ACTIVE Reviewing Tips
for dynamic experiential learning


Designing Review Sessions: 10 Tips

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

Practical tips on how to design reviewing sessions for experiential learning progammes. Reviewing = processing / debriefing / reflection

ARTips 13.5 Designing Review Sessions: 10 Tips


I know enough about cricket (but not a lot) to know that "How was
that?" is the chorus you hear when the fielding team appeal to
the umpire to declare the batsman out: "Howzat!"

And I know enough about reviewing (debriefing) to know that
following an activity the facilitator will often start a review
with the very same question: "How was that?"

In the cricketing scenario the question is bawled out while
leaping into the air with arms held high, twisting towards the
umpire, eye-balls out implying: "We all clearly saw that the
batsman was out. You cannot possibly have a different opinion."

In the facilitating version of 'How was that?', the question is
spoken gently and enquiringly as an open invitation for
participants to say what they like. (Or something like this.)

I am impressed by the assertiveness of umpires who, faced by the
barrage of 'howzats', stand unflinchingly and motionlessly
communicating a contrary view: 'not out'.

When the gentle, enquiring facilitator asks 'How was that?' it
would be a shame if the response is an unflinching, motionless
silence from the group.

Sometimes silences happen because of the uncertainty that open
questions produce - uncertainty about the kind of answer that
would be suitable. (Am I being asked for a quick superficial
response? Or for full disclosure of the emotions I went through?
Or for a judgement about the value of the event?)

Some participants might even interpret 'How was that?' as a plea
for approval - even though the facilitator is not leaping into
the air with hands held high bawling 'Howzat!'

There is nothing wrong with a quick check-in - if that is what is
meant and understood when opening with an open question such as
'How was that?'. But such an opening is unlikely to lead into an
engaging, illuminating and empowering review.

What you first need is a plan and shape to your reviewing session
- and then you will know how to start. The main article in this
issue provides tips for designing reviewing sessions - from start
to finish.

How was that?

Roger Greenaway

PS Your feedback will help me produce articles that will make you a loyal reader and a global ambassador for Active Reviewing Tips!

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By Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

This is the second of three articles about design and experiential learning. The first was about programme design. This article is about session design. The next article in the series is about the design of reviewing methods.

I am not suggesting that every review should follow these ten tips: most of the active reviewing methods I promote would only meet some of these criteria some of the time. But if your starting point (for a review) is that you simply have a few good questions up your sleeve then STOP! - and ponder whether some of these design tips for reviewing might help you and your participants get more value from the session.

  1. Get every individual reflecting within 2 minutes

  2. Get every individual communicating within 5 minutes

  3. Agree the main focus for the review within 10 minutes

  4. Get the main review process going within 15 minutes

  5. Agree a time structure for the whole session

  6. Ensure sufficient time for reporting back (or other kind of sharing)

  7. Build in time for evaluating the review session

  8. Highlight key learning at group and individual levels

  9. Connect learning with other parts of the programme – and life/work.

  10. Close the session with a link to the next event

  11. Feel free to play the 'Joker' at any time

Navigation tip: click your back button to return to this index.


WHY: Having everyone reflecting in the first two minutes matters because reflection is for everyone. Solo reflection time allows individuals to reflect alone before their thoughts can be influenced by others. This thinking time also helps people come up with considered responses rather than finding themselves saying the first thing that comes to mind – which is more reaction than reflection.

HOW: Make one of these proposals for getting off to a quick, thoughtful, inclusive start.

  • Write down a statement: such as an observation, feeling, intuition or insight.

  • Find an object or picture that helps you say what you want to say.

  • Reflect on ... [this question] for a minute and be ready to answer it in one sentence.

  • Choose a question you would like to answer and prepare your response.

  • Move to a position on the spectrum ... [described] that represents your own view.

  • Create a chart showing your ups and downs during the experience.

  • Lie down and listen to this guided reflection ...


WHY: Getting everyone communicating within the first 5 minutes matters because communicating with at least one other person turns fleeting thoughts into a more concrete form. And as reflections ricochet between people this provokes further reflection as everyone discovers an ever broadening range of perspectives. And this is not yet discussion – it is simply the sharing of reflections.

HOW: Make one of these invitations to get everyone communicating their reflections.

  • Share your reflections / object / picture / statement / answer / position with a neighbour.

  • Share your reflections with someone you talk with less often than most.

  • Share your reflections one-to-one with at least 3 people in 3 minutes.

  • Share your reflections in a round (briefly if the 5 minute target is to be achieved!)

  • Meet in 3s or 4s to create a summary of your reflections to share in the whole group.

  • Exhibit your reflections and tour the exhibition responding to what you see.


WHY: Agreeing a main focus saves everyone from a meandering review that follows the loudest voices. The more democratic the agreement, the more everyone will be engaged in what follows. Even if the process is simply an endorsement of your recommendation, at least the main focus of the session is the result of an open and deliberate choice.

HOW: Choose one or more of these processes for establishing the main focus.

  • If there are no other suggestions I recommend that we focus on ... [this one suggestion]

  • I would like you to choose what we focus on using 'Deciding Line' (quick version).

  • Show the strength of your preference by where you stand on this spectrum '(Horseshoe').

  • In 3 groups decide the top 3 reasons for and against focusing on ... [one of these topics].

  • Show the strength of your preference(s) by where you stand on this triangle of options.

  • Lobby and campaign for your preferred option when you can see where people stand.


WHY: Impatience and frustration may set in if the main process has not begun inside 15 minutes. (For some active reviewing methods, such as 'Action Replay' or 'Sketch Map', the method will have begun within the first minute of the reviewing session. When this happens, the first three 'tips' listed above are usually designed into the method as an integral part of the process.)

HOW: You will have a few options up your sleeve. You need to choose which is the best reviewing method for reviewing the agreed topic with this group at this time and in the time available. If the group is familiar with the methods that are 'up your sleeve', you may wish to include participants in discussing the best method for reviewing the chosen topic.


WHY: Participants will take part more responsibly and intelligently if they have an understanding of the bigger picture, if they have a clear sense of shared purpose, and when they know how much time is available. Arbitrarily stopping whenever the clock dictates means that review sessions feel like 'half a review' – such as when sharing happens but nothing is done with what is shared.

HOW: Let participants know how much time is available for the review session and what finishing point you hope to reach. Knowing the time structure allows participants to pace themselves and to make a suitable contribution. For example, if they know it is a 20 minute review with 10 people everyone senses how much to contribute and how much to encourage others to join in.


WHY: As soon as you have asked people to review in subgroups, there is an expectation that these smaller groups will be sharing something in the whole group. The smaller the group size the greater the opportunities for all to participate, but the more subgroups you create the longer will be the reporting back in a plenary session - unless you have thought ahead and have come up with a time-saving alternative...

HOW: ... Here are some options:

  • Have each subgroup put their 'output' on display and extend the break by 5 or 10 minutes so that people have time to tour the exhibition. The 'output' could be a summary of key points, a headline, a picture, a diagram, a question, a formula or recipe, a proposal etc.

  • Alternatively announce 2 x 5 minute exhibitions. Each group splits into exhibitors and viewers. Exhibitors stay put with their exhibit while viewers tour at least two other exhibits. For the second 5 minutes, viewers become exhibitors and vice-versa. These are sample timings only: adjust times and advice to suit the occasion.

  • Have each individual make a copy of their own subgroup's output in a form that they can wear such as: a badge, a bandoleer, tie, arm band, tunic, apron, sandwich board, headband or hat. Extend the next break to allow time for people to view, mingle and learn about other perspectives.

  • '4 x 4' is so-called because I first used this with a group of 16 people who were reviewing in 4 subgroups but this sharing method can be scaled up (or down) for other group sizes. Within each subgroup each person is identified by a number, starting with 1. Then all 1s meet, all 2s meet, all 3s meet and all 4s meet, etc. Each and every individual is now responsible for sharing the output from their former group. An optional extra stage is that people can then return to their former group for further sharing or discussion.

  • Have a representative from every subgroup do a flip-chart or Powerpoint presentation – but now that you have read the other options you may decide that this is not the most time-efficient and engaging way of achieving your purpose.


WHY: So that you and participants can learn how to improve the reviewing process.

HOW: If you sneak in a quick evaluation at the end of a reviewing session do not expect high quality data. But perhaps some evaluation is better than none. In some situations, mid-session evaluation may be more productive because it has a more immediate purpose and it allows you to make instant adjustments to the review process.

For evaluations of up to 10 minutes you can ask a series of questions that can be asked on a spectrum. I like the physical version ('Horseshoe') in which you ask people where they stand on a curved scale that you have defined. Depending on the purpose of your evaluation, you may find some of these questions useful:

  • Do you feel that people are listening well to each other in this group? (very well – not well)

  • Do you feel that other participants are facilitating your learning in any way? (a little – a lot)

  • Do you get sufficient opportunity to reflect on experience? (a little – a lot)

  • Do you get sufficient opportunity to participate in reviewing processes? (a little – a lot)

  • Do you find that reviewing processes are adding a little or a lot to the value of this event?

  • How do you find the pace of reviewing sessions? (Too fast – just right – too slow).

  • If anyone makes a proposal for improving reviewing sessions, turn these into a question that can be answered on the spectrum: how much do you support this proposal? (a little – a lot)

Unless everyone is bunched together and the message is clear, I like to invite people to talk with their 'friendly neighbour' about why they chose their position. As a minimum I would then sample views from 3 points on the spectrum: 'at or near this end', 'at or near the other end', 'at or near the middle'.

For longer evaluations of around 20 minutes or more, I would use 'Simultaneous Survey'. About 8 evaluation questions are shared out throughout the whole group. Each individual walks around finding answers to their own question (while also answering any questions they are asked). After about 8-10 minutes, people with the same question meet up and prepare a summary of their findings to share in a plenary session or put on display.


WHY: From a design perspective, team reviews can be readily fitted into the time available. But for reviewing at the individual level, the time needs to be more carefully allocated and controlled. A session in which every individual is expecting to receive quality feedback cannot suddenly stop when there are still one or two individuals waiting their turn. Review sessions with an individual focus need to be well timed and well structured to ensure that everyone has a fair share of this key learning opportunity.

HOW: Some facilitators seem to review mostly at the group level eg 'What are we learning from these experiences about us as a group / about how teams work / about how this team can improve?' Whereas other facilitators emphasise personal learning eg 'What are you learning from these experiences about yourself / about your abilities / what you need to work on?' This difference in emphasis is partly influenced by programme objectives, and partly by facilitator preferences. But in most programmes there is a need to reflect at both of these levels (and at other levels too). It is important to achieve the optimum balance between these levels. So ensure that you include all relevant levels and that you find the optimum balance for the occasion!


WHY: Although connections to work/community/life can be made at any point in a review session, there is an argument that the sooner such connections are made the more seriously they will be taken and the more thoroughly they will be explored. But there is also an argument that introducing work/community/life connections too soon may limit what can be learned from the most recent experience. Both arguments are right! The situation determines which is approach is best.

HOW: Although this is point 9 in this tips list, it might be the first thing you do at the start of a review session. You may wish to ask 'How was this like/unlike other experiences on this programme?' or 'How do you anticipate this experience could be of relevance to you at work / in life?' The review that follows would delve deeper into any suggested connections. For example 'Action Replay' lends itself to replaying scenes from a) the recent experience b) earlier associated programme experiences c) associated work/life experiences.


WHY: Reviews tend to be backward looking because the primary process is reflecting on the recent past. But there should also be a sense of movement and moving on. So it is always useful to help learners anticipate their next opportunity to use what they have just learned, or their next opportunity to continue exploring what they are currently exploring. Ideally, the next activity provides just the right opportunity to do so!

HOW: There are always two chances of linking between activities:

  1. at the end of the review of Activity A

  2. when briefing Activity B – which was thoroughly explored in my article on 'Reviewing Before Action' http://reviewing.co.uk/articles/Reflection-Before-Action.pdf

Because 'linking' is so important in learning from experience (with one experience throwing light on another) the optimum strategy is to use both opportunities for linking!


The Joker comes from 'The Active Reviewing Cycle': it is the wild card that can be played at any time and can be anything you want it to be. Every system or model should have a Joker – because the Joker is a reminder that a model is an average, sanitised approximation of how things work. Average, sanitised approximations do have a value in helping us to understand how things work, but there comes a point where we need to keep such approximations at a safe-but-helpful distance so that we can see what is really happening. The Joker, amongst other things, helps us to get this distance right – giving models (and 'Tips') the respect they deserve, but no more than that.

Yes this was a 10 Tips 'structure', so it is entirely appropriate that the Joker comes in at No.11!

For fuller descriptions of methods mentioned above search for the name at http://reviewing.co.uk

Roger Greenaway

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If you are a provider of facilitation training, please send me
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issues of Active Reviewing Tips.

5-9th December 2011
Designing Experiential Learning
Chris Loynes
University of Cumbria

6th December 2011
Making the Most of MTa Materials
London Heathrow
MTa workshops are examples of experiential learning in action. They are a dynamic mixture of activities, thinking and discussions with minimal theoretical input.

9th December 2011
METALOG® training tools Workshop
METALOG® training tools are multifaceted interaction activities
and learning projects for indoor and outdoor use

6-8th January 2012
Adventure Therapy:
Exploring professional issues in working therapeutically outdoors
Hosted by the Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL)
Therapeutic Outdoor Practitioners Special Interest Group (TOPSIG)
at Blue Peris Mountain Centre (Snowdonia, UK)
Led by Dr Kaye Richards (Liverpool John Moores University)

9-13th January 2012
The Reflective Practitioner
University of Cumbria

9th January – 23rd March 2012
The Ecopsychology Distance Learning Programme
offers a bespoke, 12 week distance learning opportunity for people who would like to study ecopsychology in a structured and supported way, but who don't have the time or resources to attend a residential course or engage with a longer, formal programme.

12-13th January 2012
Facilitation Fundamentals
Ripley Castle, North Yorkshire
Freshen up your facilitation skills, increase your confidence and have more tools and techniques to get the most out of meetings & events.

28-29th January 2012
Active reviewing skills and methods for outdoor educators
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You are advised to make your own judgements about quality and
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The Experiential Learning Toolkit: Blending Practice with Concepts
Beard, Colin (2010)
Kogan Page Limited
274 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7494-5078-6

reviewed by Roger Greenaway

There are not enough books like The Experiential Learning Toolkit: books that seek to balance theory and practice in an integrated and useful way. The core structure of this toolkit is The Learning Combination Lock presented in earlier handbooks (2002 The Power of Experiential Learning: A Handbook for Trainers and Educators and 2006 Experiential Learning: A Best Practice Handbook for Educators and Trainers). This lock is modestly introduced as 'one approach' for 'attending to the whole person'. Each ring of the lock represents one of Beard's six dimensions of experiential learning (belonging, doing, sensing, feeling, knowing, and being) and each dimension contains 5 illustrative tools.

And then the surprises begin! The 'tool' or 'experience' can be anything from question cards to a tall ship, from an exercise in classifying nuts and bolts to service learning in the community. Some of the tools are for reflecting on experiences that have already happened ('Ace of Spades', 'String Lines' and 'Comic Strips'), some (like 'Listening to Silence', 'Blindfold' and 'Antiques Roadshow') are for generating present experiences, some are for skills development ('Altering Reality' for negotiation skills, 'Hearing Voices' for telephone skills', 'The Marketplace' for creative thinking skills) and others (such as 'How to get to...' and 'Unmasking') are for exploring future possibilities. This variety of what constitutes a 'tool' appears to be deliberately mind-expanding: whatever you thought experiential learning was at the outset, you will end up with a much bigger picture of the possibilities.

The author is a National Teaching Fellow and a Professor of Experiential Learning, so it should be no surprise that many of the tools are suitable for teachers and lecturers wanting to make their lessons more experiential. The author's background in environmental work is clear and is the inspiration for many tools. And there are examples from the author's work in corporate training throughout all dimensions. Despite this broad range of contexts there are few tools that cannot be tweaked to be of value beyond the context in which they are described.

A significant strength of this book is that most tools are original. Many of the tools have been developed and tested by the author in a variety of contexts. I am also impressed by the range of tools that use space and spatial relationships. Some involve moving labels and objects ('Different Ways to Know', 'Nuts and Bolts', 'How to get to ...'). Others involve giant models or maps on which participants move ('Just Four Steps', 'Ace of Spades' and 'Walk the Talk'). Seeing, touching, moving and making are fully integrated into most of these tools.

Some tools really challenge the boundaries of 'experiential learning'. The concept becomes so broad that it seems that 'experience' (and consequently 'experiential learning') can be just about anything you want it to be ('Experience' can apparently be a session plan, an activity within the session, what the trainer 'delivers', what the learner feels ...). The regular appearance of the words 'experiential' and 'experientially' made me increasingly unsure about the differences between 'experiential activity' and 'activity'; between 'experientially exploring' and 'exploring'; between 'experientially engaging' and 'engaging'; and ultimately between 'experiential learning' and 'learning'. 'Experiential learning' is a famously slippery concept that continues to evade precise definition. But the term 'experiential' does signal a commitment to working with the whole person. And how can anyone be troubled by this intention? According to the author, the book is about "creating learning that is more engaging, more effective and more embedded". If this book were entitled 'The Engaging-Effective-Embedded Learning Toolkit' it might be more accurate, but 'Experiential Learning' remains the best label we have for this significant area of practice even if it is a little frayed around the theoretical edges.

There is no concluding chapter but the second last tool reads very much like the author's final message. The full title of this tool is: 'Service Learning: Social and Environmental Responsibility'. Beard writes: "Many organisations are now substituting environmental activities or community-based activities in place of recreational pursuits such as raft building, climbing or abseiling." The author argues that service learning doubles the value of experiential learning because there is a wider benefit to the community. In addition he writes, "real projects seem to have a positive motivational impact on client learning, affecting the way in which participants engage in learning from experience".

I am persuaded by the author's commitment to making learning more real - a thread that is common to all the tools in this wide-ranging toolkit.

Reviewed by Roger Greenaway

A fuller review and description of The Experiential Learning Toolkit can be found here:

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Designs for Reviewing: 10 Tips

Future issues will continue with the design theme:
- designing active reviewing methods
- sample designs for learning and development
- integrated practice in experiential learning
(when does an activity become a review? when does a review become an activity? examples of integrated practice - and do these challenge or demonstrate experiential learning theory?)

Please let me know what you would like to see in a future
issue of Active Reviewing Tips.

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~ 6 ~ 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

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The Guide to Active Reviewing is at
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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

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