Tip #680: Creative Ways to Check for Retention

“Never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun.” Randy Pausch

I’ve been designing and delivering training for many years- and I am constantly surprised and delighted at the creative learning activities participants in train-the-trainer programs design! This is one of the primary perks of participant-centered learning programs, because the facilitator is always learning new information, perspectives and techniques from the participants!

Here are three retention-checking learning activities that I’ve never seen before that were both effective and a lot of fun. All three of the activities also incorporate elements of challenge and competition, which adult learners appreciate.

One of the activities was designed by a participant in a Professional Trainers Certificate program in Madison, Wisconsin, and the other two activities were designed by different groups of participants in a program for Mercy Corps staff in Amman, Jordan.

Musical Chairs (with thanks to Madeline Chisman)

This is a very clever take on musical chairs. The participants place their chairs in a circle, with the seats facing outward. There are enough chairs for all but one participant.

When the facilitator starts the music, the participants start walking counter clockwise around the chairs. When the music stops, the participants race to sit in a chair.

The participant left standing then has to answer a content question. If the participant can answer the question correctly, s/he can displace the person seated to her right. The displaced person is then out of the activity and another chair is removed.


This process is repeated until there are only two participants left to walk around the sole remaining chair. If the person who doesn’t end up sitting in the chair at the end of the music can answer the question correctly, s/he wins and gets a prize.

This is an excellent activity for checking participant retention of a great amount of content from several days of training.

Mady put another spin on the questions. Rather than simply asking for content answers, she asked how the participants could apply the content once back on their jobs. It was a brilliant activity to end six days of a train-the-trainer program!

Letter Puzzle (with thanks to Luma Al Halah, Dima Ammouri, Sandy Dabobash and Hala Nsuour)

Each table group is given sticky notes which each have a different word on them. The tables compete against each other to create a content-related sentence and post it on a flip chart. Each table has sufficient letters to create a different content-related sentence.

As the table representatives each read out their table’s completed sentences, their debriefing provides a summary of the key content of the session.

Competitive Word Placement (with thanks to Talal Masaeid, Asem Khazali, Hamza Bassal and Nidal Hamed)

For this train-the-trainer program,  the facilitators used this activity to check the participants’ retention of the active verbs appropriate for different learning levels.

The different levels of learning were written on separate flip charts. Each table group was given a glass filled with active verbs written on pieces of paper. The tables competed against each other to place the verbs under the correct learning levels in 3 minutes.

This activity can easily be adapted. For example, the participants could compete to: (1) place procedural steps under the correct procedures; (2) place the relevant rules or regulations under specific programs (or vice versa); etc.

I love all three activities and plan to use them myself as soon as I can!

May your learning be sweet.


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