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Actively Engage Participants in Their Learning: 5 Quick Activities to Use

Consider these instructor scenarios:

  • “I feel like I’m pulling teeth to get my students to actively participate in their learning or remember the key points I just presented.”
  • “At the end of the session, I feel like all I did was talk, talk, talk and they just nodded in agreement.”
  • “ I want to do something to make changes to the class so they participate more, but the reality is, I just don’t have time!

As a consultant, I have found my clients experience these scenarios because, often, the instructor is the Subject Matter Expert (SME). While there are advantages of having the SME as the instructor, there can also be some challenges such as not having facilitation experience or the ability/time to develop activities to incorporate interactivity into the session.

Recently, I came across the book, Training from the BACK of the Room! 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn (Sharon L. Bowman). The book details 65 activities/techniques to actively involve participants in their learning and divides them into 4 Cs:

  1. Connections – helps participants connect to the content
  2. Concepts – helps participants learn the training concepts
  3. Concrete Practice – helps participants apply what they learned via concrete practice
  4. Conclusions – helps participants conclude/summarize the key learnings/concepts presented in the session

As I read it, I realized I had incorporated many of the activities as an instructor and found them to be very successful. This book seemed to be a perfect tool for my SME instructor client, so I approached the client with the idea of conducting a Lunch & Learn Session to demonstrate some of these activities and provide a development opportunity for the instructors.

Five Activities to Use

In preparation for the session, I chose five activities because they are quick to complete, easy for the instructor to implement in their existing training materials and require little to NO preparation on their part . I felt the instructors could be successful in implementing these activities if I demonstrated how easy they were to use, how little time it takes to prepare to use them and then practice using each activity. The five activities (Concepts & Conclusion) are:

  1. Rapid Response
  2. Concept Clinic/Mind Map
  3. Paired Teach-Backs
  4. Fact or Myth
  5. Improv Teach-Backs

I presented the 90-minute Lunch & Learn session explaining each activity type, providing examples of the group size appropriate for the activity and when/how it could be implemented during the session (i.e., end of the day, beginning of the day, after an activity, at the end of a module, etc.). Instructors then practiced each activity by using general company content.

For example, when instructors practiced Concept Clinic/Mind Map, flipcharts displayed around the room were labeled, Tools, Safety, Performance Tools, etc. so each instructor could fully participate in the activity since each has his/her own specific content area.

After each activity, I conducted a debrief with my co-facilitator, a current SME instructor, who successfully incorporated these techniques into his existing training sessions. He shared his experience, how engaged the students were and how using follow-up questioning techniques and building off the students’ responses helped draw more information/key concepts from the students and engage them even more in their learning.

The first Lunch & Learn session (12 instructors) was so successful, that I presented three additional sessions to other departments. Each instructor left the session with the tools needed to implement these activities. These tools included a copy of the book, pack of index cards, flipchart markers, pad of flipchart paper, the PowerPoint presentation I used and one set of prepared flipcharts as a give-away.


Presenting the Lunch & Learn sessions was a huge success with my client. The instructors are now implementing the techniques, seeing the positive results and realizing how easy they are to implement.

I had the opportunity to get feedback from the students who practiced the paired teach-backs and they raved about it. They said they liked being involved in the learning and having to re-read the materials and prepare a presentation helped them retain the content.

Taking the initiative to present the Lunch & Learn was a win for my client because it helped develop their instructors. As a consultant, it was a win because it strengthened the consultant/client relationship. Just like the instructors, we consultants don’t typically “have the time” to create additional materials/training for our clients. However, in this case the good-will it established was priceless.


Source:  Training from the BACK of the Room! 65 Ways to Step Aside and Let Them Learn by Sharon L. Bowman  ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0787996628


Sue Sobek, Instructional Design Consultant, The CARA Group

Author Sue Sobek, Instructional Design Consultant, The CARA Group

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