What Is Debriefing and How Is It Done?

Debriefing is an experience that enables participants to connect activities and lessons they learned in an activity, experience, or program, to the outside world.


When Does Debriefing Take Place?

Debriefing may take place at the end of any activity or experience, including at the end of a segment of an experience, or the end of a series of activities. There is not one perfect time to debrief, or a set guidelines for how long each debrief should last. JUMP! recommends varying debrief strategies, and using activities that give participants the knowledge and power to take the lead in their debriefing process.


What are the Benefits of Debriefing?

David Kolb, an American educational theorist and one of the forefathers of experiential education philosophy, believed that in order to truly learn from experience there must be time for reflection.

Debriefing is a core component of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. By reflecting on, and recognizing the knowledge, skills and attitudes used in an experience, participants develop personal awareness and insight and become aware of the inner resources that they can access in future experiences.


Debriefing Steps

Experiential activities provide a lot of discussion points. However, it’s important to remember that if post-activity debriefs are not structured properly they may not be effective, and opportunities for learning may not surface.

In order to maximize the benefits of experiential activities, and enable participants learning and development through the process, it’s helpful to follow a three step model for how to ask debrief questions: What? So What? Now What? Schoel, Prouty, & Radcliffe, 1988).

Here are some notes about this process, directly from Schoel, prouty, & Radcliffe’s 1988 book Islands of healing: A guide to Adventure Based Counselling.


  1. The What
    Purpose: Review the activity to collect data of what happened
    Explanation: The intention is to draw out as much information as possible from the group in order to refer back to it later on in the discussion. From this foundation of what happened, the facilitator can guide the discussion forward into greater understanding of the experience, and help draw out the learning from it.
    Example Questions: What happened? What took place during that activity? What did you observe?
  2. The So What
    Purpose: Look at details and interpret the data to draw out the significance of the activity in order to gain insight
    Explanation: Moving from the descriptive and observable to the interpretive, the intention is to draw more meaning of what happened, and/or how it happened as well as to “unpack” the more subtle levels of what took place.
    Example questions: How was your communication? What contributed to your team’s success? What role did you play in the group during the activity?
  3. The Now What?
    Purpose: Bridge from recent experience to future experience
    Explanation: In order for what has just taken place to have significance or impact, the ‘now what’ questions get the participants to think ahead and possibly apply what they have learnt. It may also be appropriate for participants to look at what has just taken place on a metaphoric level and draw meaning or insight in that way.



Schoel, J., Prouty, D., & Radcliffe, P. (1988).  Islands of healing: A guide to adventure based counseling.  Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.





PVC (Prisoner, Vacationer, Change-maker)

PVC (Prisoner, Vacationer, Change-maker)

Materials Needed:

  • PVC Model (Flipchart or Power point)



 PVC stands for Prisoner, Vacationer, and Change-Maker’

  • These are mindsets you can have in any given experience

Prisoner Mindset:

In this mindset you may feel trapped in a situation and completely unhappy. You are stuck in a situation and your not really trying to find a way out.

Vacationer Mindset:

In this mindset things are great, you feel fine, and you can just kick back and go for the ride. There are many things going on around you but your not really focused on what’s happening, your in your own world.

Change-Maker Mindset:

Change-Makers are able to assess their position in any situation, and work to change things so that they are making the most out of their



PVC Activity Suggestions

Facilitator Instructions

1. Create a list of scenarios that your participants may encounter in life and/ or on the program (i.e. “Going on family vacation”, “Completing a group project”, “Participating in this program”)

2.  Make three big signs, one each for Prisoner, Vacationer, Leader. Place the signs on three different walls of your program space (or on the floor or ground, depending on space available)

3.  Begin the activity by reviewing the PVC model with the participants (using the model displayed on a flipchart or PowerPoint slide). Ask participants to tell you what a mindset is, discuss the meaning of mindset and some common mindsets. Review the PVC model after they understand the meaning of ‘mindset’.

4.  One at a time, read out your list of prompts and have participants move to the sign that depicts their mindset in each scenario. 

5.  Once the participants have moved to a sign, you may choose to have them discuss their mindset with the others at that station, or explain their mindset to a group at a different station. 

6.  You may wish to ask participants what it would take for them to change their mindset in particular situations. Is it possible to change ones mindset in challenging situations? Why or why not?




Word Whip

Word Whip

Time : 5 Minutes and up



  • This activity is usually done at the end of a day or program.
  • Have participants close their eyes, and think about one word that sums up what they have done, or learned so far, at this point you can remind them of some of the elements in the day or the program.
  • Give them 30 seconds to think about it
  • After giving them a chance to think ask one person to volunteer first (they will say their word, and we want them to pass the energy around the circle quickly, they can set the order by going to the right or to the left of the person who originally volunteered.