Tip #61: Haptic Engagement: Touch

This week, let’s begin to look at the range of tactile activities that can support training content and deepen learning.


For example, the simple activity of putting pen to paper: to take notes, to complete worksheets, or to highlight reference information, can offer satisfaction to the haptic learner and increase the probability of retention.

Tactile activities can increase energy and create community. In Playfair, Matt Weinstein and Joel Goodman, describe an Imaginary Ball Toss. The trainer begins by describing the ball in his or her hand, calling out someone’s name, and pretending to throw the ball to that person. The “ball” may begin the size of a tennis ball, become a basketball, an egg, a watermelon, or whatever each person chooses to say it is before they “throw ” it to the next person. It is a fun way for participants to get to know each others’ names.

Another example: as participants enter a training room, they are given a piece of a cardboard puzzle and told to create a group with people whose pieces help to complete the puzzle. The completed puzzle may depict the structure of the organization or reinforce a key learning concept. In this case, all the participants have to do is interact with each other to find the missing pieces of the puzzle. It begins as a tactile exercise, but it involves interaction and movement, culminating with a visual reinforcement.

Taking this up a notch, Broken Squares is an excellent tactile teambuilding exercise. Each member of the group is given an envelope containing oddly shaped pieces of cardboard for forming squares. When the signal is given to begin, the task of the group is to form one square in front of each member. Only parts of the pieces for forming the five squares are in each envelope. The exercise has two goals: the individual goal of forming a square as fast as possible, and the group’s goal of having squares formed in front of every member as fast as possible.

The specific rules for this exercise are as follows:

  1. No talking, pointing, or any other kind of communication is allowed among the five members of the group.
  2. No person may ask another member for a piece of the puzzle or in any way signal that another person is to give her a puzzle piece.
  3. Members may give puzzle pieces to other members.
  4. Members may not throw their pieces into the center for others to take; they have to give the pieces directly to one person.
  5. Anyone may give away all the pieces of his puzzle, even if s/he has already formed a square.
  6. Part of the role of the observers is to enforce these rules.

This nonverbal, tactile exercise generates both individual and group insights regarding why teams exist and how individual team member behavior can help or hinder team success. You can find this exercise, as well as many other interactive exercises, in a wonderful book titled Joining Together, by David and Frank Johnson.

Accelerated learning advocates tactile interactive exercises. Here are a few examples, many of which are drawn from Dave Meier, whose The Accelerated Learning Handbook is a treasure trove of great training ideas:

Balloon bop and burst. Have each person write down something they hate doing or have difficulty doing on a very small piece of paper. They need to blow up a balloon, put the paper in the balloon, and tie if off. Then there is a balloon bop (hitting the balloons back and forth in the air while music plays. When the music stops, everyone must grab a balloon and pop it. They then have a specific amount of time to come up with solutions to the problem on the piece of paper that was in their balloon.

Around the world. Create flash cards with questions about best practices on the front (and answers on the back). Each team forms a circle. A facilitator reads the question to the first contestant, who gets to move behind the person seated to his or her right for each question answered correctly. When a question is answered incorrectly, the person sits down and the individual in the chair gets to stand up and start answering the questions. The first person who is able to answer enough questions to get back to his or her seat wins.

Hangman. Give each team a deck of cards with questions on one side and the answers on the other. Then have them take turns answering the questions as they play hangman.

Toilet paper. Get a roll of gag toilet paper. As the participants come into the room, they get to take as many squares of the toilet paper as they want. The catch is that, when everyone is there, each person has to tell as many new things about themselves (that few people know already) as the number of toilet paper squares they tore off.

Scavenger hunt. Give each team the same list of 10 or 20 items of information to gather in a set amount of time, using resources in the room.

Poster contest. Have the teams create posters, using a variety of art materials, to get across a key idea.

These tactile activities build energy, enthusiasm, and camaraderie, as they reinforce learning. Talk about a painless way to check for comprehension! What I love is that these activities are so very easy and economical to create and use, and participants really enjoy doing them.

Next week we will continue our discussion of haptic engagement through touch using kinesthetic objects.

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