Sequencing your questions

Your students have just completed a very exciting activity. You can see them brimming with excitement as they can’t help but talk about the experience with their friends.

“Now’s the time!” you thought and you fire the first question of your debrief session.

“OK gang, so what did you learn most about yourself in the last activity?”


You start trembling… But they were all so chatty just seconds ago! What happened???

You prompt them further with different variations of the same question. But slowly the debrief devolves into a few courtesy answers, then some text-book responses, and finally you couldn’t resist the urge anymore but to resort to telling them what they learnt!

This is a common and scary experience for most experiential learning practitioners especially when they first start out exploring facilitation. Let’s explore what can be done better.

There are different levels of questions that come with different levels of risk. If we can learn to sequence our questions accordingly, it will help increase the likelihood of participants being able to respond to the question. The different types of questions, in ascending order of risk are :

  1. Skills & Processes (Safest)
  2. Group
  3. Inter-Personal
  4. Intra-Personal (Most Risky!)

If we examine the question asked previously, we can see that it immediately dives into a Level 4 – Intra-Personal question which bears the most risk. This takes a lot of trust for the participant to answer and reveal about himself/herself to the rest of his peers. It’s no wonder that the question “bombed” right at the start.

Instead, what could have been done was to ease the participants into a sharing mode gradually by starting off with a Level 1 type of question that focuses more on what happened during the activity. For example, “I saw the ball being passed many times between the two of you, can you tell us what was happening there?”

As the participants start to get more comfortable with sharing, and you sense that the level of trust is improving, then gradually shift your questions up the skill to your desired outcome. But always be prepared to change your questions when you notice pushback from the participants.

When you start noticing the sequencing of questions, debriefing will seem much easier. A skilled facilitator will sequence his/her questions from something safe to the riskier responses to make it easier for participants to share. Sometimes they might even avoid having participants to share publicly as well when they consider the level of risk. And what the facilitator will experience will be participants being able to really process the activity and benefit from the experience. This will also lead to lesser stress on you – as the facilitator and a feeling like you have just guided your participants through a learning experience in a manner most suited for them.

P.S. The sequencing of questions can help make it easier for participants to share during a debrief.