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Turntaking in Group Reviews

Roger Greenaway's Active Reviewing Tips 11.1 ~ ISSN 1465-8046
A free monthly publication from Reviewing Skills Training

ARTips 11.1   Turntaking in Group Reviews


The previous issue 'Reviewing for Peace and Conflict Resolution' is now at: <http://reviewing.co.uk/archives/art/10_2.htm>


After reading Ben Goldacre's 'Bad Science' (reviewed below)
I have been thinking a little more deeply than usual about the
scientific basis of 'Active Reviewing'. My reflections on this
will be trickling out over future issues.

But you don't have to wait, because the trickle begins right now -
with an article about turntaking.

Why 'turntaking'?

A) How you manage turntaking speaks volumes about your values as
a facilitator (and your effectiveness).

B) Turntaking is possibly THE foundation of active reviewing:
without a 'turn' there is no participation. Without participation
there is no active reviewing.

The main article below explores various ways in which
facilitators manage turntaking. My emphasis is on evaluating
these methods: what are there plus and minus points? You will
find some useful ideas for improving turntaking while also
taking a more critical view of common turntaking methods.

Turntaking is probably as fundamental as it gets.

And if you think you have seen 'Facilitation Fundamentals'
somewhere before, I have borrowed the phrase from Amanda Stott of
'facilitatethis!' (Amanda's next 'Facilitation Fundamentals'
workshop is listed below.)

I am also regularly offering trainer-training workshops for
developing your skills in active reviewing and learning transfer.

You can read about them at:

You can see (parts of) them at:

And if you want to find, create or host an active reviewing
workshop in your part of the world, please write to:

Roger Greenaway


A group has just completed an activity or a real-world project. Your job is to help them reflect and learn from their experiences. What turn-taking strategy will you use?
  1. Not having a turn-taking strategy. 'Laissez-faire' is very unfair especially when it results in domination by the loudest people.

  2. Adopting your usual 'default mode' (which you might spot somewhere below) without considering other turn-taking strategies.

  3. Imposing a turn-taking method on the group that is either too structured (and lifeless) or one that is too jolly (and superficial).

  4. Not making room for participation - by talking too much, getting in the first word, taking all the best lines, filling in the silences, and only asking for participation when you run out of breath.


No method is perfect. What follows is a list of turn-taking options with comments about the strengths and weaknesses of each. Methods with lots of minuses are best avoided, or used sparingly. [Please let me know if I have unfairly maligned your favourite methods, or if you have other methods you would like to add – by writing to roger@reviewing.co.uk]


The facilitator asks a question to the group. Anyone can respond.

+ PLUS +

+ People only speak up if they have something to say.


- The first person to speak is likely to be the least reflective person in the group who simply says the first thing that comes to mind.

- People who like time to reflect before responding find it difficult or impossible to reflect while others are talking.

- People who lack confidence or feel they hold minority views may be reluctant to speak up.

- The facilitator's open questions will do little to challenge or change norms in the group: dominant individuals will be as dominant as usual; quiet people will be as quiet as usual (and they do not prepare to say anything because they do not expect to be asked).


... everyone has reflection time before speaking, and if everyone is invited to speak?


Hands up - or catch the chairperson's eye if you wish to speak.

+ PLUS +

+ Same as 'Free for all': people only speak up if they have something to say, but it enables wider participation because there is a queuing system for turn-taking.


- Same as 'Free for all' except that the queueing system makes it a little easier for less assertive people to join in


... we had different and better ways of turn-taking? (Better than the 'hands up' routine that we learned on our first day at school.)


There are some interesting differences between these methods. What they have in common is the rule that holding the object gives you permission to speak. It usually involves catching the eye of the current speaker (and object holder) rather than catching the eye of a chairperson.

+ PLUS +

+ It reduces the power of the chairperson - with each speaker having the responsibility of deciding who speaks next if there is competition for the object.


- It reduces the power of the chairperson – who would usually be in the best position for noticing who is next in the queue for speaking.


... we find ways of turn-taking that do not draw attention away from what we are talking about?


Rounds (also known as 'go-round', 'whip' and 'creeping death')

''Starting with the person on my left you are each invited to answer, in turn, in one or two sentences. As always, passing is allowed.''

+ PLUS +

+ Everyone knows they will get a turn to speak. It feels fair and democratic.

+ At the start of a review a quick round gives everyone a chance to check in while informing the facilitator (and everyone else) about what's 'on top' for each person.

+ A quick round early in a review helps to establish full participation at what is likely to be a relatively easy starting point.

+ Can be used at any time (beginning, middle or end) to give everyone a quick say.

+ As a 'sounding board' it permits a greater range of responses than, say, a show of hands.


- The first people have little reflection time before speaking (though you can provide this).

- People may be thinking about what they will say rather than paying attention to what is being said.

- The last people to speak often feel that everyone else has stolen their lines, even if the facilitator assures them that repetition is OK

- 'Creeping Death': the structure and predictability of Rounds can readily drain the life out of reviews if used too much, or if people are allowed to speak at length when it is their turn.

- Rounds is not designed to stimulate free-flowing discussion (though an occasional quick round can help to include consideration of all views within a free-flowing discussion).


... we could find a way of achieving full participation without breaking up the flow of a good discussion? It is interesting to listen to others, but not when they are talking simply because it is their turn rather than because they have something they want to say.'


Random turn-taking – such as spin the bottle, spin the arrow or picking a name out of a hat.

You spin the arrow and the person the arrow points to answers the question.

+ PLUS +

+ It keeps everyone alert and awake.

+ Some people think in advance and prepare a response in case they are chosen by the random process. (More will do so if you give them reflection time for this purpose).


- Some people sit back preferring to improvise an instant response should they happen to be chosen.

- The game-like qualities of 'spin the arrow' produce game-like responses rather than reflective ones.

- People with something they want to say may not get a chance to do so.

- Some people may never be asked for a response (although 'name out of a hat' gives everyone a go if names are not returned into the hat).

- The random choosing process becomes the focus of attention and distracts attention from the content


... we were to keep to reviewing methods that avoid distraction, minimise frustration, include everyone, encourage choice, set a suitable tone and ... erm, oh yes ... encourage reflection!


Random questions typically come from question cards that are picked out of a hat. (This does not refer to questions asked by the facilitator – who would usually have some kind of rationale for asking a particular question at a particular time.)

+ PLUS +

+ Some people enjoy the surprise, the challenge and the quick thinking of being expected to answer a random question.

+ Random questions may (by chance of course) just happen to trigger a really interesting response – and even a breakthrough.


- If random questions work better than questions asked by the facilitator, the facilitator should feel ashamed (or find another job).

- Some people get completely thrown by a random question because the question does not speak to the place they have reached in their reflection. (And then ... they go quiet, or try hard to respond, or ramble, or disregard the question and say what they wanted to say anyway.)

- The use of random questions challenges the idea that reviews benefit from having a sequence that moves people through various stages such as reaction, sharing, analysis, consequences.


... random questions were reserved for situations in which they serve a useful purpose such as for creative thinking, for developing improvisation skills, for looking at things differently, or for creating a spirit of play? What if random questions were reserved for times when they assist learning?


Introduces even more randomness into the reviewing process than either of these strategies on their own.

+ PLUS +

+ Totally random reviews might work well. The odds are slightly better than a monkey typing the complete works of Shakespeare.


- A time filler that brings out random comments from random people in a random sequence.

- Also see the minus points for 'random questions' and 'random turn-taking' above.


... a review session could be informed by a bit of learning theory, and conducted in a way that allows the facilitator and participants to draw on their skills and experiences?


Everyone has the same number of tokens (e.g. matchsticks) giving everyone the same number of opportunities to speak. You discard a token after speaking for more than 5 seconds (or for more than one sentence).

+ PLUS +

+ People tend to be more thoughtful about what they want to say if they have a specific number of turns available.

+ Everyone can see that it is fair and that it is designed to encourage the people who usually speak to speak less, leaving room for quieter people to speak up more.

+ So it usually gets off to a good start ...


- ... and then the discussion falters when those who want to contribute have run out of tokens, and those with tokens remaining have nothing they want to say.

- It brings attention to unbalanced participation, but does not necessarily result in better discussions or wider participation.

- The pressure on quieter people to speak up often happens when there is not a lot left to say


... we could find better ways of helping quieter people to join in, especially in the earlier stages of a discussion?



I have converted the 'What Ifs' above into a single list (below). Maybe these principles provide useful guidance for an effective turn-taking strategy?

  • Everyone has reflection time before speaking.

  • Everyone is invited to speak.

  • Quieter people are readily able to join in, especially in the earlier stages of a review.

  • We achieve full participation without breaking up the flow of a good discussion.

  • We use reviewing methods that avoid distraction, minimise frustration, include everyone, encourage choice, set a suitable tone and ... encourage reflection!

  • We are wary of methods that draw attention away from what we are talking about (although on first use any new method will need some attention while participants are learning how to use it well).

  • We reserve random questions for situations in which they serve a useful purpose such as for creative thinking, for developing improvisation skills, for looking at things differently, or for creating a spirit of play.

  • Everyone is able to use and develop their skills for learning in groups – and is able to find a suitable level of challenge within the reviewing process itself.

It is unlikely that you would find all of these features and principles in a single method – which is partly why it is handy to have a mix of methods. The methods that follow generally score a little higher (against the criteria listed above) than the methods already described.

The full article in which seven more turntaking methods are
presented and evaluated is available for Active Reviewing Tips

Since writing this article I have frequently revisited the topic of engaging learners in reviewing - each time from a different perspective. These articles are brought together in
Active Reviewing Tips 12.2


The Active Learning Manual is a pilot project using video to
demonstrate active learning methods. You can view my introductory
video and three one minute videos
  • Action Replay
  • Moving Stones
  • Talking Knot
at <http://www.activelearningmanual.com>

I have been receiving lots of interesting, useful and positive
comments via the feedback form. This feedback has convinced me
that this is a useful resource to develop further.

It is clearly ambitious to squeeze some methods into just one
minute. Many people liked this one minute format, while others
would prefer more detail. The compromise is that future videos
will be around two minutes, each with links to written notes.

To speed up the generation of these videos, I will be responding
enthusiastically to clients who ask if they can take videos of my
training workshops or of specific reviewing techniques.

If you are a client (or potential client) who has access to the
equipment and skills to take and edit 2 minute videos of a
similar style and quality to the pilot videos at
<http://www.activelearningmanual.com> please get in touch with me
at roger@reviewing.co.uk and ask how this can save you money.


Roger's Active Learning Bookshop has raised over 1,316 for Save
the Children since January 2006 - thanks to everyone who has been
shopping at the Active Learning Bookshop. THANK YOU!


This top twenty is revised annually. It is interesting to look
out for trends from year to year. There are always several
collections of TEAM ACTIVITIES in the top twenty: books with lots
of activities and a low price tag seem to sell best of all.

There also seem to be plenty of smart buyers around who avoid
books with poor reviews (simply collecting lots of activities is
not enough to sell a book). However, this year many of the new
entries and fast climbers belong to a different category - which
I would call 'EASY TO READ GUIDES' to the skills of facilitating
groups and workshops.

For example, Zen of Groups has climbed 7 places to the top spot,
and a new entry at 19 is 'Once Upon a Group' which has been
around since the 1980's and is still, in my view, the best book
to read when first working with groups. Perhaps No. 20 is the
start of a new trend - it is one of a series of student workbooks
on emotional intelligence. The trend? Buying books for
participants as well as for the facilitator??

1  The Zen of Groups

2  Quick Team-building Activities for Busy Managers

3  Team Building Through Physical Challenges

4  The Big Book of Motivation Games

5  The Icebreakers Pocketbook

6  100 Training Games

7  Brilliant NLP

8  How to Run a Great Workshop (new entry)

9  Introducing NLP (new entry)

10 Team-Building Activities for Every Group

11 The Big Book of Team Building Games

12 The Facilitator's Pocketbook (new entry)

13 Accelerated Learning Pocketbook

14 Experiential Learning (comeback)

15 More Team Building Challenges (new entry)

16 Practical Facilitation: A Toolkit of Techniques

17 The Art of Facilitation (new entry)

18 The Big Book of Humorous Training Games

19 Once Upon a Group (comeback)

20 The Habits of Emotional Intelligence (new entry)

The quickest way to find out more about (or buy) any of these
books is to view this TOP TWENTY on its special page at:

Do ALL your Amazon shopping (not just books) via
<http://reviewing.co.uk/reviews> and not only do YOU get a good
deal, so do CHILDREN around the world who need our help. I worked
for Save the Children for 4 years so I know about the value and
quality of the work they do. Please support them by buying your
books (and any other Amazon goods) via ROGER'S ACTIVE LEARNING
BOOKSHOP at: <http://reviewing.co.uk/reviews>


[Some of you may know of this method as 'Back to the Future'
which is now my preferred title for it.]

Recommended use: for preparing for a journey towards a goal by
reflecting on experience.

Resources: A 5 metre rope for each pair. Paper and marker pens if
using written goals.

Demonstrate with a partner. Lay a 5 metre rope on the ground. The
near end represents their starting point on their journey towards
their goal and the far end represents their goal (for the
programme, or for the transfer of learning). Your partner places
an object or picture or word representing their goal at the far
end of the rope, describes it, and returns to their starting
point at the near end.

This is your skeleton script: 'I don't think you are at the very
start of this journey, so let’s check ... Take a few steps
forwards and turn around to face your starting point. What have
you already done that will help you on this journey? ... What
knowledge, skills, resources, experience, motivation, values,
support, etc. do you already have that will help you on this
journey?' This is your side of a dialogue so pause for responses!
'So where do you think you really are on this journey? Further
forwards? A bit further back?' Allow you partner to move to the
place they choose. (Following a good dialogue, moving towards the
goal is typical but moving closer to the start is also OK.) 'Now
face your goal and tell us what the next step of your journey
will be... Now face your starting point... What has helped you on
your journey so far that might also be useful in the next step of
your journey? What other factors (internal or external) might
help you on this next step?''

Explain that this is the essence of the technique: facing
forwards to talk about your goal or about the next step towards
it, and then turning backwards to review the skills, resources
etc. that you already have that will help you with the next part
of your journey. This exercise does not involve walking into an
imagined future; it is about recognising helpful factors in the
past and present that are real and available. It includes
accessing relevant experiences and drawing confidence, energy and
learning from them precisely when these assets and strengths are
needed. It is ‘just-in-time’ learning! This process helps people
to approach their goal more wisely and confidently. It also
develops the habit and skill of ‘just-in-time’ learning.
After your demonstration and explanation, pairs work together
with one rope per pair, taking turns in the different roles. Much
the same process can be used later in the programme with pairs
returning to their rope, and standing at a point that represents
their current progress towards (or beyond) their goal. Their
conversations follow a similar pattern to the original exercise.

'Objective Line' (above) is the 7th of 11 instalments from
'Dynamic Debriefing' - a chapter I wrote for Mel Silberman's
'Handbook of Experiential Learning'. The first six instalments

1: What is Dynamic Debriefing?

2  The Role of the Facilitator

3. Models of Debriefing

4. The Experience of Debriefing

5. The Sequencing in Debriefing

6. Action Replay

The remaining instalments of 'Dynamic Debriefing' will provide
further examples of debriefing methods.



DATES: 15-16 October 2009 (pre-conference 14th October)

VENUE: Wallacespace, Covent Garden, London

I presented workshops at the inaugural Tips for Trainers
Conference last year. It was such an energetic and inspiring
event that I'll be there this year too. Will you?

Do you want new, interactive, learner-centred training ideas and
techniques that involve your learners every step of the way yet
still focus upon high-retention and are totally content focused?

Then this is the conference for you. A unique conference packed
with ideas and techniques that you will experience from the
actual trainers that have developed and used them  Take these
away to add further impact to your own workshops!



DATES: 27-28 October 2009

VENUE: Scottish Youth Theatre, Glasgow

Breaking New Ground: New ways and means in Action Learning
Keynote speaker: Ian McGill, co-author of ‘The Action Learning

IFAL Conference website:


DATES: 2-3 November 2009

VENUE: The Dower House Hotel, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

Freshen up your facilitation skills, increase your confidence and
have more tools and techniques to get the most out of meetings &

This two day open programme has been designed for professionals
who want to spend quality time exploring core facilitation roles
and responsibilities when working with groups. The course is
dynamic, packed with tools, methods and techniques and provides
insight into the key facilitation competencies. You will enjoy a
structured, safe and creative environment in which to get to
grips with and master many aspects of group facilitation.

Visit facilitate this! to find out more:


I am providing training events in England, Wales, Hungary,
Singapore and Denmark. Details are on my news page at:

If you would like to host an open event or arrange for an in-
house customised trainer-training programme please get in touch.
Write to: <roger@reviewing.co.uk>


Discover the scandalous ways in which stories about science are
constructed by the media: Ben Goldacre shows how even a
rudimentary knowledge of statistics and the scientific method can
help you see through it all.

Bad Science is humorous, angry and very helpful guide to sorting
true science from the 'sciency'. It is also a wonderfully topical
introduction to the use and abuse of statistics - especially for
non-scientists and humanities graduates like myself.

I am reviewing it here because Goldacre starts by investigating
(and ridiculing) a particular approach to 'active learning':
Brain Gym. He also takes a critical look at the Durham Fish Oil
Trials in which fish oil supplements were claimed to improve the
performance of school students.

Bad Science shows how big stories in health, medicine and
education have been flagrant distortions of the truth. These
distortions are frequently promoted by those who stand to profit
by hiding the truth. Most of Goldacre's targets are in the health
sector - from pharmaceutical companies to homeopaths and

So I have been wondering what else a Ben Goldacre might find in
the worlds of education and training. What are the scams, hoaxes
and frauds in education and training that could be laid bare by
someone applying a basic knowledge of science and statistics? In
the medical world, the Cochrane committee carries out extensive
reviews of research findings in specific medical fields. I wonder
if there is an equivalent in the worlds of education and

Actually, I didn't have to look too far. Ben Goldacre himself has
made a start for us by putting 'Brain Gym' and 'Fish Oil' under
the microscope (Goldacre can find no reason to recommend either
intervention). But we do not need to rely on a medic to examine
educational research on our behalf...

Professor John Hattie has sifted through 500 research reviews or
'meta-studies' of teaching methods from around the world. His
summary of findings from 'effective control group research' is
presented in a top twenty list of the teaching methods which have
the greatest effect on achievement ('feedback' comes top). His
analysis included 253 of the most rigorous studies on active
learning.  His findings show that students in the experimental
group perform (on average) a grade and a half better than if they
had been placed in the control group. Active Learning adds a
grade and a half to achievement!

Professor John Hattie's study is referenced below. You will not
find it referred to in Bad Science, but I am mentioning it here
because it demonstrates how respectable control group studies
have demonstrated substantial benefits of active learning.

Unsurprisingly, 'Brain Gym' and 'Fish Oil' do not appear in
Hattie's list of top teaching strategies. To be included,
teaching strategies need to have had control group studies
published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The consequences of continuing to use strategies that are
discredited is that even if they are harmless and ineffective,
they will be diverting time and resources from the development of
more successful strategies. (This is one of Goldacre's

On the other hand, a demand for proper testing could really slow
down innovation - if, for example, teachers are only allowed to
use strategies and resources from a scientifically proven list.
We expect teachers (and trainers) to make professional
judgements. Making informed judgements is easier if you have
access to peer-reviewed research (of Brain Gym, Fish Oil etc.)
together with an ability to distinguish between 'science' and
'sciency'. Ben Goldacre's mission is to show you how even a basic
knowledge of science and statistics can equip the lay reader to
see through the various scams, hoaxes and frauds ...

So how does this professional duty to interrogate the evidence
apply to the practices that I promote in active learning and
active reviewing? Well - the Hattie study is a solid start. But,
unlike the fish oil pill for which there is a very clear formula,
the world of active learning is a little more complex. It is
harder to define.

Reading 'Bad Science' started me on a journey of enquiring more
deeply into the foundations of active learning. It is taking many
twists and turns which I will be reporting on in future issues of
Active Reviewing Tips - looking a little more closely at whether
the tips are floating on sciency fish oil or have a scientific

Buy the book? I recommend it if you want a readable,
entertaining and passionate introduction to statistics and the
scientific method. Bad Science is mostly about health and
medicine stories. Check the Bad Science blog if you want a
flavour of what to expect.


Ben Goldacre's Bad Science Blog

Professor John Hattie's study is reported on by Geoff Petty at:

Brain Gym on Newsnight: Jeremy Paxman's interview with Paul
Dennison, the founder of Brain Gym

A shorter version of this book review first appeared on my
Linkedin page at: <http://www.linkedin.com/in/reviewing>

Quick Links
to Bad Science at Amazon.com and at Amazon.co.uk

~ 10 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

EDITOR: Dr. Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
9 Drummond Place Lane STIRLING Scotland UK FK8 2JF
Feedback, recommendations, questions: roger@reviewing.co.uk
phone (UK office hours): +44 1786 450968

The Guide to Active Reviewing is at http://reviewing.co.uk
'One of the best training sites I've ever seen' Training Journal

COPYRIGHT: Roger Greenaway  Reviewing Skills Training

This issue started out as a series of simple exercises that I was using in trainer-training. As I developed these ideas further in writing I felt I was hitting a lot of issues that would strike a chord with reasers - and they did. Thank you to those who have responded with comments and ideas. Some are now published in the article only version of this page entitled: TURN-TAKING WHEN REVIEWING IN A GROUP

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