Reflection Tools and Techniques

More Ideas to Engage Learners from the Moment They Walk in the Door

This fall I have been contributing posts for the Wood ‘N’ Barnes Publishing Company’s Experiential Learning Blog as part of their annual “Back to School Series”. Here is last week’s follow up to the August 25th post  offering more ideas to engage learners from the moment they walk in the door.


Strong Beginnings: Engaging Learners From the moment they Walk in the Door Part Two

“It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task, which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” -William James

Starting Off with Style:

The first few minutes of an experience or lesson are a key time to hook and engage learners. Evidence shows that people remember most about the first few minutes of a learning experience, and secondly the last few minutes of learning experience. (Sousa, 2006, Medina, 2008). Some educators and cognitive neuro-scientists call this the primacy-recency effect (Sousa, 2006). This validates the importance of facilitating an engaging opening activity as well as providing some reflective prompt to “tie it all together” or “bookend” a learning experience. This research suggests it also might make sense to create as many introductory and closing moments as possible in your teaching and group facilitation.


Engage learners from the moment they walk in the door. Rather than using these precious moments for focusing on taking attendance, collecting homework, or other “administrative” duties, involve students in an activity that helps them transition into the learning environment, make positive connections with their peers, explore or review the academic material at hand and most importantly shift their focus to the “here and now.”


In workshop or group situations or when a classroom group is coming together for the first time, participants can feel awkward. Providing an activity for them as the group gathers together prior to a session or meeting can create a welcome focus and a way for them to connect with each other. A novel activity engages learners right away and helps draw learners into a positive experience and create buy-in to increase engagement.


In last month’s post I shared about using Dominoes, Postcards and Quotes as a way to draw learners into a lesson or transition into a classroom space. Here are a couple more of my favorite approaches for engaging groups from the moment they walk in the door:


Experiential Tools Pin Back Buttons

Pin Back Buttons “Conversation Starters”

This is one of my “tried and true” activities for engaging educators, college leaders, business groups and other participants in laughter and dialogue together during a professional development session or meeting. I use pin back buttons from my collection of “Conversation Starters” with witty sayings such as “Same old circus different clowns,” “As is,” “Turn it up to 11,” “Keep Calm and Carry On,” or “It’s never too late to learn playground skills.” Lay them out on a table as participants enter for the program or meeting and ask them to choose one that represents their mood or attitude. The buttons are a way to transition into a classroom or workshop space. They also bring humor into group settings where individuals are reluctant to participate, helping them… click here for the full post on the WNB Blog.

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