Icebreakers

Compiled by:
Stefanie Keller (Ecosan Services Foundation)

Executive Summary

Icebreakers can be very useful in trainings and can contribute to a better training outcome. On the one hand, icebreakers can be implemented to helping people to integrate and connect with one another in a group environment and arouse the participants’ attention. On the other hand, they can create an inspiring learning atmosphere, improve the group dynamic and enhance the cooperation and participation among the learners.

Why Icebreakers?

It is your first day of a two-week training class with new participants and they all do not know each other. You are about to introduce a new theme that includes important content and therefore it is critical that the learners are attentive and focused. Unfortunately, the learning atmosphere is not encouraging, the participants are not paying attention and there is no group cohesiveness yet.

Does this sound familiar to you? What can you do to change the pace of the workshop? How can you give the participants the opportunity to get to know each other better and still use the time productively?

The answer is to incorporate icebreakers. Icebreakers can enhance your teaching by helping to stimulate cooperation and participation. As the name suggest, icebreakers are designed and considered to “warm up” the training. It is important to note that participants need to be receptive to learning before they can start to learn (STERNS and MELOCHE 2004).

When to Use Icebreakers?

(Adapted from INSTITUTE FOR LAW and JUSTICE 2002)

Icebreakers can be used at any time of the training. Icebreakers provide a welcome break during a long day of training.

The best times to use icebreakers are the following:

  • Pre-event socialisers: when the group is meeting for the first time, to get members to meet and become familiar with each other.
  • Morning openers: to get an event off to a positive (and fun) start, to emphasis the values of the group.
  • After lunch wake-ups: to help the group transition back into the meeting/learning environment.
  • Calming dissension or tension relievers: when the group seems to be coming apart at the seams, to break the stress.

Characteristics of Good Icebreakers

(Adapted from CAMPUUS n.y.; KNOX 2009)

  • Not taking too much time – the maximum length should not be more than 15-30 minutes
  • Involving everyone
  • Helping a new group get to know each other and make everybody feel part of the group
  • Encouraging trust and cooperation within a small group or the entire group of participants
  • Creating a good atmosphere for learning and participation
  • Making the participants feel a little bit challenged, but not uncomfortable
  • Not requiring prior substantive knowledge, or a lot of setup, materials or supplies (see also logistics).

Examples of Icebreakers

(Adapted from CAMPUUS n.y.; KNOX 2009; STERNS and MELOCHE 2004; TRAINING GAMES 2010)

Pre-event Socialisers:

How Similar Are We?

Time required: 10-15 min / Group size: up to 30 persons

The objective is to give people the opportunity to get to know each other better and start to build relationships.

  1. Participants can work in groups and need a pen and paper.
  2. Participants are to record all the things they have in common with others at the table, but which they cannot identify by looking at each other.
  3. They are to list as many things as they can within a given time.

Some examples: All play the same musical instrument / All speak the same foreign language / All have siblings that are the same age.

I'm the One who...

Time required: 15-30 min / Group size: up to 20 persons

  1. Give out small pieces of papers
  2. Tell everyone to write on the paper, “I’m the one who…” and they have to fill in the blank with something about themselves. For example “I’m the one who loves to cook Asian food”
  3. Fold up the paper and throw into a pot
  4. Everyone then picks a slip of paper that is not their own and walks around whispering “are you the one who…” When they find the owner of the slip of paper, link arms (or, if people find this too uncomfortable, make them stand next to each other)
  5. Keep going until everyone has linked arms (or till a circle is formed).

Morning Openers

Two Truths and a Lie

Time required: 15-30 min / Group size: up to 15 persons

  1. Have members come up with two true things about themselves, and one lie
  2. Share the truths and lie with the group
  3. Then the group has to guess which statement is the lie.

Joy

Time required: 10-15 min / Group size: up to 15 persons

  1. Ask each member to think of three things that she/he would like to share
  2. Use the letters of the word ‘joy” to structure what is to be shared:
    J: something in your life that JUST happened
    O: ONE thing you would like to do for yourself
    Y: a part of YOU that makes you a very special person
  3. Point out that the keywords say, ‘JUST ONE YOU!”

After Lunch Wake-ups:

People Bingo

Time required: 15-20 min / Group size: up to 20 persons

  1. Create a list of statements that are likely to be true for at least several of the participants
  2. Write the statements in boxes on a piece of paper (everyone should get the same sheet, so make enough copies)
  3. Give the participants 10 minutes to find someone other than themselves for whom the statement is true and have them initial inside the box
  4. Whoever completes all the boxes first wins a prize

Your statements can be general- for example, find someone who:

  • was born in March
  • lives in a co-op building
  • has seen a popular band, live in concert
  • has a daughter / a son / a sister / a brother…

Rejuvenation Energisers

Pass the Orange

Time required: 10-15 min / Group size: up to 20 persons

  1. Ask the participants to form a circle.
  2. Give the first participant a large orange and explain they need to pass this around the circle. BUT, it has to be passed around the circle using only chin and neck.
  3. If the orange is dropped, it must be returned to the previous player in the circle and the game restarts.
  4. A camera is a must for this game!

This is an icebreaker that involves physical contact, so it’s maybe better used for children or for groups who already do have a certain degree of familiarity – it may not be apt for groups of men and women meeting for the first time.

Ball Toss Game

 ualr.edu

Training participants involved in an icebreaker activity. Source: unknown

Time required: 15-30 min / Group size: up to 20 persons

This is a semi-review and wake-up exercise when covering material that requires heavy concentration.

  1. Have everyone stand up and form a resemblance of a circle
  2. Toss a ball to a person and this person has to say what the most important learning concept was (according to her/him)
  3. They then toss the ball to someone and that person explains what they though was the most important concept

Continue the exercise until everyone has caught the ball at least once and explained an important concept of the material just covered.

Calming Dissension or Tension Relievers:

Name Game

Time required: 10-15 min / Group size: up to 15 persons

  1. Instruct the participants to write their first full name vertically on a slip of paper
  2. Then they have to write an adjective that describes them that begins with each of the letters of their first name
  3. After everyone has completed their list of adjectives, give each member time to share their name and adjectives with the whole group.

Island Game

Time required: 15-30 min / Group size: up to 30 persons

  1. Explain the group they have to imagine that they are stranded on an island
  2. What five items would you have brought with you if you knew there was a chance that you might be stranded?
  3. Note that they are only allowed five items per team, not per person
  4. You can have them write their items on a flip chart and discuss and defend their choices with the whole group.

Applicability

Icebreakers can be incorporated in all different kind of training events. Nevertheless, it is very important to adjust the type of icebreakers and the required timeframe to the specific context of the training. For example, when it is required for the training outcome to create a better understanding and relation among the participants, specific icebreakers which focus on getting to know each other and create cohesiveness within the group should be conducted. It is necessary to carefully think about the degree of familiarity that already exists among the participants, as well as their potential differences in rank or class that may be inhibiting (see also energisers).

Advantages

  • Creating initial interest in the training
  • Introducing the training topic in a creative way
  • Creating a relaxed and trustful learning environment
  • Gaining the participants’ attention
  • Encouraging the involvement of all participants, energizing the group and building cohesiveness
  • Helping people to integrate and connect with each other
  • Stimulating cooperation, participation and trust amongst the participants

Disadvantages

  • Requiring time for preparation of icebreakers
  • Loosing some time for teaching the real training themes
  • Some people may feel too excited by the icebreakers that it can cause distraction again
  • Some people may feel uncomfortable by games which require personal statements in front of the entire group
  • Some people may feel uncomfortable when there is physical contact involved
  • People participating frequently in workshops may get tired of icebreaker exercises

References Library

CAMPUUS (Editor) (n.y.): Icebreaker/Energizer/Activity Resource Guide for Team Leaders. Wilmington: Campuus.

INSTITUTE FOR LAW AND JUSTICE (Editor) (2002): Icebreakers for Training, Meeting and other Events. Alexandria: INSTITUTE FOR LAW AND JUSTICE (ILJ). URL [Accessed: 08.05.2012].

KNOX, G. (2009): 40 Icebreakers for Small Groups. London: Insights. URL [Accessed: 29.04.2010].

STERNS, C. ; MELOCHE, H. (2004): Using Icebreakers to Defrost a Chilly Atmosphere and Build Warm Relationships. Ontarlo: Training Makes Cents INC.. URL [Accessed: 29.04.2010].

TRAINING GAMES (Editor) (2010): 40 Icebreakers and other Warm-ups. Cave Creek: Training Games. TRAINING GAMES . URL [Accessed: 29.04.2010].

Further Readings Library

Reference icon

CAMPUUS (Editor) (n.y.): Icebreaker/Energizer/Activity Resource Guide for Team Leaders. Wilmington: Campuus.

This website explains the use and characteristics of good icebreakers. Furthermore, there are various icebreaker as well as energiser activities described in this site.


Reference icon

INSTITUTE FOR LAW AND JUSTICE (Editor) (2002): Icebreakers for Training, Meeting and other Events. Alexandria: INSTITUTE FOR LAW AND JUSTICE (ILJ). URL [Accessed: 08.05.2012].

This paper gives a good overview of the relevance implementing icebreakers and introduces 14 examples of icebreakers.


Reference icon

KNOX, G. (2009): 40 Icebreakers for Small Groups. London: Insights. URL [Accessed: 29.04.2010].

This paper contains a short description why to use icebreakers in training and introduces 40 types of icebreakers.


Reference icon

TRAINING GAMES (Editor) (2010): 40 Icebreakers and other Warm-ups. Cave Creek: Training Games. TRAINING GAMES . URL [Accessed: 29.04.2010].

This paper contains an archive with a short explanation of 40 different icebreakers.