Interactive Ideas for Workshops

Here are some ideas for interactive games and exercises in workshops, together with examples of how I have used them and some ideas about how you could adapt them to different circumstances. This article is most useful when read in conjunction with my post on How to Plan a Workshop.

The Feedback Game

What did we do?

This is basically hunt the thimble, as it is known in the UK. The hunter leaves the room, an object is hidden (this was traditionally a thimble in the parlour game but can be absolutely anything). The hunter returns to the room and looks for the hidden item, using feedback from participants as clues: personally positive but vague (essentially useless) feedback for the first iteration, specific but negative feedback for the second and emotionally neutral but helpful for the third iteration. At each stage we debriefed the hunter after they had found the object, asking how they had found the feedback they were given by the participants. The hunters didn’t know the briefing for each feedback stage and were frustrated in the first group, very upset in the second group (powerfully so!) and described the emotionally neutral but helpful feedback as positive. A great way of drawing out the impact on learners of poorly thought out feedback.

Where/When was this used?

The Teaching Course, New York, Nov 2015

How could you adapt it?

We had a large group so we broke into three smaller groups with a hunter for each, bringing all three into the centre for each debrief.

You could add in other aspects of feedback depending on what you want to emphasise: consider giving one set of hunters written directions (no personal contact), having frequent interruptions to the feedback they are receiving… You might want to adapt to emphasise a specific issue relevant to your group. Be prepared for strong emotional reactions, particularly to negative feedback – the prebrief is really important here.

Alternatively you could focus on communication and its key components eg blindfold the finder, have everyone talk at once vs one person talking…

Communication Games

What did we do?

Sit participants back to back in pairs. Give one an image with little meaning (eg a square with an intersecting circle and a triangle in another corner and an italic F superimposed on it) and a piece of paper and pen to the other. One participant draws what the other describes during a fixed timeframe then they compare.

Debrief covering what the challenges were to the communication e.g. lack of non-verbal cues, not specific enough instruction

Where/When was this used?

Multiple times!

How could you adapt it?

  • Bring in more human factors by having participants create art together without communication, each with a specific personal priority (you will need to write these on slips of paper in advance), e.g. “everything must be red”, “you want to draw cars”, “you want to be the first person to draw on the paper”, “you want there to be something in the bottom right corner”.
  • Use Lego instead of drawing: make a random construction for the describer and give the equivalent bricks – or not! – to the builder
  • Have two people drawing together at the same time on the same paper using a single pen in silence but give them different things to draw e.g. a house and an elephant (only works if people don’t cheat!)

Quick & Easy Role Play

What did we do?

Described the giraffe rules of feedback then a situation they might be required. Faculty members role played the feedback giver and receiver.

When/Where was this used?

The Teaching Course, New York, Nov 2015

How could you adapt it?

For a clinical workshop, I gave volunteers case histories (pre-written) for ALTE/BRUE presentations and they role-played parents in consultations with doctors (role played by another participant). The role play took place at the front of the lecture theatre and debrief included the differential and a conversation about further information you might ask for in order to better exclude significant diagnoses.

Brief, low-fi simulation is easy to include especially for communication topics and a good way to get learners involved.

Horror Movie Exercise

What did we do?

Split the group into teams if the group is large. Everyone lines up in front of a large piece of paper (think flipchart paper) mocked up to look like some film strip. We asked them to think about all the problems with simulation as an educational activity – the person at the front of the line gets a marker pen and they have to run up to the paper and write an idea (a problem) – then they hand the pen to the person now at the front of the line and rejoin the line at the back. We used Michael Jackson’s Thriller as a soundtrack and to measure out a couple of minutes for this part of the exercise.

At the end of the song, the groups swap to stand in front of another group’s sheet of paper and take a few minutes to review what’s been written on the sheets. The group is given a pen of a different colour and this time they choose one problem and write a solution next to it. We used Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars to set a different, more positive mood. At the end of the song the groups swap back and look at the solutions that have been suggested to their issues. You can ask the groups to pick out problem/solution pairs that they feel are particularly useful or powerful.

When/Where was this used?

The Teaching Course, New York, Nov 2015

How could you adapt it?

You can use this for any sort of education “problem” as a way of exploring creative solutions within a group. For example, you could write a “Horror Movie” about presentation skills – or workshops – and the issues with them as educational devices.

 

Small group work

What did we do?

Asked two separate groups to develop a role description for a confederate and a simulated patient in a simple sim scenario (paediatric cardiac arrest). They wrote a brief for the actor then the groups came together and took it in turn for one member to brief a member of the other team for the role they had outlined; the other team was able to ask questions to clarify uncertainty which helped to sharpen up the briefing descriptions

When/Where was this used?

The Teaching Course, New York, Nov 2015

How could you adapt it?

Any way you can think of! Just give the small group a task – either the same task for all groups, or similar tasks – and bring them back together to share their learning at the end. Get the groups to ask questions of each other to ensure they have completely understood what they have come up with.

What did we learn from these workshop ideas?

Firstly that ‘games’ such as these can be very powerful and emotive learning events. The emotive nature of the hunt the thimble game never fails to really reveal the power of feedback to change the way that participants feel. We’ve learned that as workshop leads activities are occasionally so powerful that we need to be very mindful of looking after the learners and in ensuring their psychological safety.

Secondly, the workshop ideas above and others that we’ve tried are risky for the tutor. There is a lot less risk in planning a session where you just stand at the front of the room and talk ‘at’ the participants. It’s riskier when you talk with them (through interaction Q&A), and riskier still when you place tasks in front of them to complete. It can feel as if you are losing control, but in reality the opposite is different. Well directed activities, games and tasks permit learners to construct their own knowledge in a much more powerful way than you can ever achieve by standing at the front of the room with your slides.

Finally, activities energise the session and course. It may feel risky, but it’s worth it. Give them a try.

Nat

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