Creating Teachable Moments During Activities

Recreation therapists and other professionals who use activities as part of therapy have the unique opportunity to create teachable moments. Activities allow a way to practice skills during fun and engaging environments. These real-time experiences let participants learn by doing.  

Understanding teachable moments and how to use them effectively may provide those “ah-ha” moments helping with your participants’ progress. 

What is a Teachable Moment?

A teachable moment is a spontaneous opportunity to address topics important to your participant(s). Something occurred during an activity that opens doors to insights that can help your participants learn and grow.

These open doors can close quickly. Recognizing them as they happen requires awareness, experience, and, sometimes, a bit of luck. 

An effective recreation therapist or healing professional develops the ability to be creative and adaptable during activities. These skills are invaluable to set the scene for a teachable moment.  

Why are Teachable Moments So Important?

It’s learning in real-time. Instead of lecturing or reviewing a lesson plan, these happen as the result of what’s happening in an activity. The issue is clear. Addressing it in a way your participants can understand and contribute makes it a powerful learning experience. 

Brainstorming, decision-making, and communication are just a couple of teachable skills 

Recognizing a Teachable Moment

What sets the scene for a teachable moment? 

  • The activity takes an unexpected turn
  • A participant feels stuck
  • Success during an activity
  • Communication issues
  • Opportunity to work on a new skill
  • Reinforcing previously learned skills

When you feel a group or recreational therapy activity goes a bit off course–takes a turn you didn’t expect–it’s often an opportunity to explore.  

For example, you’re facilitating a team-building exercise. It starts smoothly, but one of the participants gets frustrated and starts antagonizing other participants. The group quickly loses focus and starts arguing.

Sound familiar? I bet. Let’s take this activity and run with it! 

Creating a Learning Experience

Here is a little process I outlined from years of leading activity groups. You certainly don’t have to follow it rigidly. It’s more of a starting point if you’re unsure what to do. And, as you gain experience, the process gets ingrained and adapted to your situation.

We will use the example mentioned above to illustrate each step.

Steps for Optimizing Teachable Moments

Step 1: Pause the Activity

If the situation is disrupting the flow of the activity, pause it. Find a way that works best for your population. For example, group therapy grounding exercises may help. But, it could be as simple as having everyone gather around and clap their hands or say a chant. 

In the case of the team-building exercise, pausing the activity will work best. Have the group form a circle and take a few deep breaths.  

Step 2: Reflect on What Happened

Make a statement or two about what’s going on. Make it non-judgemental, and don’t place any blame. Keep it simple but understandable. Remember: you want your participants to learn from this experience.

Say: “It seems our group has lost focus. Let’s look at how we can make this activity a success.”

Step 3: Have Participant(s) Describe

Allow the participant(s) to describe what’s happening in their own words. Encourage “I” statements as opposed to them talking about what others are doing. 

Participant 1: “I feel frustrated because it seems no one is listening to me.”

Participant 2: “[Participant 1] is yelling at us for no reason.”

You: “Please describe what’s happening by starting with how you feel.”

Participant 2: “I am angry because we’re not getting along and messing up the activity.”

You: These are good observations. Let’s figure out how we can get back on track.

Step 4: Discuss Options

This is a short brainstorming session so to come up with a solution or lesson for the situation. Encourage discussion. 

Step 5: Reach a Conclusion

Have the participant(s) come to a conclusion about the best way to move forward. 

Step 6: Summarize

Give a briefing of what just happened, what happens next, and what was gained from the experience. 

Step 7: Move Forward

Continue with the activity. Praise the participant(s) for their collaboration.

Do what works for your population.

Creating flow during this process is crucial. Don’t go into preaching mode. This is an opportunity to collaborate and have the participant come to a revelation from what happened during an activity. 

Turning teachable moments into learning experiences is not always easy. Your carefully planned activity is taking on a life of its own. Your knee-jerk reaction may be to reel everything back in and return to the plan.

But are you missing an opportunity?

Letting go of control without having things go out of control creates the environment for teachable moments. Yes, it’s a delicate balance. And you may learn teachable moments also give you the opportunity for learning experiences. 

The Takeaway

Learning by doing is powerful. Taking the time to recognize and act on teachable moments can effectively help your participants build and reinforce life skills through experiences. 

What’s Next?

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