The Debrief: An Overview

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Debriefing well takes LOTS of practice. Be kind to yourself as you build your skill! This page is to aid in the understanding of the function and process of debriefing.

Debriefing is a significant part of the learning experience. Debriefing allows time for the group to reflect on the process and any perceptions, observations or conflicts that may have been present. By giving the group a chance to talk about the experience, they are able to grow and bond in a deeper way. An effective facilitator steps back as much as possible after asking a question, asking for clarification or deeper explanation but not sharing wisdom or ideas. Use careful questioning to help guide the group to greater connections. Sometimes you can state observations (with no value attached) to help them think about something they may be missing or avoiding. The bottom line is that if you tell them what they should be learning from the experience, they will likely not learn it.

A basic debrief follows three main questions, usually in order: The What, the So What and the Now What.

The What

This is focused on the activity itself, or the task. The goal here is to publish. Hear every participant.

This can look like a go around question that everyone answers. If you have a reluctant group, just ask for one word to describe the experience. This can also be done with a thumb-o-meter, which feels less threatening for many groups.

  • Typical questions look like:
  • "What just happened here?"
  • "What did you think of this challenge?"
  • "How do you feel right now?"
  • "How do you think the group handled this?"
  • "What did we do well?"

Another way to begin is to ask your participants to pick a color, a leaf on the ground, a pose, a song, or just about anything to represent the experience and then ask them why they chose that specific thing. (More ideas on processing with multiple intelligences at the end.)

To prompt a quiet or disheartened group after an especially long and trying task, try asking them to first give a summary of what happened, to collectively remember everything from start to finish, to refresh their memories.

The So What

This is about what it all meant. It's the time to go deeper into individual experiences and ask how the group can improve. Hopefully this naturally leads from what came up in the first questions but can be prompted with questions like:

  • "How could that have been better?"
  • "What part was most difficult? Why?"
  • "How did the group come to a decision?"
  • "What role did you play in this activity?"

The Now What

This is the final part, the transfer of knowledge. This is important for the group to think about how this experience will inform future behavior and performance- not only on the next element, but beyond into their lives. Questions look like:

  • "How does this relate to what we just did?"
  • "How might that help us do our next challenge well?"
  • "How can we use what we learned in our everyday lives?"
  • This time can be used to talk about setting or addressing goals, or talking about how to support members of the group in the future.

Additional debrief questions, to get you thinking outside the box:

"What strengths do each of you bring to the group?"

"How did the group support individual members?"

"What kind of support is neccessary to succeed today?"

"How did it feel to trust your group?"

"What needs to happen in order for you trust the members of your group?"

"What were some effective forms of communication used?"

"Why were they effective?"

"How can your communication be improved?"

"Was everyone's opinion heard?"

"Who took on a leadership role?"

"Did the leadership roles change?"

"What would a successful group doing this challenge look like?"

"What did you learn about yourself?"


- Make sure needs are met first (thirst, cold, bathroom)

- Position the group in a circle so that everyone can be seen and heard. No double parking, and be sure that everyone is on the same level (all sitting or all standing).

- Process immediately after major events

- Redirect destructive, manipulative or dominating behaviors

- One person speaks at a time

- Involve reluctant individuals but respect silence

- Observe non-verbal behavior and draw information from it

- Provide sufficient wait time - let that uncomfortable silence happen!

- Ask more open-ended questions than closed

- Give praise and words of encouragement

- Respect everyone's limits

- Exhibit consistent behavior to all participants

- Create a safe space for honesty and vulnerability

- Model empathy with tone of voice, body language and facial expression

- Ask for group reflection rather than telling them

- Check to make sure everyone is understood, ask clarifying questions

- Describe what you saw rather than judging behavior

- Transform 'failure' into a learning experience - celebrate it!

- Avoid giving advice

- Provide closure

- Sincerely thank participants for sharing

- Address all types of learning

And, just in case you're still reading... Some ways to address multiple intelligences! (Typically used for the 'What' part of the debrief - the publishing.)


Charting performance, visual graphs, numerically quantifying performance, investigating "why did this happen" line of logic, cause and effect discussions


Movement (move left or right if you agree or disagree), skits, role-playing, holding or manipulating objects, human clay


Drawing, painting, sand pictures, digital photos, playdough formations, stop-action explanation of the activity


Talking, listening, small group conversations, writing and journaling, alphabet games, word puzzles, raps, poetry, haiku, limericks, foreign language words


Rhythm, timing, sounds of nature, creating songs or musical skits, lyrics, melodies, humgrams, beatboxing, sound effects

Interpersonal (knowledge of others):

Understanding, empathy, coaching, partner watching, observing the group, working together while paired, active listening, group contract

Intrapersonal (knowledge of self):

Self analysis, relating, journaling, self-reflection, goal-setting, understanding motives


Connection to the outdoor setting, exploring the environment, using natural objects (leaves, stones, sticks), elements: fire water wind and earth