Dwayne Hodgson

A Portfolio

The work and adventures of Dwayne Hodgson,
+ Learning Designer & Facilitator at learningcycle.ca
+ Storyteller & Photographer @ thataway.ca

Warm-Ups: Part 1: A How To Guid

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Happy New Year! It's been a few weeks since I last posted on this blog, so I'm keen to start writing again. 

But as the Wise Men said, "Only fools rush in...." so, I think I'll start by stretching my writing muscles and by sharing some thoughts about "Warm-ups". 

What Are Warm-Ups? 

Warm-ups are introductory learning tasks that help you get off to a good start at any learning event. Many people are rightly annoyed with silly "icebreakers"  that eat up a lot of time, place the participants in embarrassing positions and detract from the learning.

But, as Jane Vella notes, warm-ups are not simply perfunctory "games" or "energizers" that you do before you get down to the real learning; they should enhance the learning. 

When done well, warm-ups provide an opportunity for the learners to:

1. Introduce themselves in a relevant and safe way.

Use a warm-up to invite the learners to introduce their name, the organization or community they are from, and something about themselves that relevant to the learning program (e.g. their previous experience with the topic, one question they'd like to explore today, what they love about their work). The participants will be more likely to engage in dialogue if they have been "properly" introduced to each other. 

2. Have their voices heard early in the program.

Nothing demonstrates that you are serious about learning through dialogue better than inviting your learners to speak right at the start of the program (vs. waiting for the Q&A session after the presentations). Having their voices at the beginning in a meaningful way will help set the tone for the rest of the workshop. 

3. “Stretch” before taking on more active or challenging learning tasks. 

A safe warm-up allows your learners to ease into the program rather than starting with the more difficult work. This is especially important if the topic is an emotionally difficult or challenging one. 

4. Activate their prior learning and experience with the topic (or an analogous topic)

Start off with something that is familiar, inviting them to share their previous experience with the topic (or an analogous topic). For example, at a workshop in Tanzania on very technical approach to project planning, I asked the participants to share a story about planning something in their personal lives -- a wedding, building a house, planting a field -- and to name the steps they took and how they knew if they had succeeded. Their answers demonstrated to them that they were already experienced at planning, albeit not in such a technical manner, and I was able to refer back to their personal examples throughout the rest of the workshop to explain goals, results, indicators, outputs vs. outcomes vs. impact, monitoring vs. evaluation, etc. 

5. Contribute to the LNRA for the workshop

The Warm-Up can serve as another phase of your Learning Needs & Resources Assessment (LNRA). By asking the participants to explain a bit about their previous experience, their current successes and challenges, or their personal learning expectations for the day, you can verify the results of any pre-workshop LNRA, hear from those who didn't complete the online survey, and allow the learners to situate their experience and expectations vis-a-vis their peers.

6. Set a baseline to evaluate their learning in the workshop and beyond

Invite the participants to document their answers to a warm-up question (e.g. your comfort level with the topic) and set it aside. This data can serve as a baseline to assess their progress at the end of the workshop. 

Some Pro-tips 

Warm-ups should be:

  • Done at the start of every day or after a significant break
  • Safe so that everyone can participate (especially on Day 1)
  • Presented as an "invitation" -- you don't have to participate, but you're invited. 
  • Related to the topic (there is no time to waste on frivolous exercises)
  • Scaled to the length of the learning event (i.e. don't have a 30 minute introductory warm up for a 2 hour workshop)
  • Carefully-bounded and time-out to ensure that everyone stays on task and on time -- too often introductory warm-ups can go much longer than anticipated, but it is not appropriate to cut people off. Be sure to set an appropriately sized set of questions and to think through the timing: # of questions x time to reflect and answer X number of participants + discussion. 

Some Examples....

One of my New Year's resolutions was to write shorter blog posts, so I'm afraid that you'll have to wait until next time for Warm-Ups: Part 2: 7 Examples. To be sure that you receive this, please subscribe to my blog

In the meantime, please feel free to share any other suggestions or examples to create effective warm-ups in the comment section below.