ACTIVE Reviewing Tips
for dynamic experiential learning


Real Reviewing: Getting Beyond Cliches

Roger Greenaway's Active Reviewing Tips ~ ISSN 1465-8046

is no longer published but you can view more back issues in the ARCHIVES

For Roger's blog and other writings please see the Guide to Active Reviewing

ARTips 13.3 Real Reviewing: Getting Beyond Cliches


One of the 'selling points' of experience-based learning is that
it is so 'real' - in terms of intensity, consequences,
significance, memorability and transferability. In experience-
based learning participants are often highly aroused, alert,
tuned in, switched on and full of life.

So it is a bit of a disappointment all round if reviews feel like
a lifeless administrative necessity, or are half-hearted, low
level and routine, or if people are just going through the
motions - holding back, holding in or holding off.

Reviews are also experiences: reviews should feel at least as
real (and worth investing in) as the experiences being reviewed.
So why is it that reviews can sometimes turn out to be so lacking
in life?

Perhaps it is a lack of confidence (or fear of looking foolish) that keeps reviews at a level that is too safe and too dull?

Perhaps it is simply that reviewing is itself a new experience
and people just don't know how to behave and don't really know
what is expected?

Perhaps the facilitator has simply not thought through the kinds of questions that will make reviews at least as real as the experiences being reviewed.

I hope that this month's article on 'Real Reviewing' will help you to make your reviews more real, more valued and more lasting.

Roger Greenaway

I know that a lot of readers of Active Reviewing Tips are also writers. Please feel free to comment on what you read in this issue (eg sharing your ideas about, or examples of, real reviewing).You are also welcome to offer a paragraph or two on topics coming up in future issues - listed in section 8 below.

Confidentiality: Before publishing anything you write I will always ask for your explicit permission first - just in case you were writing to me 'off the record'.

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~ 2 ~ ARTICLE: Real Reviewing: Getting Beyond Cliches

Tips for preventing and overcoming a common problem - when responses are glib, superficial, repetitive, cliched or dull.

Q. Did you enjoy it? (Yes)
Q. Did you work well together as a team? (Yes)
Q. Is your teamwork improving? (Yes)
Q. Did you achieve the task? (Yes)
Q. Could you have done it better? (Yes)
Q. Any ideas about how you could have done it better? (No)
Q. Anything else anyone wants to say about anything? (No)
Q. Shall we take a break? (Yes)

Lesson 1 in questioning skills is that if you don't want to get the one word answers 'yes' or 'no' you avoid asking questions to which 'yes' or 'no' is the likely answer. (To generate more interesting answers you can ask for answers on a scale from 'yes very much' to 'no not at all', or you can ask follow-up questions seeking examples or reasons.)

So if you are getting short, recurring answers to your questions such as 'listening', 'trust', 'teamwork', 'cooperation', 'communication' ... maybe this is also to do with the nature of the questions being asked? (Hmmm, yes, maybe it is?)

There could be other reasons too. But to explore this possibility let's try to generate questions that are likely to produce these 'T+L+C' responses ('Teamwork, Listening, Communication'). In other words, let's try to generate the problem behaviour of 'the shallow response'. Here goes ...

Q. What would you say is the secret of your success? (Teamwork)
Q. If you had to pick one reason why you succeeded ... (Teamwork)
Q. What is the goal of this programme? (Teamwork)
Q. What is your greatest strength as a team? (Teamwork)
Q. What was the biggest challenge you faced? (Teamwork)
Q. Can you sum up in one word what you have learned? (Teamwork)

Yes - if you ask for just one thing such as 'the secret', 'one reason', 'the goal', 'your greatest strength', 'biggest challenge', or simply 'one word' then you can easily end up with a very short answer - such as 'teamwork'.

Armed with this insight you might be tempted to ask for more than one item in the answer. For example, this happens to be one of my favourite questions:
Q. 'What is your recipe for success?'
But there is nothing in this question that would prevent the T+L+C response: Teamwork, Listening, Communication. (But I will keep using my 'recipe' question because it usually produces much more interesting responses.)

Let's see what other questions might generate this unwanted 'T+L+C' response. Here goes ...

Q. Can you name 3 things that worked well? (T+L+C)
Q. Can you summarise in 3 words what you have learned? (T+L+C)
Q. In what 3 specific ways can you improve? (T+L+C)
Q. What 3 strengths do you want to carry forward? (T+L+C)

Yes - you can stimulate a shallow response by asking for 3 responses all at once, especially if you also ask for brevity ('3 words', 'specific', 'summarise'). There is nothing wrong about asking for a summary, but be sure to ask for what you want.

Q. What were the common themes across these exercises? (T+L+C)
Q. What similarities link this exercise with the others? (T+L+C)
Q. Taking an overview what themes stand out? (T+L+C)
Q. What are the most relevant connections to work? (T+L+C)

Yes - an important part of reviewing is looking at patterns across events ('common themes', 'similarities', 'overview', 'connections') but if you are not careful, what you get in response is the lowest common denominator - something like T+L+C.

Q. What are the characteristics of a strong team? (T+L+C)
Q. What have you learned as a team? (T+L+C)
Q. To improve as a team what must you pay attention to? (T+L+C)
Q. What words would you want to put on your team shield? (T+L+C)

Yes - if the word 'team' or 'teamwork' is in your question you are leading participants towards the words they most associate with 'team' - T+L+C or similar. If you want to get out of such grooves, read on ...


The questions listed above are not necessarily 'bad practice'. If they produce interesting responses, then keep asking such questions. But if you are asking these kinds of questions and they are producing shallow responses, try some of these alternatives.

Original Q: What would you say is the secret of your success?

Alternative Q: What were the key moments or turning points in achieving this success?

Tip: Search for descriptions of key events rather than for more abstract key principles (implied by 'secrets').

Original Q: What is the goal of this programme?

Alternative Q: What is your personal goal for this programme?

Tip: Personalise the question: 'the' goal or 'your' goal (if 'your' is heard as plural) invites generalisation, so personalise the question for a more original answer.

Original Q: What is your greatest strength as a team?

Alternative Q: What was the greatest problem you faced and how did you overcome it?

Tip: Go for the example or story that illustrates what you are looking for.

Original Q: Can you sum up in one word what you have learned?

Alternative Q: What difference(s) would an outside observer notice between how you were working as a team at the start of the programme and how you are working together now?

Tip: Try getting participants out of their groove by inviting them to see things from other perspectives such as using a 'then and now' question and/or introducing an imaginary outside observer - or both (as above).

Original Q: Can you name 3 things that worked well?

Alternative: We are going to have an award ceremony. In three smaller groups I'd like each group to decide on a trophy that you are going to award to the whole group (i.e. What will the team trophy be awarded for?) Keep in touch with the other two groups to ensure that you don't give a trophy for the same thing. We now have three small groups of speech writers to make skeleton notes for a one minute acceptance speech which one of you will make to accept the award you are making on behalf of the whole team.

Tip: Sometimes groups get in a groove because you are in a groove. By playing around with the normal 'question and answer' format you can help participants generate more thoughtful, original and interesting responses - even if the awards turn out to be for T+L+C!

Original Q: What 3 strengths do you want to carry forward?

Alternative: Persuade me that you have the strengths you will need to succeed at the next challenge. For every strength you claim to have I will be persuaded only if you can come up with convincing evidence of having already demonstrated that strength. (This is the essence of 'Persuasion Line' in which the goal is for the group to get the facilitator from one end of the line to the other with their powers of persuasion.)

Tip: A small change in the 'question and answer' format can pay big dividends.

Original Q: What were the common themes across these exercises?

Alternative: What were the common themes across these exercises? ... OK - I'd now like small groups to each adopt one of these themes and judge how well the whole group performed in relation to your theme. Sketch a chart showing the relative ups and downs (in relation to your theme) over all the exercises - and then present your chart to all of us.

Tip: Often all you need do is follow up your original question with a supplementary question or activity that looks behind the original answers - in an interesting and revealing way.

Original Q: What are the most relevant connections to work?

Alternative Q: How will you use your learning in the workplace?

Tip: Ask for specific practical actions rather than for general principles. Also notice the personalisation of the question from 'the' connections to using 'your' learning.

Original Q: What are the characteristics of a strong team?

Alternative Q: What are the characteristics of a strong team and how would you rate yourselves on these characteristics? Work together as a group to place these characteristics in rank order of importance of your own strengths as a team. (If each characteristic is written on a separate card, then the sorting into rank order on a table top makes it more of a 'hands on' exercise involving more of the team.)

Tip: Adapt your question so that it becomes a briefing for a task - preferably a fully engaging one in which everyone can get physically involved (even if only moving cards around). If the group is doing a team task about their relative strengths as a team you can introduce an extra level of review: 'Does your ranking of strengths also apply to how you did the ranking task?'

Original Q: What have you learned as a team?

Alternative Q: Your task is to produce 2 x 2 minute action replays. The first replay brings our some of the mistakes you were making in the past. The second replay shows how your team performance has improved as a result of what you have been learning.

Tip: Even people who would find role play too challenging find it relatively easy to do replays (performing events again as if they were captured on video).

Original Q: To improve as a team what must you pay attention to?

Alternative Q: Imagine that this time tomorrow you have made some real breakthroughs and you have become a high performing team. What will it feel like? What will you be doing differently? And how will you have got there? (I find that the quality of response is much richer if you first ask people to draw a picture of what they have in their minds - as an individual or team task.)

Tip: To get out of a groove tap into people's imagination. Both imagination and experiences are resources that can help people discover their potential. Grounding learning in experience is a good principle but the past should not be a ball and chain that leaves no room for imagination. (For 'imaginal learning' see John Heron's 'The Complete Facilitator's Handbook'.)

Original Q: What words would you want to put on your team shield?

Alternative Q: What words would you want to put on the front of your team shield so that others can see them? And what words would you want to put on the back of your team shield so that you are continually reminded of them?

Tip: A twist like this helps participants think more deeply. And if any team writes Teamwork, Listening and Communication on the front and back of their shield, let me know and I'll try harder!

You have probably noticed that the 'Alternative Questions' I have offered in this article have slowly evolved from questions into tasks. I could not resist the temptation to leave the Question and Answer format and move participants into more active modes of response. But I am pleased that I have offered you two kinds of solution:

1) Notice what you are asking for. If you are asking for an abstract summary expect cliches. If you ask for examples, evidence, descriptions, comparisons, different perspectives, practical ideas and you personalise your questions, you are more likely to get original and thoughtful responses. Everyone's happier. Paying more attention to what you are asking for will help you to move responses out of the cliche zone and into the learning zone.

2) Ask for a response that is more than a spoken answer. Create a task that allows people to explore the question together and respond in different ways. The examples above include:
  • Acceptance Speech at a team trophy award ceremony
  • Persuasion Line - persuading a facilitator who is pretending to need a lot of convincing
  • Story Line - creating a chart that links learning to events
  • Rank Ordering - making, touching and moving team strength cards
  • Action Replay - snapshots of then and now, showing progress
  • Dream Drawing - picturing a better future
  • Team Shield - thinking about internal and external signals

To get beyond cliches, pay attention to what you are asking for, and try turn the response into a task that involves deeper reflection on the question you are asking.

Cliched responses may not simply be a reaction to the kinds of questions you are asking. If you sense that the cause is deeper (maybe participants are attending reluctantly or don't see the point of reviewing), then the tips above are unlikely to get you very far. Maybe working with reluctant or resistant learners should be a topic for a future issue of Active Reviewing Tips?

Please feel free to comment on this article (eg sharing your ideas about, or examples of, real reviewing). You are also welcome to offer a paragraph or two on topics coming up in future issues - listed in section 8 below. Before publishing anything you write I will always ask for your explicit permission first (just in case you were writing to me 'off the record').

Roger Greenaway

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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 https://www.youtube.com/user/rogerreview

I am interested in making or collecting further short videos of a
similar quality add to the Active Learning Manual collection. If
you already have (or wish to make) suitable videos please write
to me at: roger@reviewing.co.uk

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Roger's Active Learning Bookshop has raised £1,776 for
Save the Children since January 2006. Thank you for your

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>
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~ 5 ~ ARCHIVES: Tools for Change

The Tools for Change page was the original index for the Active Reviewing Guide so it links you directly to some of my first writings on reviewing:

* How Review? some practical considerations

* Rounds: a basic method with some useful variations

* Raising Self-Esteem: 13 strategies

* Reducing Offending: 21 strategies

* Active Reviewing: bringing the worlds of talk and action together.

* Feedback Exercises

* Story making and telling as a reviewing method - 30 variations,

* Action Replay and Variations

* Evaluation Methods: 40 'end of course' methods

* Reviewing with Pictures: how to use ready-made and learner-made pictures in reviewing.

* Reviewing Success: getting the positive/negative balance right in reviewing.

* Review Discussions: tips on dealing with common problems in discussions.

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~ 6 ~ EVENTS: Reviewing and Facilitation Skills Training

If you are a provider of facilitation training, please send me the details if you would like the details included in future issues of Active Reviewing Tips. Workshops that I am providing are marked (RST) for 'Reviewing Skills Training'.

17th March 2011
Enhancing Learning Power
introducing ELLI and the Learning Power Dimensions
Wallacespace, London
Explore potential applications of Learning Power in your learning design and delivery, in order to improve the effectiveness and business results of individuals, teams and organisations you work with.

17-18th March 2011
Facilitation Fundamentals
Your next opportunity to attend our two day training workshop. Freshen up your facilitation skills, increase your confidence and leave with a host of tools and techniques to get the most out of meetings & events.

25th March 2011
Facilitation Skills for Experienced Practitioners
Bendrigg Lodge Outdoor Centre
Institute for Outdoor Learning CPD event
members £40, non-members £65

24th March 2011
Using Drama to Enhance Practice
A workshop for consultants, trainers, facilitators and coaches. Brewery Theatre, Bristol
A Learning Consortium event with Erik de Haan and Mark Huggins.

25th March 2011
METALOG® training tools Workshop
METALOG® training tools are multifaceted interaction activities and learning projects for indoor and outdoor use

26 March - 1 April 2011
The Reflective Leader
Educational Improvement and Development
Polopos, Contraviesa, Andalucia, Spain

29th March 2011 - Bath
31st March 2011 - Manchester
6th April 2011 - Birmingham
A Bag of Tricks to Engage Young People in Groups
A workshop based on the UFA publications 'One hundred bites'
(Games with Aims) and '75 ways to make learning stick'

24-26th April 2011: EEE Preconference
27 April - 1st May, 2011: EEE Conference
Experiential Educators Europe
15th EEEurope annual conference
Debeli rtic peninsula, Slovenia

13-14th June 2011 (RST)
Luohu, Shenzhen, China
How to Facilitate Learning from Experience and make your
Debriefing more Dynamic and Effective
with Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

15-16th June 2011 (RST)
Luohu, Shenzhen, China
How to Transfer Learning and give your Training Lasting Impact
with Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

For the latest listing of open workshops provided by Roger Greenaway check this page:

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

View the sample training workshops at http://reviewing.co.uk/trainingworkshops.htm I do not charge any extra for customised programmes. Customising is such a significant success factor that I do not want to discourage it.
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~ 7 ~ LINKS:  The Experiential Learning Exchange

If you are a member of Linkedin (free to join) you should also take a look at the Linkedin group entitled 'The Experiential Learning Exchange'. It was started by Bob Larcher a few months ago.

It has 100 members: French, British, American, Italian, Turkish, Swiss, Danish, Portuguese, Singaporean, Chinese.

There have been several themed discussions on:

* Favourite Experiential Learning Exercises
* Preferred Experiential Learning Cycles
* Essential Skills for Experiential Learning Practitioners

Bob writes:

We use outdoor activities, horses, acting, forest schools, open spaces and a variety of other methods to help people learn.

We have a wealth of experience and it is still my intention that we share that experience.

Please do not hesitate to post, a question, a discussion, a concern, an idea, an interesting web link, a new activity - in fact anything that you think could be useful for other group members.


Bob Larcher



This month's issue includes a concise article on the benefits and shortcomings of training objectives. It describes a number of strategies for overcoming the shortcomings - including playing with the objectives and even hiding them. I always appreciate Thiagi's clarity of thinking - and creativity.


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Facilitative Frames is now at:

NEXT ISSUE: Designing a reviewing strategy for a whole programme

Please feel welcome to contribute your own ideas and experiences on the theme of 'real reviewing'.Write to roger@reviewing.co.uk now if you would like your thoughts included in the next issue - or wait to be inspired and write in afterwards for the following issue.

Future issues will include:

* REMOTE REVIEWING - when the facilitator is at least one remove from the 'reviewing action'

* QUESTIONS FOR REVIEWING - will be taking a fresh look at the art of questioning for facilitators.

* REVIEWING IN DIFFERENT CULTURES - a little like the multi- authored article on Reviewing with Different Ages, I am hoping to share my own experiences AND find readers who would like to become writers and contributors.


Please let me know what you would like to see in a future issue of Active Reviewing Tips. Or perhaps you have an article or paragraph or tip you would like to submit?
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~ 9 ~ 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

ARCHIVES: <http://reviewing.co.uk/ezine1/art001.htm>

The Guide to Active Reviewing is at
<a href="http://reviewing.co.uk/">http://reviewing.co.uk</a>

FROM GUESTBOOK: "I like the way you look at everything and then
return to what is simple, effective and memorable."

COPYRIGHT: Roger Greenaway 2011 Reviewing Skills Training

Each month Active Reviewing Tips brings you:

ARCHIVES     CONTENTS of this issue

 INDEX to reviewing.co.uk - resources for dynamic learning
 How to find your way around reviewing.co.uk
Copyright © Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training, who promotes ACTIVE LEARNING via