Choosing Icebreakers with a Purpose

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Icebreakers can be a positive addition to a training session by energizing the group, initiating creative thinking, and encouraging involvement. Training sessions should include a variety of interactive, experiential activities. Icebreakers are often used during training to make people open up or feel comfortable, encourage participation in a group activity, and stimulate inclusion. An ineffective icebreaker can create discomfort or tension, straining rather than energizing a group dynamic. For an icebreaker activity to be effective, it should be well designed and linked to training objectives.

A good icebreaker:

  • Should not last longer than ten minutes if it is the opening activity; an icebreaker at other points during the training tends to have an optimal length of 15 to 30 minutes
  • Encourages trust and cooperation within a small group or the entire group of members -- some icebreakers should be cooperative rather than competitive
  • Makes the group feel challenged, but not uncomfortable
  • Is a team building experience and involves all members
  • Initiates conversations and interactions
  • Increases the respect and liking of other group members
  • Shows interesting new things about people who have known each other for some time
  • Reflects your members' diverse needs. Select an activity that is appropriate to your groups' age level, physical mobility, or personal interest
  • Is appropriate for your group's stage of development
  • Ties the activity to the session topic
  • Fits your training session design; for instance, if you need smaller groups to be formed later in the training, use the icebreaker to accomplish this
  • Fits the training location

Use icebreakers:

  • At the beginning of training to help members become acquainted and begin the session with a fun activity
  • After lunch to avoid the mid-afternoon fatigued feeling
  • After a difficult or intense session to release tension
  • After assigning members to work with people they do not know well to facilitate group interaction

See Category: Icebreakers/Warmups for a variety of ice breakers and warm-up activities.

Source: Adapted from "Choosing Icebreakers With a Purpose" from The Corporation for National & Community Service, which Excerpted from the Mosaica guide "Starting Strong: A Self-Help Guide to Effective AmeriCorps Pre-Service Training" (McKay, Emily Gantz, Diane Cabrales, et. al. Mosaica, Washington D.C. 1995.), and the newsletter, Training Briefs.