Category Archives: Teaching

Creating the Best Learning Environment in Your Classroom

OD Workshop - CBAT Timeline 2 - SmallHere are some tips on how to create the best learning environment in an adult learning engagement.

Rearrange Your Space

Nine times out of ten, when you get to the training venue, there will be something about the arrangement of tables and equipment that won’t be helpful for learning.  Arrive early (with a helper if possible), and rearrange tables, chairs, projectors, screens and other things to make sure that every participant will be able to see, hear and engage.  Make sure there are no obstacles in the way, that everyone can see the screen and facilitator, that your voice will carry to the furthest participant or that you have microphones.  Sit in participant chairs to see what they see.  Make sure they have enough space so that they don’t feel too cramped.

Expect the Unexpected

Things will always go wrong, so prepare for them.  Test all your equipment (especially LCD projectors, microphones and speakers).  Test and cue your videos to the right places.  Get extra batteries for the microphones.  Bring extra markers, and test them all to make sure they write well.  Decide what you will do if lunch is late, if the power goes out, if a senior leader decides to take up some of your time, if your printouts aren’t ready or unreadable.  Always have a Plan B.

Put Someone in Charge

Participants may be uncomfortable in the learning environment but too polite or shy to let you know.  At the beginning of your workshop, ask someone to volunteer to be the person in charge of the environment.  If participants are having trouble hearing or understanding you, they can tell the person in charge, who will let you know.  If they need a break or they need to adjust the air, they can tell the person in charge, who will let you know.  This gives adult learns more control over their environment, which increases their engagement.

Get Feedback Everyday

At least once a day (and more if you can afford the time), make time for participants to give you feedback about the content, the pace, the facilitation and the environment.  There are many ways to do this, but a few that we have found successful are a Rapid Evaluation Form at the end of the day (a one-page questionnaire on the four topics mentioned above) and a flipchart with a +, -, ? at the top (participants write what they like, dislike and have questions about on different sticky notes and post them as they leave).  Make adjustments based on what you learn, and tell your participants what you are doing so that they know their feedback counts.

Move Frequently from Big Group to Small Group

Try to keep your lectures to 10-15 minutes at the most.  Then, let the table groups discuss what they are hearing or do some type of activity with it.  This has multiple benefits.  It makes the most of short attention spans.  It helps those who are behind to catch up with the rest of their table.  It reinforces the learning through repetition and contextualization.  It balances learning for introverts and extroverts.  It surfaces questions that might not have been asked out loud.  It socializes the learning.  (This is the 20% of The Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL’s) 70-20-10 model.)

Contextualize Your Content

Whenever possible, use local, relevant examples to illustrate your points.  If you don’t know them, ask for a subject matter expert (SME) to provide some before the training.  If you don’t have time to do that, let groups discuss the content and come up with their own local examples.  When we train on concepts that are new and different, it is harder for the learning to transfer from the classroom to the work environment.  Relevant examples help participants see how to apply the learning to their work.

Know Your Audience

Do the research to learn about who will be attending your workshop.  What do they know already?  Who are the experts in the room?  What is their work context?  What significant things are going on for them right now (at least in their work life)?

Only Teach Those Who Need to Know

Are the participants the right people to be attending this training?  If they are not, negotiate with your customer to get the right people in the room.  Participants who don’t participate can ruin the learning for everyone else, because they may be distracted, disinterested and disengaged.  If you have to keep them in your workshop, assign them something to do.  Acknowledge their expertise, and ask them to be table leaders or SME’s.  Let them help you manage the room or pass out materials.  Ask them to help you record meeting notes, parking lot questions or feedback from the others.  Invite them to join you for your facilitator debrief session at the end of the day.  Keep them busy.

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Filed under Adult Learning Theory, Facilitation, learning, Motivation, Teaching

Ideas for Using Icebreakers, Energizers and Games Effectively in Learning

PHOTO - Icebreaker

The following tips might be helpful to you as you use icebreakers, energizers and games in your facilitation.

Connect to Your Content

Whenever possible, connect your icebreakers and games to the content.  Don’t just use them to increase energy; this is not the best use of your time.   You should be able to debrief the activity and make connections to one of your learning objectives.  (P.S. You can apply this principle to devotions, worship and even breaks sometimes.)

Provide Clear Instructions

Give instructions a little at a time and more than one time.  If you give all the instructions at the beginning, participants are likely to get confused or forget them.  Make sure you repeat the instructions, because there are always some who are not paying attention or don’t understand the first time.

Practice Before You Facilitate

Icebreakers and games rarely go as you planned them in your mind, and practice can help you see the flaws.  As you practice, think about how the activity will sound and feel to the participants.  Putting yourself in their place will help you see where you need to make adjustments.

Design Your Debrief

Design really good debrief questions to make sure they get the main ideas.  Icebreakers and games are fun, and participants often forget they are learning while doing them.  This is great, except that if you don’t do the work to connect what just happened back to the content, they may leave without learning what they needed to learn.

Set Clear Boundaries for Competition

When people compete in games, they get pretty upset if you change the rules in the middle or at the end.  They will be very creative in coming up with new ways to reach the goal, so you have to decide whether or not you want to allow creative solutions that may feel like “cheating” to other groups or individuals.  Make sure your rules are clear and comprehensive, and then stick with them.

Schedule for Downtimes

Icebreakers, energizers and games can be a very effective way of increasing engagement levels, especially when everyone is feeling tired or distracted.  The best times to schedule them are: at the beginning of the day, after breaks and after lunch.  It’s also a good idea to have a few extra energizers ready in case you can tell you are loosing your participants’ attention.  Try to keep icebreakers and energizers under five minutes so that they don’t eat up your facilitation time.

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Filed under Energizer, Facilitation, Games that Teach, Icebreaker, Teaching, Uncategorized

Learning Links (OBJ LESSON)


15 minutes

This object lesson teaches that we learn by linking new ideas to old ones and demonstrates that this is the method Jesus used to teach about the Kingdom of God.


  • Mark 4:26-32 (man who throw seeds; mustard seed)
  • Luke 13:20-21 (yeast)


  • Large paperclips, carabineers or toy chain links (50 or more)
  • Slips of paper to mark places in the Bible for the verses you will share.
  • Bible



  • Form a chain of your paperclips, carabineers or toy chain links.  It should include 30-40 links, so that you can create a large “ball” of links when you hold them all in your hands.
  • Have your other links separated individually and at the front of the teaching area.
  • Write the Scriptures you want read on individual slips of paper, and put them in the Bible at the appropriate places.
  • Practice the script.


Use the following script and instructions (or modify to suit your needs):

  • “When Jesus taught, He used a teaching technique called a parable.”
  • “A parable is a simple story that teaches a spiritual lesson.”
  • “The word, ‘parable’ means, ‘to throw alongside of.’” (from the Greek – para, means ‘beside,’ and bole, means ‘a throw’)
  • “With His parables, Jesus was placing two ideas right beside each other.”
  • “He would always use one idea that the listener already knew, and it was usually about farming or fishing or everyday living.”
  • “Then, He would compare what the listener already knew to something they didn’t know about, like the Kingdom of God.”
  • “Let’s look at a few examples.”  (Ask volunteers to read the following Scriptures: Mark 4:26-32, Luke 13:20-21.)
  • “In these Scriptures, Jesus uses examples about farming and cooking to make comparisons to the Kingdom of God.”
  • “In other Scriptures, He uses children, camels, childbirth, light, salt, parties (feasts or banquets), weddings, masters and servants, and fig trees to teach about the Kingdom.”
  • “Let me show you why Jesus taught in this way.”  (Ask a volunteer to come forward, and hand him/her a single link.)
  • “The people Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom of God didn’t know anything about it, but they did know some things about fishing and farming and weddings and trees…”
  • “This link (ask volunteer to hold up their link) represents the knowledge that the people already had about ordinary things in their lives.” (Hold up your “ball” of links.)
  • “This giant ball of links represents everything that Jesus knew about the Kingdom of God.”
  • “If Jesus had tried to give them the entire ball of knowledge all at one time, they wouldn’t have been able to handle it.”  (Toss the ball of links to the volunteer.  It’s okay if he/she doesn’t catch it.  That will illustrate your point.)
  • “Jesus knew that he had to start small and start with what they already knew.”  (Take your ball of links back, and remove one link.)
  • “So, He taught in parables and said this thing that you already know (point to the link in the volunteer’s hand) is like the Kingdom of God.” (Hold up the ball of links) in this way (hold up the single link that you removed from the ball. Then, connect it to the link in the volunteer’s hand.)
  • “The Kingdom of God is like a man who throws seeds.” (Remove another link from the ball and connect it to the volunteer’s links.)
  • “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” (Remove another link from the ball and connect it to the volunteer’s links.)
  • “The Kingdom of God is like yeast that works its way through the dough.” (Remove another link from the ball and connect it to the volunteer’s links.)
  • “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” (Remove another link from the ball and connect it to the volunteer’s links.)
  • “In the Kingdom of God, there will be a great wedding feast!” (Remove another link from the ball and connect it to the volunteer’s links.)
  • “Just like you see new leaves on the fig tree when summer is coming, you will see certain signs that tell you when the Kingdom of God is near.” (Remove another link from the ball and connect it to the volunteer’s links.)
  • “You cannot enter the Kingdom of God unless you are born a second time in your spirit.” (Remove another link from the ball and connect it to the volunteer’s links.)
  • “By teaching in this way, Jesus helps understand something very big and difficult to understand.” (Hold up ball of links.)
  • “And this is the way all learning works.”
  • “We connect something we know to something we don’t know, and it helps us to understand it better.”  (Thank and dismiss your volunteer.)


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Filed under Jesus, learning, Object Lesson, Teaching

4MAT Learning Styles of Biblical Characters (BIBLICAL CASE STUDY)


Teens, Adults


45 minutes

A Biblical Case Study is an exercise that uses Scripture to practice the use of modern business and leadership tools.  In this case study, participants will try to determine where Biblical characters fit in Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT Learning Styles.



Nehemiah, chapters 1-4



  • Flipchart paper and markers for each table group (1 page each).
  • Masking tape (if you want to hang the flipcharts on the wall)
  • Sticky notes (one pad per table)
  • Marker (one per table)
  • Bible for each table group


o  Teach about Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT Learning Styles.



Use the following process (or modify to suit your needs):

o  After teaching about the four quadrants, ask participants to draw the model on their own flip chart.

o  Allow them to customize it with language or symbols that are meaningful to them as long as they don’t lose the essence of what the quadrants represent.

o  Give them a list of Biblical characters.  (My recommendations are Noah, Job, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, King Saul, Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar, Esther, John the Baptist, Peter, James, John the Beloved, Andrew, Paul, Timothy – but feel free to use others if you like.)

o  Have each group work as a team to put the names of each of these characters on an individual sticky note and place it in the quadrant on the chart that they think best represents the character’s learning style.

o  When they are all done, pick one character and discuss as a group.

o   Why do they think he/she fits in that quadrant?

o   What do other teams think?

o  Try to reach consensus among the teams, and keep your ears open for misunderstandings about the model. If you hear some incorrect understandings, correct those with the entire class.

o  Do a few characters like this until you are comfortable that they understand the model well.

o  Then, step out of the discussion, and let them debate among themselves. If they can’t reach a consensus, step back in to guide the decision making with some reminders about the model.


I’m including some recommended quadrants for each of the characters I mentioned above, but these are subjective and you could make strong arguments in some cases for placing them in other quadrants. “Correct answers” are not the most important outcome of this activity. What’s much more important is the process of participants wrestling with the model to find a place for the Biblical characters. In the end, they should have a much stronger understanding of the model even if their answers are “wrong.


Recommended Quadrants

Q1 – Imaginative Learner

·      Abraham

·      Samuel

·      Jonah


Q2 – Analytical Learner

·      Noah

·      Job

·      Jeremiah

·      Daniel

·      Esther

·      Andrew

·      James

·      Timothy

Q3 – Common Sense Learner

·      Sarah

·      Jacob

·      Paul


Q4 – Dynamic Learner

·      Moses

·      King Saul

·      David

·      Isaiah

·      Nebuchadnezzar

·      John the Baptist

·      Peter

·      John the Beloved


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Filed under Biblical Case Study, Facilitation, learning, Personality, Teaching, Training

Heart, Head, Hands (REVIEW)


10-15 minutes

Children, youth, adults



This is a simple review process that you can use in almost any situation.  Participants first talk about how they feel about what they just experienced (HEART), then about what they learned (HEAD), and finally about what they are going to do as a result of what they experienced and learned (HANDS).  You can have the participants discuss this is groups, or you can do a facilitated discussion.



  • None



  • Practice the script.



Use the following script and instructions (or modify to suit your needs):

  • “Let’s review what you’ve just experienced.”
  • “We will use a simple process, called ‘Heart, Head, Hands.’”
  • “First, I would like you to share how you feel about the experience.  That’s the HEART part.”
  • “Then, I want you to discuss what you learned from it.  That’s the HEAD part.”
  • “Finally, discuss what you will do as a result of what you experienced and what you learned.  That’s the HANDS part.”
  • “HEART, HEAD, HANDS is just a simple way to help you remember the process for the debrief.”
  • “Does anyone have any questions about what we are about to do?” (Answer any questions.  Then, let them discuss the three aspects of the debrief.  Finish with a large-group debrief and ask for volunteers to share any insights or commitments that they made.)


Filed under learning, Review, Teaching, Training

Review Dice (REVIEW)


10-15 minutes


Children, youth, adults


This review activity uses dice to debrief just about any learning exercise.  Each die has six questions on it (e.g., “What did you learn?” or “What questions do you still have?”)  Use the dice as a fun way to have participants think about what they learned from different perspectives.  They can be used over and over, and participants will still have a unique experience as they roll different questions in different situations.


  • Blank foam dice that you can write on with a marker (one per group)  You can usually find this type of supply at a teachers’ supply store or craft store.
  • (Alternative) Print out of the die pattern at the end of this lesson.  If you use this approach, you will need a cutting tool and some glue (or clear, plastic tape) to assemble your dice.



  • Prepare your dice. (You do this by writing questions on the foam dice or by printing out the die pattern and assembling the dice provided at the end of this lesson.  Feel free to change the questions.)
  • Practice the script.


Use the following script and instructions (or modify to suit your needs):

  • “To review what we’ve talked about today, we are going to use these Review Dice.” (Show one of the die.)
  • “Each table has a one.”
  • “Each person in your group will roll the die and take a turn answering the question that it lands on.”
  • “Go around the group and have each person roll the die and answer a question.”
  • (Allow them to begin.  After everyone has answered their question, you might want to ask a few participants to share insights with you from the activity.)

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Walks of Life (ICEBREAKER)


10-15 minutes

This icebreaker uses flip-flops, slippers or shoes to pair people up and have them describe a place they have been, want to go or where something significant happened.



o  Pairs of flip-flops, slippers or shoes (enough for each person in the group to get one shoe)  NOTE: You want shoes on which you can write or stick tape on the soles.  I’ve used the free slippers they give you in hotels and on airplanes, and they work well.

o  Permanent marker

o  Masking tape (optional – you only need it if you don’t want to or can’t write on the soles)



o  Write a different location on the bottom of each pair of shoes.  (You will write each location twice, once on the left shoe sole and once on the right shoe sole.  This allows participants to find their match after selecting a shoe.)  Here are some examples:

o   Where your family lives

o   Where you spend most of your time

o   Your favorite place to eat

o   A place you miss

o   A place where you were truly blessed

o   Where you had your first kiss

o   Countries you’ve visited

o   Where you go to get away from it all

o   Where you have the most joy

o   Where you might retire

o   Where you were born

o   Cities in which you have lived

o   Where you were last Saturday

o   Where you fell in love

o   A place you prefer not to return to

o   A special spiritual place

o   Where you went to college

o   Where you hope to go

o   Where you grew up

o   Best vacation spot

o   Where you go to have fun

o   Where you’ve worked

o   Where you got your first job

Either mix the shoes up in a big pile somewhere in the room, or scatter them around making sure to keep the pairs separated.



Use the following script (or modify to suit your needs):

  • “Let’s do an icebreaker to get to know each other better.”
  • “It’s called ‘Walks of Life,’ and it’s about the many places you’ve been or want to go.”
  • “I’ve created a pile of shoes (or scattered them around the room).”
  • “On the bottom of each shoe is the description of a particular place.”
  • “When I say, ‘Go!’ I want each person to pick up one shoe and read what it says on the sole.”
  • “Then, find your mate – the person who has the matching shoe for yours.  They will both say the same thing on the sole.”
  • “When you pair up, tell a little about yourself and then describe the place from your life that matches what is written on the bottom of the shoe.”
  • “After you have both finished sharing, you can return the shoes to this place and return to your seats.” (You should designate a place.  You may also want to let them do more than one round of this so that they can meet different people.  If you do, have them pick up a different shoe from the one they originally chose.)


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Filed under Energizer, Icebreaker, Relationships, Teaching, teambuilding