Facilitation Quick Tips: Say the Color, Not the Word

Facilitation Quick Tips: Say the Color, Not the Word

By Lia Cassanego, MPH | October 5, 2017
Professional Learning Services Specialist, ETR

Here’s an activity will energize and engage your group. But wait! That’s not all! It will also astound participants with the mysterious workings of our brains.

Title: Say the Color, Not the Word

Setting: In-person events

Time: 15 minutes

Purpose: To revitalize a training group that is experiencing a slump in energy or attention. This can also be a useful activity for learning events addressing brain science.

Best Used: As an energizer or process activity at low-energy moments—for example, after lunch or late in the day.

Facilitator Note: This activity is easier for some brains than others and can be stressful for participants who feel they’re not performing well. I recommend using the activity with groups that have a high trust level, or groups that have already worked together for some time (over a full day or a multi-day training).

Keep the framing focused on discovery and fun rather than performance and competition. As with other activities, offer participants the option to “pass” and simply observe the activity if they’d prefer.

Materials: “Say the Word, Not the Color” handout and answer key (one set for each pair). You will need to be able to print the handout in color. Find the PDF here.


  1. Divide participants into pairs. Use your favorite pair breakout activity.
  2. Distribute the handouts. Each pair will need one sheet labeled “Reader,” and one sheet labeled “Checker.”
  3. Explain the activity. Say:Both partners will get a chance to do this activity. With your partner, decide who will go first. Notice that on the Reader handout, a number of words are written in different colors. Your task, when in the role of reader, is to go through the words, in order, and say the color of each word, not the word itself.”
  4. Demonstrate the process. Read through the top line of the handout.
  5. Describe tasks and timing: Say: “The partner who is not saying the colors—the Checker—will keep track using the answer key. If the Reader makes a mistake, the Checker stops the action and has the reader start over at the beginning.” Let participants know that you will keep time and Readers will have about 20 seconds to go through the list.
  6. Frame the activity: Explain: “The focus of this activity is on discovery. The point is to wake up your brain, bring your attention forward and have a little fun. It’s not a competition. It doesn't measure how well you read, how smart you are or how fast you think. It does show us all some interesting things about how our own brains work. So have fun with it.”
  7. Check for questions. Offer clarification if necessary.
  8. Start the activity. After 20 seconds, call time. Have pairs switch roles. After another 20 seconds, call the full group’s attention back.
  9. Debrief. Ask the group one or more of the following questions.
    • What did you discover by taking part in this activity?
    • Did anyone find it more difficult, or easier, than expected?
    • Did anyone get through the whole list in 20 seconds?
    • What do you think this activity tells us about the ways our brains work?
    • Would this have any impact on the tasks you’re learning to do in this training? [Note: Tailor this question to the objectives of your specific training.]
    • Based on your insights, what implications do you think this has on working with learners?
    • How does this activity relate to the training segment we just completed (or content we just covered)?
  10. Optional: Do the exercise in an alternate way. Have participants repeat the activity, but with the handout turned upside down. Their partners do not need to keep track on this version. Discuss whether there was any difference in the level of difficulty.
  11. Share information. Explain that the phenomenon everyone just experienced is called the Stroop Effect. Neuroscientists offer a range of theories to explain it. One is that the brain reads words faster than it recognizes colors. The information about color and word compete as they reach the brain, creating delays in processing.

Participants can learn more by searching on the term. They can also find websites where they can do the activity online.

Lia Cassenego, MPH, is a Professional Learning Services Specialist at ETR. She can be reached at lia.cassenego@etr.org.


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