To Design Activities That Last, Think of the SEA

Share This Post

You settled on your topic and you’re trying to think of a creative way to present it. After reaching out to some colleagues you get a few resources that aren’t what you are looking for. Eventually, you give up and settle for your back-up: Powerpoint Lecture.

Stop! Don’t do it!

All that material is likely to get lost in the vast ocean of your participants’ minds. It’s too important, friend, we have a better world to build!

Chances are your learners’ minds are already full of information: from memes and advertisements to money troubles and pressures of work and family life. They come to your training consumed by leagues of information.

Most information glides on the surface like a tiny ship in a tremendous ocean. 1

To permeate the surface so that participants use what they learn after the training is over, your training needs an effective methodology.

In order to design activities that stay, think of the SEA.

SEA is an acronym we created that stands for Show, Engage, Ask. It describes three elements that are critical for an impactful activity to sink into the depths of your participants’ memory.

S- Show Don’t Tell

For each action priority, consider a creative approach to introduce new information to your group instead of a lecture or speech. We call this principle “Show Don’t Tell.” (For help selecting action priorities, see our post “Don’t Plan Your Training Until You’ve Answered These 3 Questions).

There are many ways to turn content into a story. Here are some examples, what others can you name?

– Video clip
– Script
– Painting
– Physical game
– Map
– Game show
– Simulation
– Comic
– Personal story
– Parable
– Visualization
– 3D model
– Song
– Timeline
– What else?

Those familiar with creative writing know the term well. Stories that are conveyed in movies and books are effective because they stir up our emotions, we start to experience it as if we were one of the characters. Studies show that emotions help us retain information.

E- Engage Don’t Present

The “E” stands for “Engage Don’t Present.” Your activity should include a way to move your audience from passive recipients into active participants.

– Pair dialogue
– Large group dialogue
– Small group dialogue
– Speed dating
– Fishbowl
– Write response on a notecard, have someone else read it.
– Fill out a worksheet
– Journal
– Role play
– Journal
– Write a song or poem
– Create a collage
– Perform a Skit
– What else?

In his book, Stop Talking, Start Influencing, cognitive psychologist Jared Cooney Horvath explains how learners are more likely to retain information when they are under a moderate amount of stress. Too much and they lose their grip, too little and it becomes boring, regardless of how important the topic is. Using a variety of methods to engage your learners helps maintain the element of surprise, which helps learners feel challenged.

A- Ask Don’t Explain

Finally, “A” stands for “Ask Don’t Explain.” Before providing your own perspective ask learners for their own. Use open-ended questions that move from observation to analysis to action. This will help participants make meaning of the material together.

– What did you see?
– What did you hear?
– What did you feel?
– What stood out to you?
– What did you like about it?
– Why did it happen?
– How have you seen this in your life?
– Who benefits?
– Who is hurt by it?
– What might we learn from this example?
– What can be done to change it?
– How could we apply this in our own work and lives?

In 1984, Malcolm Knowles identified four principles of what he called, “andragogy”, the study of how adults learn. One of his four principles is that adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented. Posing questions allows participants to make their own meaning of the content presented and apply it to their own lives. You might try to explain how the content is relevant, but they are right there, why don’t you just ask them?

With each of these categories, remember, less is more! The more content, activities, and questions you pack-in, the less time it has to float down into the sea.

Next time you develop a training, try it out and let us know what you think!

1 This analogy is inspired by the Narrative Initiative, who borrowed it from Grassroots Policy Project. Both groups are worth checking out! They apply the metaphor to narrative communications, we apply it to training methodology. The relationship between narrative and methodology is beyond the scope of this post.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get Training Tips Right To Your Inbox

More To Explore


Training for Intersectional Liberation

Riahl Hey, folks! Thank you so much for joining us. My name is Riahl O’Malley. I use he/him pronouns. I’m with Learning to Transform, and

Ready to transform?

Riahl O’Malley and Indira Garmendia, co-founders

Follow Us

© 2024 All Rights Reserved