Reviewing in Twos


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

  Active Reviewing Tips 17.1


Reviewing in Twos

~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: Reviewing in Twos
~ 2 ~ EVENTS: Active Reviewing Workshops with Roger Greenaway
~ 3 ~ ARTICLE: Reviewing in Twos
~ 4 ~ THE OTHER NEWSLETTER: Rebranding Boredom
~ 5 ~ ARCHIVE: Reviewing by Numbers
~ 7 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

~ 1 ~ EDITORIAL: Reviewing in Twos

So many of us work in groups that Active Reviewing Tips is usually about working in groups. This issue takes a break from the usual focus and looks at what you can achieve (and how) when you set up 'Reflection in Pairs' - which would also be a suitable title for this article.

When you reach the end of the full article you might never again find yourself saying "Find a partner and talk about ..." because you will have discovered that there are many better ways of setting up Reviewing in Twos.

There has been a long gap since publishing the last issue on Learning from Triumphs and Disasters. During this period my writing time has been spent co-writing a book chapter (which you will hear about when the book is published), making progress on my new handbook and writing an article on Reviewing for Wellbeing which was published in Horizons. My wellbeing article should be of special interest to school teachers and outdoor educators. It also lays a solid foundation for reviewing with all ages.

And talking of solid foundations, if you have any colleagues who are hooked on the wisdom contained in 140 character tweets or quote sites, please let them know that Active Reviewing Tips has substance and practical value.

Active Reviewing Tips is a free newsletter from Roger Greenaway that will help you to re-charge your reviewing and facilitation skills.

Typical contents:

  • a practical feature on reviewing tips
  • links to sites about active learning methods
  • tips, comments and ideas from readers
  • what's new in the Guide to Active Reviewing at http://reviewing.co.uk

Maximum frequency: monthly. Average frequency: quarterly.

"16 years of promoting better learning experiences without chalk, flipcharts or marker pens."

I welcome requests for topics you would like to see included in Active Reviewing Tips, any questions you would like to see answered in a FAQ, and enquiries about trainer-training workshops (open or in-house).

Roger Greenaway

Don't just do it - actively review it!

~ 2 ~ EVENTS: Active Reviewing Workshops with Roger Greenaway

UK 26-27th February 2015
Reviewing Skills and Methods for Outdoor Educators
Pixies Holt Outdoor Learning Centre, Dartmoor
Facilitated by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
Venue: http://www.dartmoorcentres.co.uk
Contact: brendan.stone@babcockinternational.com
Flyer: Download and share this pdf

Romania 21-22nd March 2015
How to Transfer Learning and Give Your Training Lasting Impact
Timisoara, Romania
Facilitated by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
Hosted by TrainingMasters Consulting
Course description and booking details: in Romanian
Course description in English

China 15-18th April 2015
I am travelling via Hong Kong on my way to Macau and I would welcome invitations to provide training workshops in or near Hong Kong during this period.
Please contact roger@reviewing.co.uk

Macau 19-21st April 2015
In-house training for Don Boscoe Youth Village, Macau

The above information is copied from
The Calendar of Reviewing Skills Training Workshops
where you will find the most up to date list of open/public workshops provided by Roger Greenaway.

The other newsletter: the Experiential-CPD Calendar
The Experiential-CPD Calendar lists 'trainer-training' and 'educator-training' events from several UK providers. The events listed here are of interest to facilitators who work indoors or outdoors. The Experiential-CPD calendar features a 'Thought for the Month' about experiential learning from the editors or from readers.

~ 3 ~ ARTICLE: Reviewing in Twos

Reviewing in Twos

by Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training

How does the option of reflecting with a partner best fit into an overall strategy for facilitating learning from experience? When is reflection best carried out alone, with a partner or in a group? What are the best ways of combining these options?

This article will help you to facilitate effective paired learning. The context is "reviewing" you are asking pairs to reflect on their experiences and you are providing methods that will engage them fully in the learning process.

In twos, reviewing can take place with a coach, a supervisor, manager, partner, friend, relation ... or even with a stranger. Much of our day-to-day reflection, whether formal or informal, is either on our own or with just one other person. In fact, reviewing with one other person can seem like such a normal everyday occurrence that we may well think of it simply as a conversation rather than as a "review".  The term "reviewing" (like "debriefing") tends to be associated with what happens in facilitated groups.

Moving a paired learning conversation into a group setting does not necessarily make it any more valuable, so let's look at what might be gained and lost when moving from a paired review to a group review ...

The benefits that come from reviewing in twos are not guaranteed: some pairs may just not "click" with each other or may simply wander away from the briefing they have been given. The "benefits" listed below might therefore be more accurately described as "opportunities afforded by reviewing in twos":
  • More 'me' time

In a group of 10 each person gets attention for 10% of the time available - if the time is shared equally. Whereas in a group of two people, equal time-sharing gives each person 50% of the time available.

  • More reflection time

It is easier to sustain reflection on individual experiences when talking with just one other person. In a group there are so many other interesting things to talk about that time for reflecting on experience can easily get squeezed out out by other kinds of discussion.

  • Safer to speak up

Confiding in one person feels safer than confiding in a whole group - whatever ground rules have been agreed in the group or however supportive the group might be.

  • Greater depth and honesty

In one-to-one conversations people tend to give a less selective and more honest account of what happened. It feels more OK to elaborate in a pair than in the whole group.

  • Accelerated engagement

In twos people can more quickly experience a sense of belonging, acceptance, empathy, mutual understanding, support, friendship, being valued and respected. It takes longer to experience such things at a group level - however effective your favourite energiser or group reviewing technique happens to be!

  • Higher quality learning

    Higher quality learning results when individuals have time to reflect on their experiences. This can be achieved in a whole group setting if their is sufficient time and support, but this is generally easier to achieve when a significant part of the process happens in pairs.

  • Less editing

Some of these benefits of reviewing in twos can be seen in sharper relief if contrasted with the kinds of "editing" that take place in the larger group: in whole group reviews participants tend to be more cautious or don't want to appear greedy by taking up more than what they see as their "fair share" of time; or some people may simply feel that what they might say to one other person is just not important enough to say in a group.

Planning for reviewing in twos

Here are some choices you cannot avoid when setting up reviewing in twos - so it is worth thinking them through rather than making these choices on automatic or by default:

How will partners be chosen?

If your purpose is to encourage lots of fairly brief conversations, each person simply pairs up with anyone from the shrinking pool of people they have yet to pair up with during the exercise. But if you are setting up something like a learning buddy system that is to last for some time (and even beyond the course) then it makes sense to ensure that pairs are well matched, are committed to supporting each other and know how to do so. It takes time to set this up well. By making the first paired review "a trial session" participants are less likely to get stuck in a pairing that isn't working well.

How long will participants stay with the same reviewing partner?

Unless your purpose is to establish a long-term learning partnership (as in the example above) the benefits of frequent changes usually outweigh the disadvantages. If people stay in the same reviewing pairs all the time, there is a risk that some pairs will be stuck in a low functioning partnership. It is in no-one's interest to sustain unproductive pairings so ask participants to find a new partner each time you ask them to review in twos. This strategy is a kind of safety net that rescues people from unrewarding partnerships. Expressed more positively: regularly changing reviewing partners increases the chances that most of the time everyone has a good experience of reviewing in pairs.

What is the source of the experience about which you are asking people to reflect?

The experiences being reflected upon can come from many sources. These include:

  • Reflecting on an input such as a presentation, performance or a film

  • Reflecting on group experiences in which the pair have both been participants

  • Reflecting on a paired task that the pair have just conducted together

  • Reflecting on one person's performance in a group activity that was observed by the other

  • Reflecting on one person's experiences not necessarily witnessed by the other (For example, something that happened at work or in the community.)

  • Reflecting on their paired review

Examples of paired reviewing methods suited to each of these situations follow in Section 5 below.

What roles can the listening partner take?

The risk of ending up with an 'unhelpful' listener can be reduced by providing clear briefings and by providing an easy way for the 'speaker' to change the rules or opt out if they find the process is not working well. Here are some potentially helpful roles that the 'other person' can play when reviewing in pairs:

  • LISTENER: just listens - giving the 'reflector' the opportunity to think aloud

  • SOUNDING BOARD: listens and responds to any questions the reflector may ask

  • SUMMARISER: repeats key phrases, summarises, asks for clarification

  • BUDDY: notices, empathises, supports, and possibly advises

  • COACH: agrees objectives, provides feedback, and asks questions that assist reflection

  • INTERVIEWER (with a script): asks set questions or follows a certain review sequence

  • CURIOUS CHILD: just keeps asking 'why?'. The reflector can stop the process at any point.

  • DEVIL'S ADVOCATE: tests and challenges what the reflector says. This needs careful briefing to ensure that the challenges are provided provided and perceived as being part of a helpful process. The reflector should stop the process if they feel it is no longer of value.

What will you ask people to do when reviewing in twos?

Participants are more likely to stay on task if there is something for them to do as part of the reviewing process (other than just talking). Participants can be asked to make, choose and use visual communication aids to help them reflect and communicate such as diagrams, maps, pictures or movable objects. Or participants can be asked to tell the story of their learning journey as they walk between points representing stages of their journey. Or participants can walk and talk together as they follow a question trail, or as they walk to different parts of a model that is scaled up to fill the working space. A review that involves some degree of movement can help the facilitator to see at a glance if there are any pairs that seem to need extra support to engage in the process. You can find more detailed examples of these active methods in the full version of this article (online)

Will you ask pairs to report back in any way?

If reviewing in twos has been working well and producing significant learning there is a risk that any sharing at the group level is going to be relatively superficial and less interesting for speakers and listeners alike: sharing learning in a group can be an anti-climax. Sometimes such sharing is primarily for satisfying the facilitator's curiosity (or for providing a quality check) rather than for enhancing the learning of participants. The more confidence you have as a facilitator in paired reviewing, the less need there is for a sharing session. But if it is important to have a sharing session, consider giving a separate briefing for this after the paired reviews. This is because the quality of the initial paired review can suffer if pairs start thinking about how they will share their learning before they have had time to learn anything worth sharing. (But there are exceptions where 'preparing to share' can help to keep pairs on task.) It is usually wise to encourage brevity and creativity in the sharing method so that the sharing stimulates responses that add further value.

Will you give time for individual work after reviewing in twos?

If reviewing in twos has worked well, then each individual may appreciate some time on their own to add their thoughts to their learning journal, their ideas and applications notebook, their action plan, their blog, etc. If you are working within a groupwork paradigm you may prefer that everything begins and ends in the group, but if you are hoping that individuals will transfer their learning to other contexts then reflecting alone can sometimes be a more productive way to finish a review session. Time for individual recording after significant reviews will almost certainly assist with the transfer of learning. Suitably designed group sessions can also provide powerful ways of supporting learning transfer. When working in groups it should not always be assumed that the end of the process is in the whole group. Sometimes a paired reflection (without sharing) is a suitable way of ending a review session. And sometimes the best ending can be providing time for individual recording.

Mixing reviewing in twos with reviewing in groups

Reviewing in twos can be used at the beginning, middle or end of a group review. How well people know each other is a significant factor affecting the quality of reviews whether reviewing in a group or in pairs. If people do not yet know each other well, their limited knowledge of other participants limits how helpful they can be. People get to know each other much faster in a paired conversation than in a group setting. On the other hand, pairs may know each other so well that individuals may feel cramped, uneasy or even intimidated in each other's presence. Being in the same pair can be more challenging than being in the same group.

In some situations paired work can help build a better learning group. When people have been able to experience deeper engagement in paired reviews they can feel more engaged in the group as a whole. If twos are changed frequently then a series of one-to-one connections can help to establish a stronger group because more people feel more understood by more reviewing partners. Reviewing in twos can result in people feeling more at home in the whole group even if they haven't yet spent much time together as a whole group.

Reviewing in twos can be a really useful and powerful part of the mix. The best strategy is to stay alert to the possibilities for reviewing in groups, in pairs and alone. If unsure ask the group for their views about finding the optimum balance. They might know best for now because the optimum balance is always changing.

The full article

The full article includes practical examples and a more in-depth treatment of the topic. The links below will take you to the full article or to the section that is of most interest to you:

Reviewing in Twos [full article]

  1. Reviewing in twos is normal
  2. Potential benefits of reviewing in twos compared to reviewing in a group
  3. Potential benefits of reviewing in twos compared to reviewing alone
  4. Planning for reviewing in twos
  5. Matching reviewing methods to the sources of experience
  6. Using paired work to encourage reflection in action
  7. Finding a smart combination of reviewing in groups, in pairs and alone

~ 4 ~  THE OTHER NEWSLETTER: Rebranding Boredom

Involving young people in activity is a common response when they say they are bored or "there is nothing to do around here". As a parent, as a teacher and as a trainer I have felt that providing adventure activities has been (in part) a welcome antidote to boredom.

But I do remember one occasion where I offered a group of teenage boys an open choice of adventure activities and they surprised me by asking to go fishing. So we did. My surprise was followed by (my) boredom, but the boys were quite enjoying themselves not catching fish.

From their perspective it seemed that hanging-around-with-their-pals-not-doing-very-much in their normal urban surroundings was boring, but that hanging-around-with-their-pals-not-doing-
-very-much beside a remote windswept lake was NOT boring - despite the absence of fish.

You can probably tell that I am not keen on fishing. But take me to the very same place and call it "meditation", "reflection",  "mindfulness" or (better still) "wild mindfulness" and there is a fair chance that I will approach and reframe much the same experience in a more favourable way.

Ask me to stay a whole day or overnight and call it "solo" and I might enjoy the experience even more. You could even ask me to stay for a whole month and call it "Vision Quest". Now that is a bit of a stretch (rebranding has its limits for me, I think) but such lengthy sojourns do appeal to many people.

Much depends on what fills the nothingness, the absence of activity, the absence of people, and the absence of structure. One advocate of Quiet Time, Val Nicholls, describes its therapeutic benefits in her PhD. Others see boredom  as a spur to creativity and imagination. Others see boredom as leading to self-initiated action or self-designed play or simply as valuable "me time". Others see it as a dangerous vacuum that leads to trouble and chaos.

I was always told that "bored people are boring people" - so I have long been in the habit of rebranding emptiness. As a child I would watch raindrops racing down the window - it was an engrossing spectator activity! These days I choose to enter trail races that can last 24 hours or more. Despite the fact that I am fully engaged in a challenging activity, friends think I must get bored on these long runs. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Perhaps this is the makings of a case for including "boredom" in activity programmes - we just have to be careful about how we brand it. Any ideas?

Roger Greenaway

These reflections  first appeared as a Thought for the Month in February's Experiential-CPD Calendar.

PS. I have since learned of some interesting research (thank you Tim) that was reported in Science last year: Just think: The challenges of the disengaged mind  where I learned that:

 "In 11 studies, we found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative."

A headline within their report reads: Don't leave me alone with my thoughts

Perhaps this could be interpreted as further evidence for having people review in twos with something to do, rather than leaving them alone with only their thoughts for company?

~ 5 ~ ARCHIVE: Reviewing by Numbers: facilitating reflection in small and large groups

What is the best sized group for reviewing? 1? 2? 3? 6? 10? 16? 24? 30? 100?

These are the sections about "Reviewing in Twos". The full article is at: http://reviewing.co.uk/articles/reviewing-by-numbers.htm


Talking things through with another person can be more dynamic and productive than being left with your own thoughts. Sometimes the other person is just a listener, but there are many other useful roles the other person can adopt - such as a sounding board, a summariser, a buddy, a coach, or even a devil's advocate. There is no guarantee that the other person will be good at assisting the process of reflection. The other person may be too intrusive or challenging, or may stumble into 'no go' areas, or offer insensitive advice. There is always the risk that the other person (even a skilled facilitator) will spoil, distort or disrupt the process of reflection. The risk of ending up with an 'unhelpful' listener can be reduced by providing clear briefings and by providing an easy way for the 'speaker' to change the rules or opt out if they find the process is not working well.


Something that goes particularly well with paired reviews is 'walking and talking' - especially if you have a suitable outdoor location. 'Walking and Talking' can be combined with any of the above roles. A classic problem in paired reviews is that one person dominates and the time is not well shared. One solution is to divide the total time into two halves by having a clear 'swap over point' at half way (see 'Out and Back'). Another solution is to have a turn-taking system in which there is frequent swapping of roles (see 'Chat Cards'). These and other variations of 'walking and talking' are described next:

  • OUT AND BACK: 'Out and back' helps to ensure that the time is divided equally between each person. Pairs walk out to an agreed point, swap roles and walk back in their new roles. (See previous section for ideas about 'roles'.) Ideally, each pair heads for a different point to avoid distractions from other pairs.

  • CHAT CARDS: Each card has a reflective question. Each person takes it in turns to answer as they walk. One question per card helps people to focus on one question at a time. Just one good question may be enough for some pairs, but other pairs may need a plentiful supply of questions to keep a reflective conversation going. It is better to have too many questions than too few.

  • SCAVENGER HUNT: Pairs work together to collect symbolic objects that answer reflective questions.

  • WALKING ROUND THE ACTIVE REVIEWING CYCLE: As pairs walk through each stage the cycle, they focus their reflective conversation on the stage they are walking through. In practice this takes two or three minutes in each stage, so you either need a huge cycle or people simply stop and talk until they are ready to move on to the next stage.


Another style of paired review is where people have a series of brief meetings with different partners. The speed of this process means that people do not get stuck in partnerships that are not working. There may not be very deep reflection during brief meetings, but a quick succession of paired reflective conversations can quickly add up to a lot of reflection from various angles in a short space of time. Your choice of methods will partly depend on how important it is that everyone meets everyone else.

  • MILLING ABOUT (for one to one feedback): Find a partner, give each other one positive statement about their contribution to the team exercise, find a new partner and repeat, etc.

  • BRIEF ENCOUNTERS (questions and partners keep changing): Each person starts with a unique question on a card and finds a partner. Each person answers their partner's question. They swap cards and each finds a new partner.

  • SURVEYS (small groups specialise in one question): Subgroups scatter throughout the whole group conducting brief one to one interviews on the topic in which they are specialising. Subgroups meet together again to collate the answers and report back their findings to the whole group.

  • MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY: Two lines face each other. People talk with the person standing opposite. At a given signal, everyone moves one to the left and starts talking with their new partner. The facilitator announces a fresh question at each move. If the group is too big to complete a full cycle, set up a suitable number of smaller groups.

  • CONCENTRIC CIRCLES: This is much the same idea as the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, but is a little easier to set up and manage. This structure does not allow participants to have conversations with people in their own circle, but it does provide an effective way of meeting and learning one-to-one with everyone in another group

  • MATRIX MEETINGS: Each individual has a list of everyone's names. They place a mark beside the name of anyone they work with on a paired reviewing exercise of (say) five minutes or more. From time to time they also enter this information on a single group matrix that builds up a picture of who has worked with whom. A number or letter code can be used to give basic information about who took which role during the exercise (e.g. L=learner, F=facilitator, S= shared). If the target is to complete the matrix, remember to provide enough opportunities for paired reviewing for this to be achievable.

Not all pairings work well - one person can dominate, trust may be low, pairs may decide to take easy options, or just go through the motions or may even opt out. Group facilitators may try to avoid the risks of paired reviews not working well by keeping everyone together under their own watchful eye for whole group reflection. But whole group reflection has its own risks and disadvantages (such as lack of personal space, less personal attention and less airtime for each individual). The challenge is to find the right mix (and sequence) of different group sizes (including reflective time alone) so that there is a good balance between these different 'social settings' for reflection.

Reviewing by Numbers was published in Active Reviewing Tips 5 years ago. You can read the full article here.


See the previous issue of Active Reviewing Tips: Learning from Triumphs and Disasters

Topics under consideration for future issues include:

  • The Active Reviewing Cycle: update
  • Making the case for active reviewing
  • Making reviewing a memorable experience
  • Reviewing as a takeaway skill for participants
  • Evaluating Active Reviewing: how well does it work?
  • Reviewing for different outcomes (using the same activities)
  • End of programme reviews
  • Co-facilitating reviews
  • The art of improvising
  • Remote Reviewing
  • Reviewing over a cup of tea (informal reviewing)
  • Readers' Questions about Reviewing (please feed me with questions for this 'FAQ')
  • 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 write to roger@reviewing.co.uk if you have any topics you would like to see included or put at the top of this list (which is not yet in any particular order).

~ 7 ~ About Active Reviewing Tips

TITLE: Active Reviewing Tips for Dynamic Experiential Learning
ISSN: 1465-8046
EDITOR: Dr. Roger Greenaway, Reviewing Skills Training
EMAIL: roger@reviewing.co.uk Feedback welcome
ARCHIVES: Index of back issues
HOME PAGE: Active Reviewing

  Roger Greenaway 2015
Reviewing Skills Training
E-mail: roger@reviewing.co.uk

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