Ice Breakers and Energizers
Get people laughing and moving and put them at ease. These are meant to be fast and fun. Use: At the beginning of meetings, when things are beginning to drag and to refocus after breaks.
“What If” You Had a Great Icebreaker?
To get your group laughing and talking right off the bat, start your session with a quick game of “What If”.
Directions: Give each participant a small piece of paper. Ask them to write a “What if” question, such as “What if the sky was purple?” or “What if we all had three arms?”. When everyone has completed their question (encourage them to work quickly), ask them to pass their question to the person on their right. Next, each person writes the answer to the question they've received. They should answer the question as if they had written it. For example, if Tom hands his question (“What if I won the lottery?”) to Susan, she should answer the question as if she had won the lottery, not Tom.
When everyone has written their answer, select someone to read ONLY the question they have in front of them. Ask the person to their right to read the ANSWER to their question. They should then read the question on their paper and the person to their right reads the answer, etc. Even though the questions and answers are unrelated, you'll find some hilarious combinations!
Materials/Time Needed: For a group of 15-20 people, this exercise will take about 10-15 minutes. No advance preparation is required, but you'll need pens or pencils and note paper.
Divide the participants into small groups. Instructions: Search your person for objects that you have on you or with you ranging from A-Z. Make a list. First group to get all 26 letters represented wins. Exercise can explore how diverse we are - insight into our individual selves. If done as a small group lends itself well to a small team building exercise as the group works together through the alphabet.
Objective: Have fun! Get acquainted.
To get ready: On a slip of paper, write the name of an animal that makes an obvious noise. Create five to ten slips for each animal.
Give each slip of paper out and instruct the group that they have to find the people in the room who have the same animal as them without talking. Give them a few minutes. They should make sounds and jesters that let them know what animal they are. Once they find each person in their group they should continue around until they find all the monkeys, or all the dogs, etc.
Circle of Friends
This is a great greeting and departure for a large group who will be attending a session or meeting for more than one day together and the chances of meeting everyone in the room is almost impossible.
Form two large circles (or simply form two lines side by side), one inside the other and have the people in the inside circle face the people in the outside circle. Ask the circles to take one step in the opposite directions, allowing them to meet each new person as the circle continues to move very slowly. If lines are formed, they simply keep the line moving very slowly, as they introduce themselves.
Creative Expectations Icebreaker
- Small Groups
- Art Project
- Art supplies such as pipe cleaners, paper, ribbon, stickers, glue, and pens
- Discuss expectations for the training or event
- Get to know other participants
Step 1: Divide participants into small groups of 3-4 people. Provide each group with a mix of art supplies.
Step 2: Ask participants to share their expectations of the training with each other in their small groups. Make sure each person in the group has 1-2 minutes to share their expectations.
Step 3: Once each person in the group has shared his/her inputs, instruct the groups to use their art supplies to create a visual image that represents their collective expectations. Allow 8-10 minutes to complete the project.
Step 4: Ask each group to share their project and discuss their expectations with the larger group.
Pair people up together. Ask them to spend 2 ½ minutes each talking about themselves. Ask them if they could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why. Tell them that at the end of 5 minutes we will come back together as a group and you will introduce each other. Ask them to tell the persons name, their position and their dinner partner.
Note to facilitators – this is a great exercise to help you understand the personality of the class. For example you may have a lot of people who want to have dinner with political figures or movie stars it gives you a clue that politics are important to this group or they are movie goers. If you have a lot of people who want to have dinner with religious figures again it helps you understand the basic personality of the group.
Five Things in Common
Split the group up into pairs. Each pair will have 30 seconds to find 5 things they have in common. At the end of the 30 seconds, put two pairs together and give the foursome a minute to find something all 4 students have in common. Finally, each group can present the list of things they have in common. You can use this activity to form groups.
This exercise asks the participants to pass the word 'ha' around a circle. This activity is generally more effective when used during the later stage of the training program or session. It takes about 7 minutes and is best suited for a group of 20 or less participants.
Ask the participants to form a circle. When they are ready explain that the object of this activity is for the participants, without laughing, to pass the word "ha" around the circle. Designate one participant to be the head of the circle. That participant begins by saying "ha". The person sitting to his or her right must repeat the "ha" and then say another "ha." The third person must say ha ha and then given an additional "ha." In this manner the "ha" continues around the circle. It ends when all of the participants, trying not to laugh (a virtual impossibility), have repeated the "ha's" that preceded them and then added their own "ha."
Variations: Use another word in place of "ha." For example: "yuck," "har," or "tee hee." or ask all of the participants to repeat the "ha's" stopping only to let the person whose turn it is pipe in with his or her own. You can continue the exercise for five minutes regardless of how many times the "ha's" go around the circle.
Hum That Tune
This activity is a fun way to break participants into groups.
What you will need: Songs Examples that work well: Row, Row, Row, Your Boat, Rock-a-by Baby. The National Anthem, The Itsy-bitsy spider, Old McDonalds, etc. Write down the names and cut them apart. The number of songs you choose depends on the number of groups you want.
Each person in the group is given a small piece of paper with the name of a nursery rhyme or other song written on it. Participants are to go around humming their tune until they find everyone else singing the same song. Then they form a group.
Koosh Toss / Group Juggle
A Good Icebreaker for Day 2 of a multi-day training session. Good for a group of at least 12 and up to 30 where some people know each other, but the whole group is still getting acquainted:
Materials Needed: 3 Koosh Balls
Get the group in a circle.
Facilitator tosses 1 ball to someone in the group whose name they know, saying their name and then the other person's name (e.g. Nancy to Tom). Tom (person who receives the ball) tosses ball to someone whose name he knows (e.g. Tom to Mark). Mark tosses to someone whose name he knows and so on, saying both names all the way around the circle. The ball is tossed to each person one time only until everyone in the circle gets it and all names have been said.
Round 2 – The facilitator tosses the balls to the same person (Nancy to Tom to Mark, etc.) only this time with 2 balls in succession (not at the same time) saying both names, both times. Balls get tossed to the same people they were originally tossed to, first one ball, and then the next, all the way around the circle stopping when they get back to the facilitator.
Round 3 – The facilitator starts again only with all three balls this time. Saying names each time, all three balls get tossed, in succession, in the same order until they get back to the facilitator.
By the time there are three balls going, it gets pretty chaotic and fun. By now all names have been said so many times everyone should have a pretty good idea of who's who and they are pretty warmed up and ready to go. When someone drops a ball, simply give them a chance to just pick up where you left off--no need to start again.
We have seen this work with 250 people in a big hotel meeting room. It works well with large groups of people. Have everyone get in a huge circle side by side. Instruct them to turn half a turn to their right. This should now look like everyone is in line facing the back of the person in front of them. Have them put both hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. Then ask everyone to sit. They sit back on the knees of the person in back of them.
You have to be careful where large and small people are placed. Small people should always be in front of large folks! This usually works great and gets everyone laughing.
Pass around a bag of M&M's. Tell the participants to take as many as they want. Once everyone has M&M's, tell them that for each M&M they took they have to say one thing about themselves. For instance, if a person took 10 M&M's, they would have to say 10 things about themselves.
Meet 'n Greet
Objective: get acquainted - help discover common backgrounds and interests.
Procedure: At the beginning of a meeting or class, ask people to introduce themselves to as many others as they possibly can in two minutes' time. After those 2 minutes tell them to get into groups of three people. Tell them that their assignment for the next two minutes is to find at least three distinctive things that the three of them have in common. The only rule is that the three things cannot be job related (i.e. they work for the same organization.) Ask them to identify the three things as quickly as possible and to shout out loudly when they've done so. Provide a token prize for the first team to complete the task. Some examples of areas of commonality could be:
- all are from the same home state
- all have an older brother
- all drive a SUV
- all have degrees in the same field, etc.
After most have completed their assignments, call on a few groups to tell their areas of commonality.
1. How did some of you complete the task so quickly?
2. Did some of you have difficulty finding common backgrounds or interests?
3. Did anyone discover some startling or surprising information about the others (all are twins.)
Approximate Time needed: 10-15 minutes.
Name Tag Matchmaker
Each group member will need a 5" x 7" card for a name tag. Then give the following
1. Put your name in the center of your card.
2. In the upper left corner, write four things that you like to do.
3. In the upper right corner, write your four favorite singers or groups.
4. In the lower left corner, write your four favorite movies.
5. In the lower right corner, write four adjectives that describe you.
When everyone finishes, have them mingle with the group for a few minutes. Without talking, they are to read the upper left corner of the other group members' cards. When time is up, they are to find one or two people who are most like them and visit for a few minutes. When time is up, they are to mingle again reading the upper right corner of the other group members' cards. They then find the one or two people most like them and visit. Repeat with the lower left corner and lower right corner information. To make sure everyone visits with several people, you could implement a rule that no two people can be in the same group more than once.
Once Upon a Time
Objective: Quick ideas to get people focused in the room on each other; also ready to participate.
Go around the table (or circle) and complete one of these sentences:
Once upon a time, I...
My ideal vacation is...
The riskiest thing I ever did was...
The wildest thing I ever did (that I'll admit to) is...
Make a 5 x 5 grid, like a bingo grid. Write "FREE" in the center space. In all the other spaces, write things such as "Born in another state," "Is the youngest child in family," or "Beatles fan" (tailor musical group to your audience). Fill in all the grids with items of interest to the participants. Run a copy for each person.
The participants are to get the signature of a person who meets the criteria for each section. You might want to implement a rule that a person can only sign another person's paper in two spots. The first person with a completed card wins.
Say Cheese, Please
As each participant arrives, take their picture with a Polaroid camera and hang their photo on a piece of flip chart paper in the entrance area of the meeting room. Hang them in groups of two or three photos (depending on size of meeting - you may have only 2 per group or more if the group is large). Use your creativity and decorate the flip chart paper to extend a Warm Welcome and set the tone of the meeting. Once all participants have arrived, ask them to find their partner from the photo display on the easel. They are to spend about 5 - 10 minutes getting to know the person. Then have them introduce their partner to the rest of the group and share something they discovered they have in common.
Skittle Skuttle Ice Breaker Activity
Overview: Participants select a skittle candy from a dish and match to the color listed on the worksheet.
Goal: To get to know each other during introductions.
Time Required: 1 minute to select a candy, 2-4 minutes to share an experience.
Material Required: One Bag of Skittles and a candy dish or bowl.
Skittle Skuttle Ice Breaker Activity Worksheet
Match the color skittle you have drawn from the cup to the questions listed below.
Boy! I was embarrassed when...
My strangest job ever was...
My best vacation was...
Something I like to treat myself to...
Dessert I can not live without...
Stranded on a Desert Island
Overview: Participants are asked to write down what comes to mind first when certain questions are asked. We have used this ice breaker for many years as being on a desert island, however if you want to, you could appropriately rename it Survivor - like the popular TV show!
Goal: To learn more about themselves.
Time Required: 3 - 5 minutes
Material Required: Colored Paper, Markers, Crayons
Instructions: Provide the participants with the hand out below and allow them to make notes or illustrate what one item would they would bring if they were going to be stranded on a desert island and had only 5 minutes advance notice.
Discussion: Take a few moments to share a few examples and laughs as a group.
Ask why they chose the items and why they meant so much to them?
You are going to be stranded on a desert island in less than 5 minutes and you are only permitted to take one item. What will you take with you? Feel free to illustrate or make notes.
You can click on the image to the right and get a full page to print on a color printer to use for the exercise.
The Name Game
Overview: Have the group complete the questionnaire silently. Upon completion fold into fours and drop into a hat or bag.
Goal: To get groups to realize they do not always know everything about their co-workers or someone they have worked with for quite some time.
Time Required: 2 minutes to complete questionnaire - 10 minutes to draw cards and discuss.
Material required: Colored paper to print question sheet on and a hat or bag.
Instructions: Have someone randomly draw a card and read the answers out to the group as they guess which classmate it may be. Once someone selects the correct classmate have that individual draw the next card.
Discussion: Ask if they discovered anything new about someone? Ask if they found something in common with someone?
Form: The Name Game
1. Favorite Dream Vacation Spot
2. Favorite Type of Car
3. Favorite Actress/Actor
4. Favorite Movie
5. Favorite Hobby
6. Favorite Color
Toilet Paper Go-Round
Material: 1 roll of toilet paper (if you "borrow" it from an office bathroom, be kind and leave some for your colleagues!)
Pass around a roll of toilet paper and say something like "just in case this meeting gets a little messy, everyone needs to take some" (with no other qualifiers or instruction). Then go on with other business (agenda, minutes, and "housekeeping" items...) as the roll makes it way around the room.
Some folks by nature will take many "squares" and some just a few. Once everyone has had the roll, and you've finished other business, ask everyone to introduce themselves and share with the group as many "things" about themselves as number of "squares" they took! You can suggest the "things" be generic or make it work-related. You choose.
Travel to My Home Town
Objective: Get people acquainted.
Procedure: Divide the participants into groups of 4-6 people. Ask each group to get together in their own location. Their task is to come up with a list of home towns and then develop a geographically-correct number of home towns that represent the number of home towns for the entire group.
Hint: Participants from each group may "travel" to other group tables to obtain needed information.
Approximate time needed: 10 minutes to work in groups and 5 minutes to review answers with entire group.
1. If you have a map for each group they could pinpoint and mark the home towns or,
2. If time allows have each group tell what town they think is the most interesting and why.
1. Which group has the most accurate number of home towns?
2. Which group finished first?
3. If a map is used which group accurately placed all the towns on the map?
Two Truths & A Lie
In groups of three to eight (depending on how much time you want to devote to this exercise) have individuals take turns making three statements about themselves -- two which are true; one that is a lie.
After an individual makes their statements, the other folks in the group discuss among themselves, which seem most plausible and what is most likely to be the lie. Once they come to some sort of consensus, the individual who made the statements not only tells which is the "lie" but also provides a bit more background about the "truths" as well as what made them think folks might have thought the "lie" was a "truth."
Groups of three can easily do this in less than 10 minutes.
Note to facilitator - This game works well with groups that are new to one another. It is often surprising how relative strangers can instinctively pick up the nuances between truths and lies based on very little information. The game also works well with groups that have been together awhile and Think they know a lot about each other.
This exercise can also be done "electronically" with groups that aren't physically located together, but have been "assembled" to work together on some task -- for example a cross-functional task force or a committee that has folks from across the country participating. It takes a little longer -- but provides the same benefits.
Two Personal Items
Step 1: Ask each participant to find two items in their pocket, purse, briefcase, etc. that will help them introduce themselves to the group (i.e., family picture – being a parent/wife/brother is one of the most important things to me; Botanical Garden Membership Card – one of my favorite ways to relax is to spend time in my garden).
Step 2: Write out the question you want people to answer about their personal items on a flipchart so they can refer to it, if needed. For example, “What do your personal items say about who you are?”
Step 3: If individuals don’t know each other at all, ask them to state their name, where they are from and/or what role they play in the organization before they share their personal items. If they do know each other, skip the introductions and have them share their personal items. It’s usually a good idea to model the introduction by going first. You should also state that these introductions should be only 1-2 minutes – depending on the time available in the agenda and the number of people in the session.
Step 4: Thank the participants for sharing.
Weeding your Garden
Distribute the paper and crayons, and say, »In the center of your page, draw a small circle and print your name in it. Now draw five petals around the circle, and on each petal write II characteristic you like about yourself. Now draw a stem on the flower and roots. On each root, write something that you do for self-care (for example, your favorite forms of recreation or relaxation). Finally, draw four weeds growing next to the flower. On each weed, write a problem that worries you (these are worries over which you have some control, but about which you have done nothing).
When participants have completed their gardens, ask them to reflect on whether they will weed them, and how they might accomplish this. Now invite the group to subdivide into groups of three and discuss their pictures. Roots might also reflect personal support systems, such as family and friends, and community support systems, such as school and church.
Minority groups or people with disabilities might label weeds to represent barriers to their full participation in society. Drawing a flower of a "significant other" person (i.e., one's parent, spouse, or child) enhances empathy.
Whistle While You Work
This energizer is best done outside or in a place where it's okay to make a mess! It is ideal for an evening energizer at an outdoor event. Have a stack of saltines for each team. Break them into groups of 4 - 5. Give each group an equal stack of crackers and have them go to their designated location. Select a team of judges. Allow each team two minutes to plan their strategy. Then which ever team can successfully whistle "Whistle while you work" the fastest wins. The only rule is the person or people who are whistling must have crackers in their mouth the whole time they are whistling!
Who Am I?
For this activity you will need one sticky note per person. On each note write the name of a celebrity, political figure, cartoon character, book character, etc. You can choose one category or mix them up. Use a different person for each note.
Place a sticky note on the back (or forehead) of each participant. The participants are to figure out who they are, but can only do so in the following manner. Find a partner and read each other's sticky notes. You may ask the other person three questions to which there are yes or no answers.
Once your questions have been asked and answered, make a guess as to your identity. If you are correct, move the sticky note to your chest and you become a "consultant" who gives clues to those still trying to figure out their identities. If you are not correct, find a new partner and repeat the process.
SPECIAL NOTE: Be sure to choose characters that are appropriate to the age of the participants to avoid "generation gap frustration."
Examples: Madonna, Santa Claus, John Wayne, Casablanca, Hillary Clinton, Kermit, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, etc.
Goal: This activity allows participants to know more about each other and to feel more comfortable and relaxed, which will encourage them to actively participate.
Group Size: Any
Materials: Large world map
Stickers or thumbtacks
Put the world map on a wall where all participants can see it.
Hand out a sticker or thumbtack to each participant. Tell them they will be introducing themselves by putting the sticker or thumbtack on a spot of the world where they have some sort of connection. You can use any of the following to define the connection:
A place that you have a fond memory of
A place where you had an interesting or funny personal experience
A place where you want to go
Have all of the participants take turns introducing themselves and telling why they chose the particular place to put their marker.
Start with a ball of yarn. Say your name and an interesting fact about yourself. Then, holding the end, toss the ball to another participant. That person will say his/her name and an interesting fact, then, holding on to part of the yarn, toss the ball to another person. By the time everyone has spoken, there will be a large web of yarn that can be displayed on the wall of the training room with tacks or tape. This activity can also be used as a review tool - each participant says something about the subject, then tosses the yarn.