December 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 6 // Ideas at Work // 6IAW6

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Dollars for Answers

A lively meeting with lots of involvement by participants is a goal of Extension educators regardless of the topic of discussion. County agents in Utah have developed a game show approach to instruction at seminars and training sessions that does just that. This article describes the techniques they use to build question and answer interaction into a fun, yet effective teaching environment. By providing small cash or prize incentives for participants and including a healthy dose of humor in the process, instructors can involve more people, broaden the scope of discussion, and improve the atmosphere for learning.

F. Dean Miner, Jr.
Agriculture Agent, Utah County
Utah State University Extension
Provo, Utah
Internet Address:

James V. Barnhill
Agriculture Agent, Weber County
Utah State University Extension
Ogden, Utah
Internet Address:


Rare is the Extension agent who doesn't want to increase audience participation in a seminar or enliven the atmosphere at a meeting. County agents at Utah State University have developed an approach that does both.

Our idea is to use a game show approach to instruction during meetings. The instructor or facilitator asks for a volunteer to come forward from the audience to answer questions, or in some cases the name is selected from the roll for the meeting. The participant then answers multiple-choice questions given by the instructor. To make it fun, a crisp one-dollar bill or some other inexpensive prize is awarded for a correct answer. We usually allow the participant to try two or three questions before choosing another volunteer.

The practice started in 1998 and predated the current television game show rage, although the format is similar. This format has been used to review material or to present information for the first time to several different types of audiences.

The idea of a small reward lessens the formality of the session and increases the interest of participants and the audience. At a rate of one dollar per question, $15 easily provides an hour's worth of education. Cash or prizes seem to work equally well with the participants.

Helpful Hints

The key to success with this technique is the presenter's ability to build the question and answer interaction into an effective teaching environment. Once a correct answer is given, the presenter has the opportunity to expand on the implications of those facts. If the response is incorrect, a discussion can ensue that identifies misconceptions and leads toward the correct response. Other resource people in the room can be called on to offer their insights in an informal, yet informative manner. By involving more people, the breadth of the discussion is strengthened.

This basic approach can be refined to the point where it mimics closely some of the popular TV game shows. Computer presentation software is used to project the questions and multiple choice answers for easy visibility. The participant is placed in front of the audience and is given the option to solicit help from individuals in attendance before choosing his or her response.

Another option is to poll the audience to determine the percentage that favors each of the choices. This method quickly involves everyone in the meeting. It opens the discussion to related topics, and further explanations flow easily as the choices are made. The environment for learning is definitely improved as everyone gets involved and has fun.

Pressure Relief

Responding to a question in front of strangers or even associates can be an uncomfortable situation for some participants. To reduce the pressure and overcome reluctance to participate, humor is infused into the process. This is accomplished by having one or two off-the-wall or funny choices among the lists of multiple answers. This tends to reduce the dread of making an incorrect response. For example, at a presentation on sprayer calibration to a group of County Weed Supervisors the following questions were used:

Question: At six mph with a 12-foot spray width, how many acres can be sprayed in eight hours?

  1. 217 acres
  2. 117 acres
  3. 70 acres
  4. With a four-hour lunch, only 20 acres

Question: Your chemical budget is $12,000. Your calibration is wrong and you over apply by 15%. You. . . . .

  1. Hope the county commissioners never find out
  2. Blame it on the summer help
  3. Waste $1,800 worth of chemicals
  4. Will get really, really, really good control

Each of these questions offers comic relief, yet still provides the basis for productive discussion and education. The ideas offered in this article are simple to apply, fun to use, and appear to be very effective. Officials with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food were so pleased with the impact of this technique in pesticide applicator training that they asked that it be repeated throughout the state. If you want exciting meeting participation and desire to make learning more fun, go ahead and give the game show format a try.