Workshop Structure to Maximize Learner Engagement

7 Key Components for Workshop Structure

1) Introductory Activity/Icebreaker

Start with an activity that introduces the topic – a game, physical activity or collective activity. It needs to be fun and fully engaging to learner. It brings the learner into the world of the topic while keeping them up and ready to engage in the learning. The activity introduces the topic and stimulates comments and questions.

2) Opening Discussion

Follow the intro activity with a few questions about what the learner experienced in the activity. Allow them an opportunity to express what they experienced.

  1. Lead into a series of questions asking the learner what they know about the topic.
  2. Validate their responses. Allow the learners to expand upon one another’s comments -sharing what they know.
  3. Allow all the learners to express what they know about the topic.

This is a good place to use the following strategies:

  1. Record the learners comment for later reference.
  2. Have a learner record the groups comments.
  3. Have the learners share what they know in groups and have one person be the record and another the presenter of their thoughts.
  4. Have the learners look at opposing sides of the topic: positive/negative or brainstorm all thoughts, etc

3) Introduce the topic

Use what has been gleaned from the learners to introduce the topic in terms of their readiness to learn about it – use their terms, concepts, etc., building on them.

Identify what you wish to be the outcome of the workshop – what you want them leave with at the end of the workshop – what is the outcome of the whole session. Let the learners know that the group will return to their initial responses at the end of the session.

4) Set up a series of 2 – 3 tasks geared to exploring aspects of the topic

This is the core part of the session – the two-thirds of the workshop. Identify sub-sets of knowledge/skills that are part of the main topic.

  1. Devise specific tasks to investigate each of these skills.
  2. Use various strategies. Work in groups – pairs, threes or fours. Use a range of strategies for each of the tasks.

Incorporate the five elements of cooperative learning:

  • Positive Interdependence

Learners are linked with others in a way that one cannot succeed unless the other members of the group do their part. This is accomplished by assigning each student a role within the group. Each role is important to meeting the group goal.

  • Face-To-Face Promotive Interaction

Learners help, encourage, and support each other’s efforts to learn. They explain to each other how to solve problems, discuss strategies, teach knowledge and explain concepts to each other.

  • Individual Accountability

The performance of each learner is assessed and the results given back to the group and to the individual. Group members need to know who needs more assistance and that no one can “hitch hike” on the work of others.

  • Social Skills

Groups cannot function effectively if learners do not have the leadership, decision-making, trust-building, communication, and conflict management skills needed. Many learners have never worked cooperatively, so these skills have to be taught to them. These are important skills in just about any workplace.

  • Group Process

The facilitator must ensure that learners are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships. At the end of a working session the groups process their functioning by answering two questions: (1) What is something each member did that was helpful to the group and (2) What is something each member could do to make it even better next time?

Some effective cooperative learning strategies include:

  • work in pairs: Think-Pair-Share
  • work in varied groups: Jigsaw, Round Robin Brainstorming
  • facilitator engages learners during an extended presentation: 3 Minute Review

5) Debrief

After every task, have the whole group come together to discuss what they did before you introduce the next task, which is intended to take the learning further.

Use a range of strategies for debriefing, such as:

  • Three Step Interview: Each member of a team chooses another member to be a partner. During the first step individuals interview their partners by asking clarifying questions. During the second step partners reverse the roles. For the final step, members share their partner’s response with the team.
  • Team Pair Solo: Learners reflects on what they learned first as a team, then with a partner, and finally on their own.
  • Numbered Heads Together: A team of four is established. Each learner is given numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4. Questions are asked of the group. Groups work together to answer the question so that all can verbally answer the question. Facilitator calls out a number (two) and each two is asked to give their response.

6) Closing The Loop

Use a range of strategies to debrief the entire session and provide closure on the learning, such as:

  • refer back to what the group first knew about the topic and then add what they know now
  • ask specific questions about the applicability of what they learned/experienced: where would you apply this? How would apply this? How do think this would help you?
  • use a cooperative learning strategy, such as active listening:

Have the learning participants break into pairs.

Allow learners to share information regarding a personal experience for exactly one minute. The speaker has one minute to talk while the listener may not say anything or interact with the speaker except for nods and “empathic grunts” (“uh-huh, I see.”) After the minute expires, have the listener share the information with the class to see if s/he was actually listening.

Have learners switch with the other member of the pair doing the talking. Allow for discussion time afterwards.

7) Next Steps

Ask the learners to express how they plan to apply what they have learned/ experienced through:

  1. a journal/diary
  2. media, such as digital photography, graffiti, etc.
  3. technology, such as a blog

Recommendations For Curriculum Design

In addition to the 7 key components listed above in the Workshop Structure – there are 6 additional items to include when designing curriculum:

Theory – The role of the facilitator is to present related theoretical materials that support the planned learning of the session outline. It is important to be a resource for the topic and provide the background material needed for the session. It is in this section that a facilitator provides the supporting information of the curriculum being presented. A summary of the research collected and key terms, concept and principles that help in delivering the objectives of the session topic are captured in this area of the outline. Theory is seen and the supporting documents and messaging a facilitator wishes to convey to the learner. Theoretical pieces can often be a collection of key points and used as a learning aid/handout for the session.

Video Tie In – This added piece to the outline provides another forum for including technology with the facilitation of the topic. Including video options with your session offers a visual element for the learners and presents another approach to learning in the session

Web Links – Incorporating technology and provided internet links that support the session enhances participant learning. It is a key component to the outline and provided support research and materials for the session.

Learning Aids – are the handouts and materials provided to learners during the session that assist with the learning process.

Sources – It is important to source and respect copyright regulations when creating curriculum for the program. Items used in your outline need to be sourced. Materials adapted – stated adapted and original source. Include creator reference at the end of the outline.

Workshop Prep. Centre – The prep centre is a summary section that advises facilitators presenting this outline of all the items required and to be prepared. It summarizes prep items and materials needed for each phase of the workshop and a timeline for prep and delivery.


This workshop/training plan was collaboratively developed, written and authored by a legendary team of Curriculum Coaching Consultants, Marylena Angeloni and John Zeus 2012.

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John Zeus

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