5 Elements That Make a Learning Activity a Memorable Experience

 Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” —Winston Churchill

5 Elements That Create a Memorable Experience

  1. Use Layering. Plan several activities that add to, build on, or complement what’s to be learned during the session. (I’ll post a future blog on layering.)
  2. Tell a story. Dry material comes alive when it’s presented through examples, personal stories, drama, and humor. (I’ll post a future blog on storytelling.)
  3. Provide participant involvement. This should be something that pulls people into the experience, better than simply breaking up into discussion groups, if possible.
  4. Allow creativity. Guide the activities, but let people express their individuality as much as possible during the session.
  5. Design something profound to happen. Anything that gives participants a blip of feeling, a smidge of identifying, or a helping of new understanding will seal the session as a memorable experience.


I prepared a Bible study for our prison ministry on the creation story from Genesis 1. (See another prison ministry example.)

I could’ve planned the normal: have a prisoner (cadet) read the Bible passage aloud, then have them break up into discussion groups led by volunteers asking pre-scripted questions. This works adequately for some participants.

But earlier, I’d led a creation story for Vacation Bible School. I also used the idea successfully for preschoolers in Sunday school and in Bible Study Fellowship. 

I already had the props: Large, made-from-cloth sun, moon, stars, clouds, and day and night skies. Long lengths of material for water, earth, sand, and grass. Crumpled grocery-bag rocks. Artificial plants and trees. Numerous plastic insects, ocean creatures, and reptiles. Feathered fake birds and stuffed animals.

As twelve cadets filed in, volunteers welcomed them and handed them an item. Curiosity crept onto their faces as they accepted a spider, a flower, a folded length of material, or a furry bear.

The cadets sat in a wide circle of chairs. Volunteers distributed the rest of the creation items evenly among them.

Dressed in a Biblical robe, I launched into a dramatic narrative based on the Genesis scripture.

When the water was to be gathered into seas and dry ground was to appear, I invited cadets who had lengths of blue, brown, and sand-colored materials to spread them on the floor within the circle. Soon I called for vegetation. Cadets set flowers, plants, and trees wherever they wished on the green and the earthy-colored materials.

When night was to be separated from day, I asked tall prisoners to hang the sky-blue and black materials on the wall. Then I called for the sun. The cadet who possessed the sun attached it to the Velcro on the blue sky. Same for the moon and stars on the black sky. 

As I summoned sea creatures and birds, conversations and suggestions began buzzing among the cadets. Finally, I called for reptiles, insects, and animals. Cadets took care to place their creatures on trees, rocks, sand, and grass.

Imagine what that space looked like. One cadet pronounced it beautiful.

Here’s the something profound. I asked them what was missing. Some cadets said, “People!” I invited them to come into our creation. They sauntered in and sat on the colored cloths among the plants and creatures. Some cradled stuffed animals while others toyed with lobsters or birds. 

Then we discussed the experience. Many hadn’t thought much about what God created, but during that moment they were keenly aware of what a wonder creation is.

What profound element have you added to a session that worked?

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How to Create Cohesion Sooner in Forming Groups

“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” —Ernest Hemmingway

Stages of Group Development  

Many have heard about the five stages of group development: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, and Adjourning. See CEO: Creating Excellent Organizations website.

I’ve been a member of corporate and church task forces, long-term Bible studies, writers’ critique groups, and a leadership development group. I agree. The 5 stages are right-on.

Two questions:

1.   What can we do in Forming to squelch Storming’s fears and inability to listen to each other?

2.   How can Norming’s identifying with one another, sharing feelings, and feeling good about the group become stronger during Forming?

Create Group Cohesion Sooner

1.   Plan a meaningful introduction activity for the first meeting. Don’t skimp on the time allocated to this activity. The whole first session devoted to this activity is worth it.

2.   Inform members of the activity ahead of time so they’ll be prepared. Make preparation required. Then people can listen to other members, instead of frantically thinking about what they’re going to say and missing what others are sharing.

3.    Get creative and make the activity fun, personal, and memorable. Members should enjoy preparing for the activity, engaging them mentally before the first meeting. What interests most people? Themselves. So, make it personal. The activity must help members know their fellow members.

4.   Make the activity non-threatening and easy for members to do—and for others to take in. Many don’t like performing in front of people. Many get uptight if they have to memorize a speech. You want members relaxed and engaged while talking and while listening.

5.   Design the activity so no one member monopolizes the time. Set time limits and how they’ll be managed. Meetings are uncomfortable when members abuse time limits or rules. The activity becomes ineffective and is memorable for the wrong reasons, starting Storming too early.

An Activity to Enhance the Forming Stage of Any Group

I think this activity incorporates the 5 activity tips well. Hold off judging if you think the example isn’t for men or corporate groups. I’ll suggest how to tweak it to fit other group types.

Shoebox Activity: 

My shoebox

I learned of this simple activity from Marcia Lahti:

“At the first leaders’ meeting, the teaching leader used a shoebox full of items to introduce herself to us. After listening to her, I felt like I knew her, and I identified with plenty of things in her box. Talking to her would be easy.

I invited the eight women in my group to a Box Lunch. I’d provide the lunch, and they were to bring a shoebox full of items to introduce themselves. One big advantage of this activity is the women control what they share, instead of me asking questions.

I put a ten-minute time limit on the sharing. Each woman shared their interests and what was important in their lives. I discovered all could identify with each other’s items. Conversation abounded, and by lunchtime, I could have served peanut butter sandwiches and no one would have noticed.

One lady used the shoebox as one of her items, because she loved shoes. Another lady put her items in a pocketbook she’d made. A poem one woman’s autistic son wrote touched me. Most women had photos of family and pets.

This activity successfully helped my group get comfortable with each other. By the next meeting, we were Facebook friends, sharing favorite books and craft ideas. Later, three of the members were chosen as leaders, and all used this Box Lunch idea with their groups.”


See what Marcia Lahti is up to on Twitter: MarciaLahti.

Group members enjoying their leader’s shoebox items?

For a corporate task force, the members’ shoebox items could represent every job they’ve held since high school. A critique group’s could represent the genres they write in, their published books, a grammar pet peeve, and a photo of where they write. Get creative!

What other activities would work as well as the shoebox activity? What theme would you suggest for items placed in your group’s shoeboxes?

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