being continuously improved. Visit the Crossword Compiler website at to download a demo, or order it online. (Disclosure: We receive a small payment if you use this link to purchase the product.)


Debriefing Through Journal Writing

Debriefing is an important activity that is conducted after an experiential exercise. It is the process of helping participants to reflect on the experience, gain useful insights, and share these insights with each other.

Sometimes, it is a good idea to replace the group discussion with an individual journal-writing approach. Here are the advantages of the written approach to debriefing:

The open-ended invitation. Simply ask participants to write a page or two of a personal journal reflecting their behaviors, reactions, and insights related to the experiential exercise. Emphasize that this personal journal is for each participant's eyes only. You can set aside some time immediately after the experiential exercise for this written debriefing or you can recommend that participants write their journals sometime later at their own leisure.

List of concepts. To structure the journal-writing activity a little more tightly, distribute a list of concepts to participants. For example, after conducting the metaphorical simulation game Inter-Team Collaboration, you might use this list: teamwork, assumptions about teams, collaboration within a team, collaboration between teams, competition within a team, competition between teams, win-win and win-lose thinking, and team and organizational focus. Suggest that the participants' journal entries incorporate these concepts.

Debriefing questionnaire. Another approach to structuring the written debriefing is to distribute a questionnaire to participants. Here is a sample questionnaire based on my six-step model for debriefing:

Second thoughts. Here's a personal follow-up activity to journal writing: After a month or so, send a note to participants asking them to review the journal they wrote earlier. Invite each participant to re-examine their entry and jot down their current thoughts. Suggest they answer these questions:

Sharing insights. One thing that you lose in the written approach is the sharing of insights that takes place during a debriefing discussion. Here is a strategy that I use to preserve participants' anonymity while giving an opportunity to find out what the others are thinking: I invite the participants drop an anonymous photocopy of their journal in a box. I collect the contributions, edit out any identifying information, and prepare a set of interesting excerpts. I distribute copies of this document to all participants.

After conducting your next simulation or jolt or role play, experiment with the written approach to debriefing. To improve your facilitation skills, write a journal entry about your experiences with the written debriefing process.


A jolt is a brief experiential activity that delivers a wake-up call to the participants. An effective jolt lasts for a few minutes but provides enough insights for a lengthy debrief.

Too Smart

Write these two words, one below the other, on a flip-chart sheet:



Ask the participants to work individually. Give these instructions:

Rearrange the letters in these two words—NEW and DEER—to spell one word. When you have done this, please stand up.

Pause for about a minute. Quickly check the responses of the participants who stand up and congratulate them. (The correct answer is “RENEWED”.)

Now write these two words, one below the other as before, on another flip-chart sheet.



Repeat the same instructions as before:

Rearrange the letters in these two words—NEW and DOOR—to spell one word. When you have done this, please stand up.

STOP! Before reading any farther, try to solve this puzzle.

It's very unlikely that anyone will be able to solve this puzzle.

Get the participants' attention and tell them,

Here's how I rearrange the letters in the two words to spell one word.

Write “ONE WORD” on the flipchart. Pause for a few seconds to let the solution sink in.

Debrief the participants to elicit this learning point:

Sometimes we are too smart for our own good. Instead of approaching a problem in a direct, straightforward fashion, we assume that the solution has to be complex and convoluted.


ISAGA 2004 Conference

If you want to find out what exciting things are happening in the international simulation and gaming scene, be sure to attend the 35th Annual Conference of the International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA) and Conjoint Conference of Swiss, Austrian, and German Simulation and Gaming Association (SAGSAGA)

Date and Location

6-10 September 2004

Ludwig Maximilians University

Munich, Germany

Conference Theme

Bridging the Gap: Transforming Knowledge into Action through Gaming and Simulation

When changing from passive reproduction of inert knowledge to active production of applicable knowledge and to the development of useable competencies, gaming simulation has much to offer.

Gaming simulation is an interactive learning environment that makes it possible to cope with complex authentic situations that are close to reality. At the same time, gaming simulation represents a form of cooperative learning through teamwork.

One single simulation game allows for multiple contexts of use, and newly gained abstract knowledge can be used to explore unfamiliar domains. This learning under multiple perspectives creates flexibility and is helpful to bridge the gap between knowledge and action.

Keynote Activities

One of the unique features of this conference is a set of “keynote” activities that involve active participation. I will be conducting one of the activities on the topic of using games with large groups.

Other keynote activities will be facilitated by an interesting international group:

Keynote Speakers

This is a truly international conference featuring outstanding experts from around the world:

For More Information

To submit a proposal for the conference or for more information about the conference, please visit