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The following exercises are copied from Thiagi, Inc.  You may find more interactive exercises at


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Interactive Exercises Used During SIGCSE 2005:

Taking the Hard Edge off Technical Education:  Strategies for Integrating Soft Skills in the CS Classroom” Workshop

by Lizz Howard and Marty Petrone

Miami University Middletown


(Team Quiz is called a “lecture game.”  We used this exercise during the presentation on learning styles and personality profiles.)

Basic idea. Presenter does a “data dump” of factual information. Presenter stops the lecture at intervals, allowing teams of participants to come up with questions on the materials covered so far and to conduct a short quiz contest.

Application. This lecture game is especially useful for presenting significant amounts of technical information or conceptual content.

Sample topics. Principles of quantum physics. Compiler construction. The Linux operating system. ISO 9000 standards. Quality award criteria.

Flow. Warn participants that your presentation will be interspersed with quiz contests. Set up a timer for 10 minutes. Make the first segment of your presentation. Stop the presentation when the timer goes off. Organize participants into teams of three to seven members. Ask each team to come up with three or four fact-recall, rote-memory questions and one or two open-ended, divergent questions. After 3 minutes, ask a team to read a fact-recall question and choose an individual from any other team to come up with the answer. Later, choose another team to ask a divergent question and ask a team to give a response. Continue with the next segment of your presentation, building up on the questions and answers from participants. Repeat the quiz sessions as many times as needed.

By the Numbers

(By the Numbers is called a JOLT.  Jolts are interactive experiential activities that lull participants into behaving in a comfortable way and then suddenly deliver a powerful wake-up call. Jolts force participants to re-examine their assumptions and revise their habitual practices. A typical jolt lasts only a few minutes but provides enough insights for a lengthy debriefing.  We used this as a transition to the Multicultural Self-Assessment to emphasize that first we must know ourselves before we can know others.)


Quick, look at these sets of three numbers:

3; 6; 7

14; 28; 29

5; 10; 11

2; 4; 5

Review these sets to discover the pattern among the three numbers in each set.

Now write (or say) a few more sets of three numbers that follow the same pattern.

This discovery activity is the basis for the following quick jolt. I frequently use this jolt as a 99-seconds demonstration of an interactive exercise.

(And before you read further, let me apologize to you. You are probably in for a rude awakening.)


To explores causes and consequences of stereotyping.


Any number, "playing" in a parallel fashion


5 - 10 minutes


Brief the players. Tell them that you are going to present a few sets of three numbers. Ask them to listen carefully and discover the pattern among the three numbers in each set. Present the four sample sets listed above.

Invite participation. Most players will have a knowing grin and some may blurt out their explanation of the relationship among the numbers. However, ask everyone to listen carefully to your instructions. Tell them to supply you with test sets by yelling out three numbers. Ask the players to wait until you have said "Yes" or "No" to each test set before offering the next one.

Provide feedback. Players will give you test sets that fit this pattern: n, 2n, 2n+1 (any number, twice that number, one more than twice the original number). Listen to each set and say "Yes" to confirm that it follows the pattern.

Nag the players. After verifying a few test sets, ask the players how they are feeling. Comment on the smug look on most faces. Present the following information, in your own words:

Many of you are falling into the trap of hasty generalization. You found a formula that links the numbers. You immediately start proving your hypothesis by offering a test set that fits the formula. You feel happy when your test set gets a "Yes". You offer more test sets of the same type and enjoy feeling smart and superior. You don't present a test set that doesn't fit the formula because if you get a "No" everyone will think that you are stupid. You yourself will feel stupid.

A true scientist, however, keeps an open mind. She attempts to disprove her hypothesis. So how about if you try some test sets designed to get a "No" from me.

Give feedback. Here's where the jolt comes: In spite of how it might appear, the pattern is simply any three whole numbers in ascending order. According to this formula, these test sets will receive "Yes":

7; 9; 10

19; 24; 25

10; 20; 2,000

8; 60,000; 7,000,000,000

And these test sets will receive "No":

5; 9; 9

12; 200; 9

98; 15; 3

Listen to new test sets and answer "Yes" or "No" according to whether they contain three whole numbers in ascending order.

Return to your nagging. Whenever someone's test set receives a "No", ask the person how she feels. Explain that most people feel depressed when their hypothesis is rejected. Actually, a "No" provides valuable information, sometimes more valuable than a "Yes".

Speed up the process. Explain that you are going to try out some more test sets yourself. Use crazy sets of numbers (such as "5; 78; 2,365,897") and give a resounding "Yes" to each.

Explain the pattern. Ask players to tell you the formula or the pattern that you are using. Confirm the formula of any three whole numbers in ascending sequence.

Relate the experience to the process of stereotyping. Explain that this simple activity illustrates the human tendency to stereotype things, including people from other cultures.

Just because we meet a small sample of people from a different culture who share a few common characteristics, we assume that everyone in that culture will share the same characteristics. We strengthen this narrow opinion by selectively looking for the same characteristic among new members of the culture. We don't pay attention to other unique characteristics that would challenge our hypothesis. We may actually feel upset if someone does not conform to our stereotypical perception.

Encourage players to share real-world experiences. Ask for examples of being surprised by the unexpected behaviors of people from other cultures. Conclude the session by encouraging participants to try to disprove their own assumptions and hypotheses.


(Newton is called a JOLT.  Jolts are interactive experiential activities that lull participants into behaving in a comfortable way and then suddenly deliver a powerful wake-up call. Jolts force participants to re-examine their assumptions and revise their habitual practices. A typical jolt lasts only a few minutes but provides enough insights for a lengthy debriefing.)


Here’s how you conduct NEWTON: Ask participants to pair up and stand facing each other. Ask them to plant their feet firmly on the ground, raise both their hands, and place them palm to palm. Now tell the participants that they win if they can make the other person move his or her feet--within 30 seconds. Blow a whistle and start a timer. Most participants will use brute force to push each other. A few martial-arts practitioners may suddenly stop pushing and let the other person's momentum topple them forward. After a suitable pause, blow the whistle, stop the activity, and compare different strategies used by participants. Ask for a volunteer for a quick demonstration. Select someone of the other gender. Assume the initial face-to-face, palm-to-palm position. Whisper to the other person, "Let's dance!" Hum a lilting tune and move your feet, inviting the other person to follow you. Politely listen as participants yell that you cheated. Point out that you merely asked them to make the other person move his or her feet within 30 seconds. There was no prohibition against moving your own feet. Continue with the debriefing, bringing out learning points related to making assumptions, win-win solutions, modeling appropriate behaviors, solving conflicts, and the futility of meeting force with force.


Double Negatives or Double Reversal

(Double Reversal is known as a Creativity Technique.  Creativity Techniques provide a structure that enables participants to solve a problem or to utilize an opportunity in a creative fashion. These techniques are useful not only for learning new skills and knowledge but also for improving the performance of a team.  We used this at the beginning of the workshop.)

Do you remember that the negative of a negative is a positive from your algebra classes? We use this principle in the Double Negatives technique for generating ideas. This technique is effective because your brain gets excited whenever you do something negative and mischievous.


To brainstorm a set of strategies for achieving a goal.


1 to 30


10 to 30 minutes, depending on your goal and the number of participants.

Team Formation

If you have 2 to 7 participants, ask them to work as a single team. With more participants, divide them into 2 to 5 teams, each with four or six members. It does not matter if some teams have an extra member.


Note: These instructions are for an individual. If you are working with teams, make suitable modifications.

Specify your goals. Write down one or more goals related to the problem or to the opportunity. Select a goal for further exploration.

Here's a sample goal: Workshop participants should return on time after a coffee break.

Write the laog. A laog (pronounced lay-augh) is the exact opposite of the goal. In most cases, you can create the laog by replacing the verb in your goal with its antonym.

Here's the laog: Workshop participants should not return on time after a coffee break.

Brainstorm strategies for achieving the laog. Ignore your original goal. Write down a list of ideas for achieving the laog.

Here are different ideas for ensuring that the workshop participants will not return on time after a coffee break:

  • Make the early participants wait for the latecomers.
  • Repeat what you have already done for the benefit of the latecomers.
  • Punish the early participants.
  • Reward the latecomers.
  • Make sure that the participants have nothing to look forward to after the coffee break.
  • Encourage the participants to check their voice mail and catch up with their telephone calls during the break.
  • Ensure that the latecomers will not miss anything important.
  • Accept the habit of being late as a cultural difference. Don't impose your cultural values on the others.
  • Give infrequent breaks so that the participants have a lot of things to do.
  • Give such short breaks that nobody can return on time.
  • Give such long breaks that people get distracted.
  • Conduct your workshop in a distracting environment.
  • Come back late from the coffee break. Set an example for being late.
  • Don't specify a definite return time. Let the participants decide when they should return.
  • Make sure that your training format makes participants uncomfortable and reluctant to return.

Reverse each strategy. Write the opposite of the strategy for achieving the laog.

Here is an example:

Strategy: Make the early participants wait for the latecomers.

Reversal: Get started on time. Don't wait for the latecomers.

Try to reverse all your strategies. However, if any of them appear to be irrelevant, ignore them.

Sometimes you may reverse a strategy in more than one way. Here's an example of a strategy being reversed two different ways:

Strategy: Punish the early participants.

Reversal 1: Reward the early participants.

Reversal 2: Punish the latecomers.

Edit your list of reversals. When you reverse your strategies for achieving your laog, you end up with strategies for achieving your goal. Examine each strategy and rewrite it to make it more specific and practical.

Here's an example:

Original strategy: Punish the latecomers.

Edited strategy: Ask each latecomer to sing a song.

Expand your list. Your edited list of strategies may suggest additional ones. Keep adding strategies to the list.

Repeat the process with other goal statements. If you have more goal statements, select another one, state its laog, write strategies for achieving this laog, and reverse them into strategies for achieving the goal.