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Training Breaks that Seal Gaps

Last month

In We Interrupt This Training - To Bring You Brain-Compatible Learning (linked in below) we looked at some interesting science that is helping trainers design their instruction so it is brain-compatible.

Brain science has shown that we best remember:

  • The beginning and ending part of any block of information AND
  • Things that stand out because they're colorful, surprising, different or emotionally engaging.

Most training engages the left-side of the brain: the side that is logical, linear, handles spatial stuff, and organizes data. If we can engage our learners emotionally - which colorful, surprising or FUN things do - we

BAM! Kick it up a notch!

We engage the right-side of the brain, as well. According to the left-side of my brain, having two sides engaged is better than having just one.

This science supports not just making sure you break up a long block of instruction to create more beginnings and endings but that you build into each of those sub-blocks colorful, surprising, or right-brained breaks that boost learning around them.

Such structure would have a 3-hour block of instruction looking like our top photo to the right.

This design has lots of beginnings and endings and emotionally engaging interruptions around which learning and recall is heightened.

So let's look at some FAST, CHEAP, EASY and FUN (which engages the right-side of the brain) breaks in training. But before we do, let me answer the question,

What if my training is tactical?

I am not an expert in tactical stuff - on the giving or receiving end. I do have some modest firearms training, including some week long courses that had tactical simulations. That training added to my awe of law enforcement officers. I truly don't know how you do it. I was exhausted at the end of each day. The only comparable experience I've had was flying a small airplane back and forth between Alaska and Arizona a number of times. Again, at each day's end I was exhausted.

Both activities were incredibly high interest to me and required intense mental, emotional and physical concentration. I was on high alert for hours at a time (especially in the single engine plane in marginal visibility in the mountains with moderate turbulence). I imagine law enforcement tactical training to be even more demanding.

My point is that brain-comparable training breaks aren't just for classroom instruction. They may be even more critical for more stressful, albeit high interest and physically involved training.

Brain science shows overwhelmingly that people learn better in a relaxed, safe environment. Tactical scenario-based training is usually far from that, but you can chunk the high stress intensity with brain-compatible learning breaks.

Breaks that seal learning.

Black jack. Ever asked for a volunteer, for questions, for comments - and gotten silence and immobility? This will have learners competing to participate. You'll need one or more decks of cards, depending on how large the group and how active the day. Each learner receives a playing card at the beginning of the training that is kept face down. Learners who answer questions, volunteer, or ask constructive questions, receive another card face up. At any point in the training, the instructor can call for a show of card hands. Prizes can be awarded to winning hands or to Black Jack hands only; or the hands can be tallied throughout the training with one or more prizes awarded at the end. (see 101 Games for Trainers, web link below.)

Cartoon captions.

Find cartoons related to your topic. It's easy. I googled free cartoons on firearms and found a site (Image Envision, web link below) with over 150 royalty free cartoons. And that's just one web site. I picked the one shown, 2nd graphic top right with a police officer dangling a pair of handcuffs.

Show the cartoon and have small groups or individual learners come up with captions. For example:

  • Happy Valentine's Day, honey.
  • Did you lose these?
  • Handcuffs, anyone?
  • Sorry Sarge, I'm allergic to metal.

You can find free cartoons, or photographic images, on nearly any subject on the internet. (101 Games for Trainers)

Paddle ball

Remember the wooden paddles with a ball attached to them by a rubber string? You can still get them. If you're in a hurry, I've seen them at Walmart in the party favor section. The Next Tag web link below is cheaper. You can buy a pack of 18 for $7.99.

When you want a break or review, ask for any number of volunteers you wish to come forward. Hand each of them a paddle ball and instruct them, in turn, to review one (or more points) made in class while keeping the ball in motion. Most will try to bounce the ball against the paddle. This is NOT easy. Someone will eventually realize the instruction was simply to keep the ball moving and soon volunteers will be swinging the ball like a pendulum or wrapping it around the paddle.

After the review, you make the point that we often make a task tougher than it needs to be and if we keep our minds open simpler solutions may appear. (101 Games for Trainers)

Think outside the box.

Brain teasers make good breaks and get learners thinking outside the box. You can give prizes to whoever solves them first. I like the walking brains at Kipp Toys - 85¢ each. (Web link below).

You can also reward learners with more teasers - like the assorted puzzle balls below from Kipp Toys - 38¢ each. (Disclaimer: I do NOT work for Kipp Toys. They just have lots of fun, cheap stuff.)

Here's just a sampling:

  • Make one word from "nerdoow." Solution - "one word."
  • Add one line to l 0 l 0 l 0 to make "950." Solution - cross second "l" at top to make l0 T0 l0, which is 9:50.
  • O-K. Have everyone in the group face forward and not look at each other. Tell them to make the O-K sign with their finger and thumb and put it up in front of their forehead. Then tell them to each poke their head through the sign. See how long it takes each person to bring their other hand up and put a finger through the sign to poke their forehead.

There are tons more. Just google "brain teasers" or go to the web links below.

Brilliant Brainstorming. Form small groups. Ask them to pick a word relating to the course content. Then give each group 3 minutes to form sentences from the letters in the word. Sentences must be grammatical but don't have to make sense. For example, a sentence from the word hazmat might be:

Happy Anteaters Zealously Mate At Teatime.

There are always laughs with this break. The team that forms the most sentences is awarded a prize. Sentences that also incorporate course content can be awarded extra points. (101 More Games for Trainers)

Optical illusions.

Display a series of optical illusions, one at a time. Ask the group to discuss what they think they see before moving on to the next one. Don't offer any explanations until you've shown the entire set. (You can also just show one at each break.) You can then make the learning point that we often jump to quick conclusions about (fill in your topic) or make judgments about (fill in your topic) based on initial impressions and based on our own subjective point of view and there's usually another view.

There are lots of free optical illusions on the internet. (Web link below)

Here are just two.

Double Picture. Look carefully at the third picture shown top right; what do you see? After you make your decision, scroll down for an explanation.

You saw a couple in an intimate love position, right? Interestingly, research has shown that young children cannot identify the intimate couple because they no such frame of reference. What they will see, however, are nine (small & black) dolphins in the picture! Yet another learning point about perspective, our views are shaped by our experiences, opening our minds to other possibilities, etc. Here's help: look at the space between her right arm and her head, the tail is on her neck, follow it up. Look at her left hip, follow the shaded part down, it's another one, and on his shoulder...

Gradient illusion. Look at the fourth picture shown. Then read the caption (if you haven't already).

Wow and How. Provide a sheet of paper to each participant with the left half labeled "WOW" and the right half labeled "HOW ABOUT." (A master worksheet with fun illustrations is at the end of this article. Acrobat Reader required.) Have learners pair up and each write down one WOW they've learned since the last break and one HOW ABOUT question each still has about the topic. Have them answer each other's HOW ABOUT if able. Have the pairs share with the group. Alternatively, learners can place Post-It Notes on a large WOW and HOW sheet set up for the entire group. Postings can be tickets to get out on break and the HOW ABOUTs can be addressed upon return. (Presenting with Pizzazz, web link below.)

Life is too short. Have your learners complete the Life is too short to… and Life is too short not to... worksheet provided at the bottom of this article. It can be tailored to the particular training moment or topic. For example:

  • Defensive tactics training is too short to... and Defensive tactics training is too short not to...
  • Life is too short when making traffic stops to... and Life is too short when making traffic stops not to...
  • Life is too short when talking to dispatch to... and Life is too short when talking to dispatch not to...
Instant Icebreakers

Packing more in, doesn't.

Your training content is important, but trying to pack more information into the time available, doesn't work. Brain-compatible designed training does and it's more engaging and fun - for you and your learners.