Icebreakers are commonly associated with workshops, camps, orientations, and organizational retreats to foster community and build trust. However, these exercises and activities can achieve similar outcomes in other learning environments.
Icebreakers can serve a number of purposes:
(1) They can invite people to step out of their comfort zones (who they sit next to, how they interact, the issues they discuss, etc.) in a non-threatening way.
(2) They can motivate people to show up on time since they know a fun exercise will precede and/or lead into the theme of the day.
(3) They can provide kinesthetic ways of exploring complex topics or issues that may be difficult to discuss initially.
(4) They can get people on their feet and moving around in order to get heart rates up and provide some physical activity to ready the brain for the learning ahead.
(5) They can lighten or enliven the mood in order to keep learning motivation high if the setting has become too serious, somber, or drab.
In short, integrating icebreakers into our teaching practice is a great way to build and sustain a community of learners.
In this video, several educators share some of the icebreakers they have used with their students.
There are countless books and online resources that provide a number of icebreakers for a variety of settings. One of my personal favorites is, Active Training: A Handbook of Techniques, Designs, Case Examples, and Tips by Mel Silberman. The book is primarily focused on “adult learners,” however he recognizes that, “young people (the so-called Nexters) today grow up in a world where things happen quickly and where many choices are presented…Nexters are especially receptive to active, experiential learning.” (Zemke, Raines, Filipczak, 1999).
“One of the key ways for people to attain a feeling of safety and security is to be connected to other people and to feel that they are included in a group. This feeling of belonging enables participants to face the challenges set before them. When they are learning with others rather than alone, they have available the emotional and intellectual support that allows them to go beyond their present level of knowledge.” (Silberman, 8)
Reflection Question: Are you a fan of icebreakers? If so, share a positive memory of when you participated in an icebreaker and the impact it had on your learning or community. If you are not generally a fan of icebreakers, what is it about them that you have found problematic? How can the goals and purpose of icebreakers be preserved while eliminating the possibility of them being unsuccessful, uncomfortable, or useless?