What Is Prelude?

Prelude is a learning game that helps foster self-knowledge, creativity, empathy, and collaboration. These social and emotional skills are needed at all life stages, from playground to workplace. Prelude uses the natural elements – fire, air, water, & earth – as a framework for looking at our strengths and personal metaphor. This helps players to positively picture themselves, each other, and their relation to community and the greater world.  In the process, players create striking artifacts for their life-career portfolios. Whether a player is 12, 20, or 30, Prelude can be revelatory and transformative. It's great fun too!

How would Prelude Help my Students or Clients?

Prelude fosters social and emotional skills at an individual and group level. Introducing this easy-to-use learning game at the start of a school term or training program is very helpful. It fosters a positive climate of trust and collaboration, which is key to effective learning and productivity.

Prelude is used in middle schools, high schools, agency training programs, colleges, and in workplace training. Curriculum entry points include: social studies, ethics studies, language arts, career orientation, character education, and related programs fostering school climate, asset strengths, and pro-social behaviour.

Prelude was piloted from 2003-2008 with a wide range of institutions and individuals. The results are available on the Heliotrope website. This shows that Prelude helps foster social and emotional skills such as self-knowledge and collaboration. In addition to this qualitative evidence, new data is also being generated to validate the game's efficacy statistically and empirically.

Program Logistics

Prelude is ideal for ages 12 to adult. It may be played with as few as 2 individuals and as many as 100 plus. It may also be played in about six hours or over several 45-minute units.

Some parts are done individually and some parts are done in groups with a facilitator or teacher. The first Module requires students to go online, so a computer with internet access and a printer is required.  The remaining Modules do not require a computer, but access to basic art supplies is needed. Prelude support materials are available online for download as well, either in Word Documents or PDF.

How Does Prelude Work?

preludekey Prelude has four activity modules from individual inner exploration, to outer expression, to teamwork, and then to whole group work.

Module 1: Keynote

This is an online computer activity.  It involves individual self-exploration. Players are shown colourful, visual scenarios online. Each requires a decision as to what is most to least like them. Their choices generate a Keynote Report that identifies positive assets, skills, and possible career orientation. This report uses the four elemental colors – earth green, water blue, fire red, and air yellow – to help players see their inner assets from the strongest to the least developed. Players also work with a Star Graph & Journal. This allows players to see themselves holistically and to express their aspirations and goals.

Time: 30 minutes approximately

Needs: computers & online access, printer

Module 2: iTag

This is a manual activity. It involves individual self-expression. Players create a design on paper with coloured crayons and pencils. More specifically, she or he will create a design combining positive power words, symbols, and colors from their Keynote Reports. This activity helps deepen what players learn about them selves in Module 1. It also sets the stage for the next activity.

Time: 45 minutes approximately

Needs: basic art materials, camera for documentation

Module 3: weTag

This is a manual activity. It involves dividing the class or training group into four teams based on their Keynote, one of four elemental colours. Each team will then review their individual iTags and create a new weTag on a separate blank paper. This must combine something from each individual iTag. The activity requires dialogue, debate, compromise, and negotiation. It also enables team members to learn new positive things about each other. This also sets the stage for the next activity.

Time: 45 minutes approximately

Needs: basic art materials, camera for documentation

Module 4: allTag

This final activity involves all four elemental teams. A blank paper mural is put up on the wall. A basic scenario is proposed. The idea is that the blank mural represents the natural world. Each team must develop a strategy to translate its weTag design onto the blank mural. Thus the fire team will focus on introducing fire into the natural world, and so on. All four elemental teams soon find themselves involved in strategy, dialogue, debate, compromise, and negotiation. This results in a group mural that synthesizes all four elemental team weTags. This process enables players to understand that together they create the bigger world and that it is made up of all their positive qualities and strengths, individually and a group.

Time: 1-2 hours approximately

Needs: basic art materials, camera for documentation

Available Training for Teachers and Facilitators

Online training is available on a self-directed basis without cost for registered Toolkit members who are piloting or using Prelude. The Prelude Online Training Module provides an easy, step-by-step training process filled with helpful examples, videos, and relevant support materials. The process can be started and re-visited as needed.

How Does Prelude Fit Into the Toolkit?

Prelude can be used on its own, but makes a great introductory activity for exploring strengths and working with others.  Because of this, we recommend Prelude takes place directly after the initial pre-testing with the Resiliency Survey, before undertaking The Real Game and Guiding Circles.

Who Developed the Program?

Dr. Howard B. Esbin developed Prelude based on his doctoral and postdoctoral education research in visual thinking, social psychology, and participatory learning. Dr. Esbin also has 25 years, as a senior manager in the private and non-profit sectors. Heliotrope is a social enterprise he founded in 2004 to promote Prelude. For more information about Prelude including case studies and the latest news of how it is being used, please visit or write to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


For more information about Prelude, please email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . All emails answered within 72 hours.