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I do. We Do. You Do.

I do. We do. You do.


If you’ve ever tried to lead a creative workshop or interactive brainstorm, you know how challenging it can be to keep participants engaged and aligned. You lay out the objectives and explain the activity you would like everyone to complete. Then somewhere along the way everything falls apart.


To help you stay on track next time you lead a small-group working session, try this handy trick I learned in the classroom while at Teach for America.


It goes something like this:


Step 1: I do


Example: Teacher writes the equation 5x=10 on the chalkboard


Teacher says: “So in this problem I need to solve for x. To solve for x I have to get it all by itself, with no other numbers near it. How do I get the x by itself? Well, because the 5 and x are smooshed together I know that this mean they are being multiplied by each other. So, I ask myself ‘What’s the opposite of multiplication?’ Division! …”


The teacher continues thinking out loud until she solves the equation.


(Psst…the answer is x=2)


Step 2: We Do


Example: Teacher writes the equation 12y=6 on the chalkboard


Teacher says: “Ok, Bill, what am I solving for in this equation?” “And Julia, what does it mean if the 12 and y are smooshed together?” “Ok and, Ben, what is the opposite of multiplication?” “So, Kevin, how do I get the y by itself?”


The teacher continues questioning her students until the equation is solved.


(Psst…the answer is y=½)


Step 3: You Do


Example: Teacher passes out a worksheet and walks around the room as students work diligently to solve similar problems. She engages individually with students who are struggling or who have questions.


I do. We do. You do.


This was a tactic I used every day when I was in the classroom. Think out loud, think together, think alone. After transitioning from teaching to consulting more than two years ago, I was reminded how effective this method can be (and what happens when it’s not used).


I remember leading one of my first presentations and asking my group to break up into teams for a creative exercise. As the presenter, I gave directions but failed to demonstrate how the participants would answer the questions.


Chaos ensued.


Almost every group was confused, and rightfully so. Because they didn’t understand what to do. When the groups all came back together, only a fraction had done the exercise as I intended.


What went wrong? I skipped the “I do” and “We do” steps. I jumped right to “You do.”


In the end, we collectively achieved alignment and the outcome was successful. But the path to progress could have been smoother if I had simply remembered to take a proven approach.


What to do now


When asking your audience to engage in an exercise, it is critical to demonstrate exactly what you want them to do. A slide with directions is not enough. And while it may seem like overkill, thinking out loud will ensure your audience knows exactly what to do and how to do it. They will be engaged and return from the exercise with exactly what you asked.


Whether you’re leading high school students or business executives in a group activity, the “I do. We do. You do.” method is a sure-fire way to keep your audience engaged throughout your presentation.