Ice breakers are an important component of group extension. They help build rapport, establish some common ground and make group members feel comfortable. They can be used to:
- Effectively introduce a facilitator
- Introduce and set the tone for an activity
- Introduce people to each other
- Set the scene for the day
- “Warm up” participants
- Break down barriers
- Help set expectations
- Make people feel welcome
They are also important in giving an activity a positive start and making the participants feel they are going to get value and enjoy what they are about to participate in. They can help personalise a participants experience, context things to their own needs and circumstances and set their mood to the activity.
To make people feel comfortable, humour and conversation starter ice breakers are effective.
To animate and energise an audience, ice breakers that involve movement and activity work well.
To introduce the topic or aim of an activity, an ice breaker can be used as an introduction and to get participants on the same page. Experiential learning is an effective adult learning process. Ice breakers can be used to initiate action learning cycles and kick start an activity. Particularly if they start the review phase of an action learning cycle.
Planning to Use Icebreakers
Establish the outcomes the activity is aiming to achieve.
Assess the characteristics of the participants.
With the outcomes and audience characteristics as context, consider the type of ice breaker that will suit.
Types of Icebreakers
If participants don’t know each other
Option 1: Ask them to introduce themselves to the person on their left and find out one lesser know fact on that person; as well as their name, where they are from and why they are here. They then introduce the person on their left to the group.
Option 2: Go around the room and ask each person to introduce themselves; who they are, where they are from, why they are here and their expectations from the day. Gather the expectations on a white board or butchers paper.
Option 3: Get each participant to write on a small piece of paper or sticky note; their favourite colour, food and car. The facilitator then takes them off each person and without revealing their owner, writes them up on butchers paper, or on a whiteboard and numbers each one. During the day participants are asked to make their own list of which number is which participant. The master list of names is revealed at the end of the day.
Option 4: The facilitator breaks the group up into three people. The objective is for each group of three to find three things in common (outside of obvious things such as sex, hair colour, age, etc). Each sub group then shares their common things with the group as a whole.
Option 5: The facilitator gets the group to set up in two even lines facing each other. They then ask a question that each group member has to answer to the person in front in 30 seconds. After one minute the lines shift and each person has to share their answer with a new person in front of themselves. Once all members of the lines have faced each other and answered, a new question can be asked and the process is repeated.
To introduce a topic
Option 1: After participants have introduced themselves. The facilitator asks key questions in relation to the topic and gets the participants to self rank themselves against the questions by standing in a relative position in the room to a 0 to 10 scale.
Option 2: After participants have introduced themselves. In relation to the topic, the facilitator asks “Have you ever” questions and ask participants to stand if they answer “yes” to a question.
Option 3: After participants have introduced themselves. The facilitator has a selection of pictures in relation to the topic. They scatter the pictures on the ground and ask group members to select one that they feel most relates to them. The facilitator then asks each participant to describe their picture to the group and why it relates to them.
Option 4: After participants have introduced themselves. The facilitator has each person hold up their hands with their fingers and thumbs spread. They then ask questions that relate to the topic and/or the participants. Each participant closes down a thumb or finger for each question that applies to them and then sits down when all ten (or five for a shorter icebreaker) are closed. The icebreaker continues until one person is left standing.
Risks in Using Icebreakers
- They can be delivered poorly and then the activity gets off to a bad start
- The can be too long and reduce the overall impact of the activity
- They can be too complicated and lessen the impact of the activity overall
- They may not suit the audience and then the activity gets off to a bad start
For Further Information
A google search will bring up numerous icebreaker options. The ones listed above, I have learnt by participating in groups where they have been used. Here is one good example of sources from a google search: