Ice Breakers

Whether you're teaching a class, facilitating a meeting or hosting a group, ice breakers are a great way to get people to learn each others names, find out interesting things about one another and help people begin new relationships. They also provide a way to establish common ground between participants, get everyone moving and create an inviting environment.


Why games:  The idea is that people think, learn and work together better when they are focused. Unclear goals, miscommunication and general unhappiness all hinder a positive experience. Incorporating best practices in a safe environment will diminish the failures and frustrations that often accompany a disenchanted group.


Guidelines for Using Games:

Courtesy of Carolyn Nilson

  1. A game is not training; it is the device that focuses the attention of the learner on that which is to be learned.
  1.  Choose a game carefully to be certain that it supports the points you will make during the training that follows. Don’t waste time in pointless play.
  2. Be sure that the game you choose fits the time and the size of the group that you will be working with.  Practice the “business” of the game ahead privately if you’re not sure; time key elements of the “play in advance, keeping in mind the probably interactions between the people you know you’ll have in your training session or team meeting.
  3. Check out each game for potential trouble spots, keeping in mind the specific people in your team. Know which elements of the game are likely to trigger showoffs, misunderstanding, or complaints from your particular trainees. Plan ahead to use such moments as opportunities to lead learners into new awareness. Be prepared ahead of time to meet criticism head-on in the name of learning, not defensiveness.
  4. Team games are generally group activities. Within this context, however you, the facilitator, must focus on the individuals who are engaged in the game. Build some flexibility in the procedures and discussion questions of each game to account for the diversity your team demonstrates. 
  5. Games can soften the rough edges of difficult and unfamiliar ways of working together. Team development and growth involve trial and error, pain and passion. Games can help create an environment for shared values, deeper communication and emotional openness. They can provide the setting for mental stretch, exercising both left-brain and right-brain abilities.  Team games are meant to engage and involve learners in new approaches to work.  Be prepared to defend the softer side of training when you chose a team game.


Ice Breaker Games


A. One Common Goal

Break the group into teams of five or six. Give each team a piece of paper and pen and ask them to make a list of all of the things they can think of that are common traits among all of the team members. At the end of five minutes ask for the following: How many items on each list? What was the most unique thing they learned?


B. Nicknames For All

Have each person write their nickname on a name badge. Collect the badges. One at a time we’re going to say a nickname and that person stands and tells why that is his/her nickname. 


C. Personal Trivia

Pass out index cards to the group and ask each person to write down their name and five little-known facts about them. Collect all of the cards and number them. Create a master list of all attendees in numerical order. Group leader reads the facts without revealing the name on the card along with the corresponding number on card. Each person then marks the number they feel matches one person on the list.  Keep going until all of the cards are read. Prizes may be given for the most correct guesses.


D. Balloon Pop

Divide into groups. Select one person. Everyone else puts their name on a piece of paper, inserts in into a balloon, blows it up and ties it. Mix the balloons up in the center of the group. The first person who did not create a balloon starts the race by popping a balloon on the “go.” Once the balloon is popped, they read the name inside and the process continues until all the balloons are popped.


The Role of the Facilitator


Agenda – You help prepare an agenda and process to follow.


Introductions – Make sure the group knows your name and the roles you and your recorder (scribe) will play. Take time to have all participants introduce themselves.


Be positive – You serve as a positive force in the group, setting the tone so that they very best solutions can be found.  You must resolve any doubts you have about any issue the group will be discussing so you can leave your own negativity behind.


Remain neutral – You must remain neutral during the meeting because your role is to facilitate the group’s process. If you have valuable ideas or opinions that are essential to the discussion, add your input after they give theirs.


Keep the focus – Keep the members’ focus on the task, problem, or issues.


Encourage participation – Encourage participation by all group members by monitoring excessive talkers and encouraging the quieter members. Confront problem behaviors that interfere with the group’s process.


Protect ideas – Always protect individuals and their ideas from attack by other members of the group. This is a ground rule that everyone is asked to follow.


Do not evaluate – Do not evaluate the ideas that are suggested. Instead, encourage contributors to explain the background behind their ideas.


Work with a recorder (or scribe) – You will be busy facilitating, so have someone else record during the meeting and use the information to prepare a group memo.



Survival Games


Plane Crash 

You and your companions have just survived the crash of a small plane. Both the pilot and co-pilot were killed in the crash.  t is mid-January, and you are in Northern Canada. The daily temperature is 25 below zero, and the night time temperature is 40 below zero. There is snow on the ground, and the countryside is wooded with several creeks crisscrossing the area. The nearest town is 20 miles away.  Everyone is dressed in city clothes appropriate for a business meeting. Your group of survivors managed to salvage the following items.


A ball of steel wool

A small ax

A loaded .45-caliber pistol

Can of Crisco shortening

Newspapers (one per person)

Cigarette lighter (without fluid)

Extra shirt and pants for each survivor

20 x 20 ft. piece of heavy-duty canvas

A sectional air map made of plastic

One quart of 100-proof whiskey

A compass

Family-size chocolate bars (one per person)


Your task as a group is to list the above 12 items in order of importance for your survival.  List the uses for each.  You MUST come to an agreement as a group.




1. Cigarette lighter (without fluid)

2. A ball of steel wool

3. Extra shirt and pants for each survivor

4. Can of Crisco shortening

5. 20 x 20 ft. piece of heavy-duty canvas

6. A small ax

7. Family-size chocolate bars (one per person)

8. Newspapers (one per person)

9. A loaded .45-caliber pistol

10. One quart of 100-proof whiskey

11. A compass

12. A sectional air map made of plastic

Lost At Sea

 You and your team have chartered a yacht. None of you have any previous soling experience, and you have hired an experienced skipper and two-person crew. As you sail through the Southern Pacific Ocean a fire breaks out and much of the yacht and its contents are destroyed. The yacht is slowly sinking. Your location is unclear because vital navigational and radio equipment has been damaged. The yacht skipper and crew have been lost while trying to fight the fire. Your best guestimate is that you are approximately 1,000 miles southwest of the nearest landfall. You and your friends have managed to save the following 15 items, undamaged and intact after the fire.


A sextant

A shaving mirror

A quantity of mosquito netting

A 5 gallon can of water

A case of army rations

Maps of the Pacific Ocean

A floating seat cushion

A 2 gallon can of oil/petrol mixture

A small transistor radio

20 square feet of Opaque plastic sheeting

Shark repellent

One quart of 160 % proof rum

15 feet nylon rope

2 boxes of chocolate bars

A fishing kit


In addition you have salvaged a four man rubber life craft.  The total contents of your pockets amount to a packet of cigarettes, three boxes of matches and three $5.00 bills.


Your chances of survival will depend upon your ability to rank the above 15 items in their relative order of importance.



1. A shaving mirror

2. A 2 gallon can of oil/petrol mixture

3. A 5 gallon can of water

4. A case of army rations

5. 20 square feet of Opaque plastic sheeting

6. 2 boxes of chocolate bars

7. A fishing kit

8. 15 feet nylon rope

9. A floating seat cushion

10. Shark repellent

11. One quart of 160 % proof rum

12. A small transistor radio

13. Maps of the Pacific Ocean

14. A quantity of mosquito netting

15. A sextant



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