Erica Marx

Dolphin Training

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One player leaves the room and the group decides a short series of actions (or one action) to positively reinforce and get the player to do. Group decides on a song to sing louder/softer to hot/cold the person into doing the activity.



power of positive reinforcement
group joy & unity


Group decides on a song all will sing on repetition to hot/cold volunteer to do the action. Super fun and unifying for the group. 

From Ted's blog:
Variation with silent vs. ding - One person, our “dolphin,” would leave the room. The remaining audience would serve as “trainer,” guiding the dolphin to whatever action we chose, using the central principle of positive reinforcement: reward movement toward the behavior you seek and ignore the rest. Whether we wanted a jumping jack or seated lotus position, whenever the dolphin moved in that direction, we were to offer a simple, emotion-free “ding.” When the dolphin veered away from the chosen task, we were to remain silent.

From Ted's blog

Try this game early in a term to best reap the full rewards of its implications.

If a ‘dolphin’ seems to struggle, pause the game and interview them for a bit: What do you know so far? When do you think you were closest? Without giving them answers—that will spoil the fun of their future accomplishment—remind them of the simple rules of the game. When they find some behavior that earns a ‘ding,’ they should do more of that behavior.

If the ‘dolphin trainers’—i.e, your class—can’t get out of goofy mode or give inaccurate or confusing feedback, pause the game and send the ‘dolphin’ out of the classroom ‘tank’ for a minute. Check in with the group and make sure they’re committed to the game and to paying close attention before bringing the dolphin back in. The trainers’ skill and attention make a huge difference!

Give them the chance to make explicit connections after a few rounds. What does this game demonstrate about teaching and learning? How will it affect how we work together here in this classroom?


Breathtakingly–and hilariously–the training worked wonders when our volunteer returned to the stage. We started with small, simple tasks but quickly got more complex, asking our dolphins to speak or dance or perform sequences of movements. We worked with two trainers and two dolphins in one on-stage “tank” and then moved to multiple learners seeking one coordinated task. The possibilities and potential lessons seemed endless. Anyone could learn any behavior–and the process of getting there was a blast along the way.

Debrief: clarity of intention matters: the trainer needs to know and name the specific behavior she’s looking for. The timing of the feedback matters immensely. The dolphin can’t find what’s “right” without risking what’s “wrong.” Teachers and learners respond differently to challenge: some shrink to paralysis while others rise to even greater determination. It’s almost impossible at first to resist saying “no” when the dolphin goes of course. 

Comments (1) 

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  • This looks a good exercise but can you give an example of things you ask the dolphin to do?

    5 months ago