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

Feedback Feedback
Using brief roleplays.

Mini Sudoku Contest
Simple or difficult?

Card Game
Photo Jolts!
With special coupons this month.

What's the Title?
Here's the script.

International Workshops
Workshops outside the USA
Workshops in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Switzerland.

Extra Letters
Solve the puzzle and create your own.

From Brian's Brain
All About Perception by Brian Remer
A link to the latest issue of Brian's newsletter.

Online Survey
Objections to Training Activities
Objection, objection!

Survey Results
Content Is King?
A summary of your responses.

Check It Out
Photo Jolts! ( )
One video is worth a thousand words?





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: Tracy Tagliati and Jean Reese

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Matthew Richter

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2013 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 © 2013 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!


Feedback Feedback

For participants (and facilitators) who are not too excited about lengthy roleplays, we recommend this brief roleplay activity. It gives equal opportunities for every participant and uses a variety of roleplay scenarios.


To practice—and to evaluate—behaviors related to giving feedback.


Minimum: 3

Maximum: Any number, divided into groups of three.

Best: 9 to 30


10 to 15 minutes



Each roleplay card contains a primary role, a secondary role, and a brief description of a situation.

Here is a sample set:

Bad Boss

Primary Role: Manager

Secondary Role: Your Manager

Situation: Your manager has been going around you and giving orders to your employees without checking with you. Provide constructive feedback.

Bad Code

Primary Role: Manager

Secondary Role: Programmer

Situation: Your programmer just delivered software code with lots of bugs. You were expecting higher quality. Provide constructive feedback.

Bad Service

Primary Role: Customer

Secondary Role: Store Manager

Situation: You just experienced bad service from a sarcastic and rude clerk in a store. You decided to give feedback to the store manager about your experience. Provide constructive feedback.

Bad Timing

Primary Role: Project Director

Secondary Role: Employee

Situation: Your employee has consistently failed to meet deadlines for delivering important data related to a project. Other team members are impacted by the delay. Provide constructive feedback.


Brief the participants. Explain that you will conduct three brief roleplays, each lasting for 2 minutes. Every participant will have a turn to play the roles of the observer, the primary player, and the secondary player.

Walk through a roleplay card. Give a copy of the Bad Boss roleplay card to each participant. Point out the key components: the primary role, the secondary role, and the situation.

Set up for a demonstration. Invite two participants to the front of the room and ask them to stand on either side of you. Explain that you will be the observer for a demonstration roleplay. Read the contents of the card. Tell the player on your right to play the primary role. The player on your left plays the secondary role. Explain that your focus will be on the behavior of the person playing the primary role. He or she should use best practices for giving feedback for the person playing the secondary role. This person should present the feedback as quickly as possible without wasting time on setting up the conversation. The other person should behave naturally in response to the situation and to the behavior of the primary roleplayer.

Conduct the roleplay. Ask the two participants to have an appropriate conversation in their assigned roles. Listen carefully to the conversation. Blow the whistle at the end of 2 minutes.

Explain the evaluation process. You will give a piece of positive feedback (what was done effectively) and a piece of constructive feedback (what could be improved) to the primary roleplayer. After you have done this, ask the secondary roleplayer to give the same types of feedback to the primary roleplayer. Finally, ask the primary roleplayer to identify what he or she did effectively and what he or she would change the next time in a similar situation.

Organize playgroups. Thank the two people who participated in the demonstration and send them back to their seats. Divide the participants into triads. Give a set of the three other roleplay cards to each triad and ask each person to take a card. Ask the members of each triad to choose one person to be the first observer. Ask the observers to read the roleplay details from the card and assign the roles. However, ask the participants not to get started until you blow the whistle.

Keep time. Set the timer for 2 minutes and blow the whistle. Ask the participants conduct the roleplay and ask the observers to listen carefully. Watch the timer and blow the whistle again at the end of 2 minutes.

Ask everyone to give feedback. Focus on the behavior of the person playing the primary role. Begin with the observer. Ask him or her to give a piece of positive feedback and a constructive feedback. Then ask the secondary roleplayer to give his or her positive and constructive feedback. Finally, ask the primary roleplayer to identify a behavior he or she is happy about and a behavior he or she would change the next time in a similar situation.

Repeat the roleplays. Ask another person to assume the role of the observer. Repeat the roleplay activity as before. Finally, ask the third player in each triad to act as the observer.

Debrief the participants. Point out that each participant had four opportunities to give feedback: once as the observer, once in the primary role, once in the secondary role, and once for himself or herself. Ask and discuss the following types of questions:

Roleplay cards

You can use this brief roleplay activity with a variety of soft-skill topics. You can create your own roleplay cards or you can purchase ready-made cards from our online store. We have 20 different decks dealing with different topics. The sample roleplay cards used in this activity are from the Fluency Cards deck for Feedback Techniques. Each Fluency Cards deck in our online store includes 13 roleplay cards and 13 each of cards that require the participants to list, compare, and draw different concepts.


Mini Sudoku Contest

This jolt makes an interesting follow-up activity to the earlier one (Anagram Expert) published in the previous issue of TGL. It can also be used as a stand-alone jolt.


To explore the relationship between a difficult task and perceived competency.


Minimum: 4

Maximum: 50, divided into teams of 3 to 7.

Best: 15 to 30


15 to 30 minutes


Room Setup

Round tables with chairs around them to facilitate teamwork


All these handouts are included in this file: (41k PDF).


Prepare Sample Mini Sudoku Puzzle. Download the pdf document and reproduce copies of the first page, one copy for each participant.

Prepare Mini Sudoku Puzzle-D. Reproduce copies of the second page, one copy for each participant, except for the members of a selected team.

Prepare Mini Sudoku Puzzle-S. Reproduce copies of the third page, one copy for each member of a selected team.

Practice solving the Sample Mini Sudoku Puzzle. If necessary, cheat by referring to the solution here:

4 5 3
2 1 6
2 1 6
3 5 4
6 3 5
1 2 4
4 2 1
5 6 3
3 6 2
5 4 1
1 4 5
6 3 2


Organize teams. Divide the participants into two or more teams. The teams should be the same size, but it does not matter if a few teams have an extra member.

Specify the task. Distribute copies of the Sample Mini Sudoku Puzzle to each participant. Explain that the task is to place the numbers 1 through 6 in the empty squares in such a way that each row, each column, and each 3 x 2 rectangle contains one and only one of the six numbers.

Solve the puzzle. Walk through the process by identifying different empty spaces and working out which number goes in that space. Encourage the participants to help the other members of their team to understand how to solve the puzzle.

Distribute the other puzzles. For one of the teams, give copies of Mini Sudoku Puzzle-S to all its members. Give copies of Mini Sudoku Puzzle-D to all other participants. Ask everyone to place their puzzle printed side down.

Solve the puzzle. Tell the participants to turn the paper over and begin to solve the puzzle as soon as you blow the whistle. Encourage the participants to work as a team. Also ask the participants to stand up when they have solved the puzzle.

Conclude the puzzle-solving activity. The participants in the team that has Mini Sudoku Puzzle-S should solve the puzzle quickly and stand up. If time permits, wait until at least one of the teams with Mini Sudoku Puzzle-D stands up. Ask one of the participants who is standing up to read the numbers of each row of the completed Sudoku puzzle.


Conduct a discussion. Ask the following types of questions and encourage the participants to share their ideas:

Explain what happened. Confess to the participants that you gave one of the teams a simpler version of the Mini Sudoku Puzzle with more spaces already filled in. Ask the participants for their reactions to this confession.

Card Game

Photo Jolts!

A collection of photographs is a very useful tool for an interactive trainer. You can use these photographs as metaphors to encourage the participants to brainstorm ideas, clarify concepts, share feelings and emotions, and explore controversial issues.

For example, instead of talking about customer satisfaction, I can ask the participants to select a picture that is a metaphor for the concept. Let's say that you select a photograph of two women having a pleasant conversation. When I ask you how this picture represents customer satisfaction, you say, “The essence of customer satisfaction is to make the other person feel that he or she is listened to. If the customer smiles, we can be sure that we have done our job.”

While facilitating a group of employees from a corporation that has recently installed a new computer system, instead of asking the participants, “How do you feel about this change?”, I can ask the participants to select a photographic metaphor. You select a photograph of a man trying to push a large rock. When asked for an explanation, you suggest that the rock is the new system and that you feel frustrated because you are about to handle it.

While introducing the idea of forming cross-functional teams, I ask the participants to select a photograph that reflects controversial aspects of this idea. You select a mother monkey holding tightly to a baby, and baring her teeth. You explain that every manager is fiercely protective of his or her department.

Photographic metaphors have an amazing ability to erase the participants' anxieties and to encourage people to talk. You may be reluctant to talk about your feelings but you will be eager to expound at length about how a photograph reflects different aspects of your emotional reactions.

In these days of global classrooms, photographs have the additional advantage: Your participants do not need to have high levels of reading ability to interact with the content and with each other.

It's in the Cards

What are the qualities of effective photographs for use in image-based training activities? In addition to technical quality and durability, here are two things that I look for:

Several collections of photo cards are available for use by trainers. I wrote about them in the July 2012 issue of TGL, and Brian Remer wrote about them in the June 2010 issue.

Photo Jolts!

My friend Glenn Hughes (who appeared as our August 2012 Guest Gamer) is a global nomad, a talented photographer, and an award-winning facilitator. He has recently created a deck of photographic cards called Photo Jolts!

Each card in this deck of 52 cards displays a high-resolution, high impact, immersive, varied, global, sturdy, and intentionally ambiguous photograph. They are used in a variety of engaging activities (demonstrated on YouTube) that start conversations to provide clarity and creativity to the participants.

You can immediately begin using the Photo Jolts! deck by watching brief demonstrations of effective training and facilitation activities on YouTube. (For more details, see Check It Out later in this issue.)

It's Not the Cards

At the risk of contradicting myself, the cards are just one part of the package. Your success as a trainer or a facilitator depends on the activities that incorporate these cards.

Glenn and I have designed hundreds of activities around his set of photographic cards. We have selected 51 of these activities and published them in a book. These activities can be used to explore such topics as coaching, communication, creativity, diversity, design, leadership, problem solving, and teamwork. In this book, you will find useful background information along with detailed instructions for conducting each activity. The book even has a template for creating your own Photo Jolt! activities.

You can read a review of the book in Brian Remer's September 2013 issue of Firefly News Flash.

You can purchase the Photo Jolts! book for $30 (plus $8.50 shipping in the USA) from our online store. And if you place your order before November 30 2013 and enter the coupon code TGL-PJBFS, we'll give you free shipping in the USA (or $8.50 off shipping elsewhere).

You can purchase the deck of Photo Jolts! cards for $49 (plus $9.45 shipping in the USA) from our online store. And if you place your order before November 30 2013 and enter the coupon code TGL-PJDFS, we'll give you free shipping in the USA (or $9.45 off shipping elsewhere).

Want both? You can purchase the combo, which contains one deck of Photo Jolts! cards and one copy of the Photo Jolts! book, from our online store. The regular price for the combo is $72 (plus $12.50 shipping in the USA). This month only, we'll lower the price to $65 and ship it to you free! That's $19.50 off the usual postpaid price! To get this special offer, use the coupon code TGL-PJC when you check out. This coupon expires November 30 2013.


What's the Title?

You can listen to our latest podcast episode in about 5 minutes:

Episode 15: Content and Activities ( )

To prevent passive listening and to reinforce your recall, here's a quick task for you:

Create a suitable title for this podcast episode.

Use the “Comments” link below to post your response.

In case you forgot what you heard on the podcast, or in case you are not an auditory learner, or in case you find Thiagi's accent to be grating, or in case you want to cheat, here's a transcript of the podcast.

Let's reflect on the two critical aspects of training: content and activities.

Effective training requires a smooth integration of content and activities.

Content is information, facts, demonstrations, explanations, stories, and so on. A trainer can deliver content through lectures, reading assignments, video recordings, text on the Internet, podcasts, slides sets, charts, and other such things.

An activity is a training exercise that requires the participants to interact with each other, with the content, and with the facilitator. A trainer can conduct games, simulations, roleplays, discussions, debates, experiential exercises, group projects and other such events.

As I said earlier, effective training requires a smooth integration of content and activities.

Content without activities produces inert knowledge. The participants store facts and information in a passive manner and recall it verbatim. They lack the ability to apply it to the challenges in their workplace and in the real world.

Activity without content is like requiring the participants to roleplay headless chicken. The room is full tumult and shouting, with people working intensely in teams and having heated debates. At the end of the activity, the participants are confused, wondering “What was that all about?”

Content is not enough. You need to apply it to real-world situations.

Activity is not enough. You need to reflect on it and learn from it.

How exactly do we integrate content and activity? Where should we begin? What comes first: content or activity? Chicken or egg?

Here's a simple prescription for effective training: Don't present any content that is not incorporated in a training activity. Don't conduct any activity that does not incorporate relevant content.

You can present training content before an activity. We call it briefing. You present facts, principles, and procedures that can be immediately applied to an ensuing activity.

You can present training content after an activity. We call this debriefing. You encourage the participants to reflect on their experience from the activity, gain personal insights, and share it with each other.

And you can present training content during an activity. We call this coaching. You place the activity on pause and present just-in-time, just-enough content so the participants can use new tools, new mental models, and new levels of competency.

My prescription has severe limitations. It requires you to present the content only before, during, or after an activity. Unfortunately, you cannot present the content any other time. Alas!

International Workshops

Workshops outside the USA

Thiagi is continuing to conduct workshops outside the USA. Check our online calendar at for details.


Extra Letters

Here is a puzzle format that we have used in earlier issues of TGL.

We wrote a question and added a letter to each word. Then we scrambled the letters of each word and the extra letters. This is what we ended up with:


_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

To find the first word in the question, unscramble the first set of letters. Cross out the extra letter and write it in the first blank below the question. Continue with each set of letters, writing the extra letters in one blank at a time. Once you have unscrambled all words and filled in all blanks, you should be able to read the question and the answer.

Hint: The last word in the anagram is SESSION.

The solution

How To Create Your Own Extra Letters Puzzle

(Taken from the June 2010 issue of TGL.)

You can use this type of puzzle as a review or follow-up exercise for your training session. Here's how you create the puzzle.

  1. Write a question and the answer. Select a question that lends itself to a fairly short answer.

    What motivates people?

  2. Here's the tricky part: Rewrite the question so that the number of words in it is the same as the number of letters in the answer. Type the question and answer in ALL CAPS.


  3. Add the first letter of the answer to the first word of the question, the second letter to the second word, and so on.


  4. Arrange the letters of each word in the question (along with the extra letter) in alphabetical order.


  5. Your puzzle is now ready. Add appropriate instructions at the top of the puzzle.

Now create your own puzzle and post it in the comments section below.

From Brian's Brain

All About Perception
by Brian Remer

We like to think of ourselves as being calm, collected, confident, competent, and in control. Our ability to be all those things is a result of the work of our subconscious. In other words, much of our effective functioning occurs subliminally, below our conscious awareness, and, therefore, beyond our control. Learn about the interaction between the conscious and unconscious functions of your brain and what it means for your interpersonal effectiveness in the October 2013 issue of Firefly News Flash. Power Tip: To gain insights about other people, learn to identify your own blind spot.

Read more in the October 2013 issue of Firefly News Flash: .

Online Survey

Objections to Training Activities

Not everyone believes in training activities.

Poll Question

Who is most likely to object to the use of training activities?


(The poll opens in a new window.)

Open Question

There must be reasons why different people resist training activities.

What objections do people have toward training activities?


(The survey opens in a new window.)

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

Survey Results

Content Is King?

Poll Question

In the October 2013 issue of TGL we ranted about the obsession with creating and presenting content in training sessions. We conducted a poll asking how you allocate your training design time between content and activity.

Nineteen people responded to the poll. Four (21%) of them spent more time on content while 15 (79%) people spent more time on activities.

Open Question

As a follow up to the poll, we asked this open question:

What are your thoughts about the relative importance of training content and activities? What factors influence the amount of time you spend in content creation and activities design?

Here's a fairly elaborate and extremely useful response to this question:

Expertise in a topic can be a barrier to being a good teacher. Once we master a subject or skill, we think in terms of our mastery, and forget what helped (and impeded) us during the process of acquiring the abilities that we now take for granted. How can we overcome “the curse of expertise” when teaching people who are just starting out? We can overcome it by remembering our experiences as learners.

Identify what you want the learner to be able to do after the class that he or she cannot do now. Next, think back to when you had to learn how to do it. Do not think about training content yet; just remember when you were a clumsy and nervous learner. What did you have to do to become skillful in this realm? What happened the first times you tried to use your new knowledge and skill? What mistakes did you make, why did you make them, how did you feel when you goofed up, what motivated you to keep trying in spite of those mistakes and embarrassments?

Now, think about what you wish that your teachers had done to make the learning process more effective for you. You are now ready to construct learning activities for your students, because you are looking at class content from their point of view, and in light of their needs, as opposed to just dumping your expertise on them, and leaving them to muddle through it as best they can.

Try it; you might be surprised at what happens.

Here's another response from Philippe Petit, a regular reader from Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico:

Just as nobody wishes to be sold anything, nobody wishes either to be told content at school or at a seminar.

People are by far more satisfied when taking the final decision in purchasing any product. They are usually equally satisfied whenever they feel actively involved in the learning process.

I do my best to integrate as many creative activities, videos, and game frames in the classroom. I sometimes find it difficult to do so due to the amount of time preparation involved, but it is well worth the effort and time investment!

Thanks to everyone who responded.

You Can Still Participate

This survey is still open. Feel free to add your comments by visiting the survey page.





Check It Out

Photo Jolts! ( )

In an earlier article in this issue of TGL, we introduced Photo Jolts! activity cards.

Glenn Hughes has uploaded several videos on YouTube. You can watch them by going to .

Introductory Concepts

The video collection includes a set of brief videos explaining background concepts:

Photo Jolts Activities

The YouTube collection also includes several how-to videos for conducting different Photo Jolts activities. You can find them by typing “photo jolts” followed by the name of the activity in the YouTube search box (for instance “photo jolts black sheep”).

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