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

Live Online Learning Activity
Online SDLT
Online discussion on autopilot.

Eye Test by Tracy Tagliati
You should have your eyes examined.

Catch All by Tracy Tagliati
Think on your feet.

Say It Quick
Room to Wiggle by Brian Remer
Real life is not binary.

“Tell me a story!” by Brian Remer
Nine pictures generate endless stories.

When Randomness Rules by Brian Remer
Inject some randomness.

What's Your Story? by Brian Remer
Create your own story—and share it.

Dallas Workshops
Interactive Techniques for Instructor-Led Training
Public workshops in the USA.

Zurich Workshops
Thiagi and Sam in Zurich
Public workshops in Europe.

Single Topic Survey
Mnemonics by Tracy Tagliati
Do you remember…?

Survey Results
Humor at Work by Tracy Tagliati
A summary of your responses.

Check It Out
Training Games Network ( )
An online community for our readers.





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

Editorial Roster

Author and Editor : Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor : Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editors: Jean Reese and Tracy Tagliati

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Matthew Richter

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 2011 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 © 2011 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

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

Subscription Info

To sign up, or to donate and help us continue this newsletter, please see the Online Newsletter page on our website ( ).

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!

Live Online Learning Activity

Online SDLT

For nearly a year now, we have been fortunate to conduct a monthly online training session sponsored by the Training Magazine Network (and ably coordinated by Gary VanAntwerp). In the process, we learned (and relearned) several useful things:

Based on these principles, we have created an online structured sharing activity incorporating the concept of Self-Directed Learning Teams (SDLT). Here's the flow of this activity.


Brief the participants. Explain that you are going to help the participants explore 30 different techniques for reducing the amount of trainers' talk and increasing the amount of participants' learning. Point out that some of your participants will know more than others about each specific technique. Announce that you are going to conduct an activity that encourages people to share what they know and what they want to know.

Encourage different types of comments. Explain that you will briefly describe one technique at a time—and keep your mouth shut. Invite participants to type their comments related to the technique. Suggest different comments based on responses to these types of questions:

Explain the two-group system. Point out that during most online chats, participants focus on typing a whole slew of comments so that they don't have time to read other people's comments. To prevent this from happening, you are going to divide the participants into two groups of approximately equal size. During the discussion of a specific technique, one group (known as the commentators) will type their comments. The other group (known as readers) will keep their hands off the keyboard. Instead of typing their own comments, they will carefully read, process, and organize the comments made by the other team. They will make a mental note of the more interesting comments. During the discussion of the next technique, the groups will change their roles: The commentators will become the readers and the readers will have their turn at typing comments.

Explain the time limit. To prevent the discussions from going on and on, announce a 3-minute time limit. Encourage the participants to manage their time wisely and stay on task.

Divide participants into two groups. Explain that one group will be called the AM group and the other will be called the NZ group. Participants whose last names begin with the letters A through M belong to the AM group. The rest of the participants (with their last names beginning with the letters N through Z) belong to the NZ group. Explain that for the discussion of the first technique, the AM group will act as commentators and NZ group will act as the readers.

Display a brief description of the first technique. Project a slide with the description of the first technique. Don't insult the participants by reading aloud what's on the screen. Tell the AM group, “Go to it,” and invite the NZ group to sit back, relax, read, and process the comments.

Conclude the first discussion. Read the typed comments as the conversation progresses. Keep an eye on the timer. Announce a 30-second warning. Conclude the session at the end of 3 minutes.

Invoke the Ziegarnik principle. Give your rationale for the somewhat arbitrary conclusion: According to Bluma Ziegarnik, people remember unfinished business longer than finished business. Also, the brain needs to incubate the ideas that are already generated, rather than fill up with more ideas.

Make your comments. Reinforce useful and accurate comments made by the group. If any of the comments are misleading, make gentle corrections.

Repeat the process. Move on to the next technique. Ask the groups to exchange their roles of commentators and readers. Display the next technique and ask the NZ group members to conduct their typed discussion.

Continue the activity. About an hour will be the suitable time for this activity. Stop the activity 5 minutes before the scheduled closing time. Explain that you are going to conclude the session. Give the participants the complete list of the 30 techniques and explain that they may continue exploring these ideas.

A Sample

Here's the first technique that we displayed on the screen:

ABLA: Assessment Based Learning Activity. Administer a test. Those who answered an item correctly teach those who did not. If nobody answered an item correctly, then you (the trainer) teach.

Here are some of the comments that this technique elicited:



Eye Test
by Tracy Tagliati

I think I read about this activity in Dan Gilbert's book Stumbling on Happiness, but I am not able to find the exact location. This jolt demonstrates that people are able to perform better when they believe that things are getting better.


Participants take one vision test using a traditional eye chart and record their results. Then they take a second vision test using an eye chart which has the letters printed in the reverse order (from the smallest to the largest) and record their new results.


To explore the impact of increasing or decreasing levels of difficulty on individual performance.


Two or more.


3 minutes for the activity, 2 minutes for the debriefing.


Two Eye Test Charts (37K PDF). Page 1 is a “traditional” chart, with letters that start large and finish small. Page 2 is an “inverted” chart, with letters that start small and finish large.


Print the charts.

Attach the charts on the wall at the average participant's eye level.

Measure 20 feet away from the chart and mark this spot on the floor.


First Round

Participants take the eye test. Ask the participants to pair up with someone. Ask Partner A to cover one eye, stand at the mark on the floor, and read aloud the letters on each line of the chart. Partner B will check Partner A's performance and make a note of the line at which Partner A inaccurately identifies more than 50 percent of the letters.

Partner B's turn. Now partner B covers one eye, stands on the mark, and reads the letters on each line. Partner A checks the eye chart for accuracy and makes a note of the line at which the partner misses more than 50 percent of the letters.

Second Round

Change eye charts. Replace the previous eye chart with the inverted chart that has small letters at the top of the chart and progressively larger letters at the bottom.

Partners repeat eye exam as before. Use the same procedure to jot down the line at which each partner makes more than 50 percent errors.


Ask the participants to compare the first eye exam with the second eye exam. Ask them if they were able to read smaller letters during the first round or the second one. (In most cases, participants will be able to read smaller letters during the second round when the letters are arranged from the smaller to the larger sizes.)

Ask the participants why they think they were able to read smaller letters when they knew the task was getting easier.

Invite participants with an opposing point of view to share their opinions and present some evidence to support them.

Ask participants to speculate on the training applications of the principle of proceeding from the hardest to the easiest.

Learning Point

People perform better when they know things are getting easier, not more difficult.


Catch All
by Tracy Tagliati

Here's an energizer that gives your participants an opportunity to think on their feet and see how others act under pressure.


5 to 10 minutes.


Koosh ball (or some other soft thing that can be thrown and caught).


  1. Ask participants to stand in a circle.
  2. Pick a category such as a product, service, issue, or any topic relevant to what was discussed in the workshop.
  3. Throw the ball to a participant.
  4. The participant who catches the ball must say something relevant about the topic.
  5. After saying something, the participant throws the ball to another participant.
  6. Continue this process for 5 minutes.
  7. Change the category and play the game again.

Say It Quick

Reprinted from the December 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Room to Wiggle
by Brian Remer

This month, randomness enhances creativity beginning with this 99-Word Story.

Room to Wiggle

The steam room at the “Y” has just one switch: on or off. Flip the switch and wait. Is it really on? Something must be happening deep inside the plumbing guts of the health club but you don't know what until a spray of steam shoots into the small room. That's when you know it's “on.”

A binary system is OK for computers, but in real life there is wiggle room. A lot can happen between on and off, left and right, liberal and conservative.

How often do we needlessly confine ourselves to only two options?


Reprinted from the December 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

“Tell me a story!”
by Brian Remer

Box of dice with pictures If you've ever heard this request and been stumped after, “Once upon a time,” you already have a reason to try out Rory's Story Cubes: nine dice featuring 54 iconographic pictures that are sure to evoke a tale. Roll them across the table and string them together to weave a one-of-a-kind story.

Story Cubes come in a pocket-sized box convenient to bring to any social event, team meeting, or just to keep handy whenever you need some extra inspiration or fun. Roll all nine cubes and make a story or deal the dice and let people roll one on their turn to advance the story. If you are teaching, announce a theme related to the training topic and challenge people to tell a story that fits. Roll the cubes and create a story about how your team solved a problem or marketed a particular product. Take them to your next coaching session and ask your protégé to tell a story about how to address a burning issue. Keep a few cubes in your pocket and roll a story to inspire your next project.

The uses for these cubes and the stories they evoke are endless—especially when you realize the tiny pictures can be used both at face value and metaphorically. The images are flexible enough to be enjoyed by a variety of ages, abilities, and cultural backgrounds. Once you hold them in your hand, you'll want to tell a story too!

Rory's Story Cubes by Gamewright:


Reprinted from the December 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

When Randomness Rules
by Brian Remer

Stories can be an economical way to share information, convey an idea, enhance memory, rehearse new concepts, and have fun. Several other issues of this newsletter have been devoted to the value stories can add to learning and creativity. In addition, the 99-Word story that begins each month's entry is an example of how stories can set the stage by providing a grounded context.

Rory's Story Cubes offer an interesting twist to the value of stories. By introducing a random roll of the dice, players have an added challenge for their creative muscles. They've got to somehow make connections between improbable concepts. The result can be more inventive, surprising, relevant.

The effect of chance is a key ingredient for any creative process because it allows for the introduction of new ideas. It's a detour around the rut we usually travel; an antidote for the quotidian. As this month's 99-Word Story suggests, a lot more can happen when there is room to wiggle than we might suspect. And where there's room to wiggle, there's space for random activity as well.

If you're ever stuck with a problem, figure out a way to inject some randomness. Let it rule, at least for a short while, then see what new opportunities develop. And when you hit upon the novel, please share your discovery (email Brian)!


Reprinted from the December 2010 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

What's Your Story?
by Brian Remer

Now I'll pass Rory's Story Cubes to you! I've already rolled the dice. You simply choose one of the photos below for your turn. Put the dice in any order you wish for your tale then write it up and send me an e-mail. Want an added challenge? Connect your story to a current problem or issue in your workplace. I'll post it on the sample page.

I hope to read your story soon! Have fun!

Story Cubes, Roll Number One!

Story cubes showing magic wand, cane, sheep, tower, teepee, fish, turtle, word balloon, and eye
Read a sample story.

Story Cubes, Roll Number Two!

Story cubes showing abacus, eye, hand, sleeping face, flashlight, sad face, lightning bolt, footprint, and parachute
Read a sample story.

Dallas Workshops

Interactive Techniques for Instructor-Led Training

Picture of Thiagi at a workshop

Here's your chance to attend Thiagi and Tracy's Interactive Techniques for Instructor-Led Training Workshop. Attend the fourth day and become a certified Thiagi trainer.

You can find more about the workshops in our detailed brochure (194k PDF).

If you register by February 25th, you save $250 for the 3-day workshop and $115 for the 1-day certification program.


March 28-30, 2011

March 31, 2011 for the 1-day certification program


Courtyard by Marriott Dallas Central Expressway
10325 North Central Expressway
Dallas, TX 75231
(214) 739-2500

Planning on staying at the hotel? We have blocked off a limited number of rooms at a discounted rate of $99. Mention “The Thiagi Group” to get the best price when booking your room, or ask for our sales coordinator, Julia Wolkin. She will take good care of you. Phone: 214-622-1013, Email: .

How Much

3-Day Workshop (March 28-30, 2011): $1,495.

1-Day Certification Workshop (March 31, 2011): $495

Early Bird Discount

If you register before February 25, 2011

Group Discount

Groups of three or more who enroll at the same time will get a 15 percent reduction on their registration fees.

Two Easy Ways to Register

Online. Visit our online store at and click on “Workshops: 2011”. (You will automatically be given the early bird discounted fee.)

Telephone. Call (812) 332-1478.

Need More Information?

Check out our detailed brochure (194K PDF) or call Tracy at (805) 494-0948 .

Zurich Workshops

Thiagi and Sam in Zurich

Picture of Samuel van den Bergh Van den Bergh Thiagi Associates are happy to offer their tenth annual workshops in Winterthur, Switzerland (near Zurich).

Workshop 1: Interactive Training Strategies

June 21-23, 2011 (three days)

This workshop is designed for trainers, instructional designers, facilitators, managers, and performance consultants. The workshop helps a wide range of practitioners, from newcomers to experienced specialists, to master skills and concepts related to different types of training games, simulations, and learning exercises.

This workshop practices what it preaches. Participants learn new principles and procedures and apply them to creating and conducting different types of learning activities that meet their training objectives, audiences, and needs.

Workshop 2: Design Clinic and Advanced Interactive Strategies

June 24-25, 2011 (two days)

This workshop is designed for participants who have completed Thiagi's 3-day Interactive Training Strategies workshops.

The workshop design strongly incorporates the individual needs of the participants. At present Thiagi suggests the following three major components:

  1. A design clinic in which Thiagi and Sam will provide consultative advice and feedback on interactive training activities that you are currently designing (or planning to design).
  2. Peer review and support that uses structured strategies to encourage you to present your ideas, plans, and problems to your fellow participants and receive valuable feedback and guidance.
  3. Advanced sessions on interactive strategies and facilitation techniques. Selected topics will include facilitating multinational and multicultural groups, online games, interactive webinars, positive psychology activities, and intrinsic motivation.

Bonus: The workshop will provide you with a software package for designing online games and train you how to use it.

More Information

For more information, please download our detailed brochure (615k PDF)

Single Topic Survey

by Tracy Tagliati

How many of you remember these rhymes:

Thirty days have September…

In 1492, Columbus sailed…

or the acrostic for the musical notes on the Treble clef:

Every good boy does fine

As you know from experience, these catchy little mnemonic devices can help learners recall critical information.

While some trainers find mnemonics to be effective for recalling information, others are reluctant to use them because of the time it takes to learn the mnemonics and the additional time spent applying them.

How about you?

Poll Question

Do you use mnemonics in your training?


(The poll opens in a new window.)

Open Question

What are some of your favorite rhymes, acrostics, or other mnemonics?


(The survey opens in a new window.)

You may include your name along with your response, or if you prefer, keep it anonymous.

Here are some favorite mnemonics from colleagues:

Aaron: I find that the sillier and the most absurd mnemonic devices work the best. My favorite mnemonic is an acrostic that I use to help our foreign employees familiar with American currency: “Why do Jealous Leaders Have Jovial Girl Friends?” The letters of the words help recall the denomination: W = Washington $1, J = Jefferson $2, L= Lincoln $5, H= Hamilton $10, J= Jackson $20, G = Grant $50, and F = Franklin $100.

Tina: Encoding verbal information in a mnemonic device takes time—sometimes more time than it would take to just remember the information in the first place. However, I think mnemonics are a great investment in time when the participants will be using the information regularly. The one I used recently is an alliteration I learned from Thiagi: The four C's of game design: Contrivance, Conflict, Control, and Conclusion.

Carolyn: I train in an industry that relies heavily on numbers, and I think numbers can be the toughest challenge to remember. Since my participants are very familiar with phone texting, I use the telephone keypad to build acrostics to help them remember numbers. In this case, each number is matched with the first letter associated with it on the keypad: #2 is A , #3 is D, #4 is G, #5 is J, #6 =M, #7 = T, and 9 = W. Since the number one and zero don't have letters associated with them on the keypad, I have assigned 0 =Z (the last number is assigned the letter), and #1 is I (because the #1 resembles the letter I).

Using this mnemonic, the number 7,591,207 becomes: Thomas, the Japanese Walrus, Invited Annabelle, the Zebra, for Tea.

Survey Results

Humor at Work
by Tracy Tagliati

Last month we asked if you like to use humor in your training. It turns out that you, the readers of the Gameletter, are a funny group of people. In fact, 100 percent of you responded with a resounding, “Yes, we love using humor in our training!”:

Yes: 100% No: 0%
(Percentages reflect 106 votes received by February 1, 2010.)

If there are any of you out there who are still a little wary about using humor in training you may what to continue reading. Here are some of the practical guidelines, tips, and recommendations that your fellow readers shared last month:

Response 8) Humor must be relevant to the group and to the context. More importantly, the trainer must be viewed as “human” and “credible”, i.e. someone who knows the subject, who is comfortable enough with himself or herself, and who can laugh at himself or herself!

Response 13) Amusing tales about ourselves can help bridge the distance and differences between the facilitator and participants. There is a caveat to this: Women need to be careful of this practice. Research that I have found states that self-deprecation helps make men more approachable. However, when women do the very same thing, they can be viewed as less competent. As a result of this, I am mindful to tell amusing stories about successes rather than failures. If I do tell of a mistake I made, I always share the solutions or the recovery.

Response 28) Self-deprecating humor is a great tool. I use it to set an example of openness as well as to set my participants at ease that even though I am the facilitator, I still have much to learn.

Response 19) Make sure humor is not done at the expense of any individual or group.

Response 29) Let it be natural. Don't try to force humor if it isn't doesn't occur naturally with the flow of the class.

See more readers' responses or add your own.

Thank you for your responses.

Check It Out

Training Games Network ( )

With a lot of help from our friends Ray Jimenez and Gary VanAntwerp, we are happy to announce the launch of Training Games Network, an online community dedicated to learning games and performance improvement.

It will be difficult for us to describe all the different ways in which this platform for social learning and networking will facilitate the exchange of ideas and resources among members of this community. However, here’s a brief summary of some of the useful features:


Here are four Webinars scheduled for the near future:

Discussion Groups

You may enroll in the following groups:

And if none of these groups excite you, you can very easily create a group of your own.

There are lots more things happening in this online community. The best way to learn about them is to register (for free) by visiting the Training Games Network ( ).

See you at the community!