An Icebreaker or Energiser or Warm up is a useful tool in the trainer’s toolkit. Icebreakers can make you a better trainer because they help your adult participants get to know each other better, and when adults are more comfortable in their surroundings, it’s easier for them to learn. Include an innovative icebreaker for the introductions that helps to ‘break the ice’ when the course starts. This will help clear the way for learning to occur by making the learners more comfortable and form as a group in a non-threatening and fun way. In addition to the start of the course, it is a good idea to include an icebreaker at the start of a new session covering a change of topic, after a lengthy session or lunch break, as preparation for a test or for the review following a test and as a thought provoking prompt for a discussion session.
We have successfully used several icebreakers and games in our courses, particularly ones such as snakes and ladders with a question related to the learning content for each square that they land on, something similar to the TV programme Blockbusters where 2 teams compete to get across the board answering questions correctly (hopefully!) as they go. Another one that we have used effectively in Train The Trainer is napkin folding – this was designed to show the differences between spoken or written instructions with and without diagrams, compared to demonstrations and hands-on practice. Our philosophy is to make our training courses fun, and one way is through the use of icebreakers and games.
Icebreakers and games:
- bring fun and laughter to the process and relax the participants
- get the attention and involve all people quickly, even the quietest amongst them
- break down barriers that exist between people
- allow people to get to know one another quickly
- help clear people’s minds through a change in activity
- ease a group into a meeting, training event, or seminar
- help to foster the new ideas
- get people to interact on a different level than they do in the workplace
- open the lines of communications in a relaxed manner
- revitalise any flagging energy and stimulate creativity
- act as a ‘springboard’ to the main topic that you want to explore in detail later
- consolidate learning
- share knowledge amongst the group
Focus on Objectives
Adults have their minds full of a myriad of things that we all balance every day. Any pause in learning allows those daily responsibilities to creep in. Icebreakers can bring people’s focus back on track.
When you start each new session with a short warm up that relates to the topic, you allow your adult participants to switch gear and focus on the topic at hand. You’re engaging them in the learning.
The facilitator can use icebreaker games as a quick assessment of the group to gauge how much they know about the topic, how comfortable they are in groups, what is their background, expertise and so on.
The key to a successful icebreaker is to make sure it focuses on meeting your objectives and it is appropriate to the group of people involved.
You may come across participants who look bored, whose eyes have glazed over and whose body language is showing negative signs to you. Maybe their head is propped up on their hands or they are desperate to use their phone. Do they think you don’t notice?
Take positive action and introduce an energiser to wake people up and distract them from the everyday life creeping back in. They may moan, but in the end, they will be laughing, and then they’ll be ready to get back to work and the learning.
The idea behind the wake up icebreakers is to take a quick break that’s very easy, light hearted fun with some laughter. Laughter pumps oxygen through your body and wakes you up. An ideal time for this style of icebreaker is the post lunch session often referred to as the ‘graveyard session’.
Include icebreakers that require movement – getting up and moving around, not just activities for the mind. Combine the fun activities with the learning related activities. They are particularly useful after a meal, when groups may be getting sluggish, or late in the day when energy is waning and motivation is decreasing. An energiser should be a quick, fun activity to liven up a group.
Often an icebreaker, a team building activity and an energiser overlap. For example, during an activity in which participants are asked to line up in alphabetical order by first name, participants will learn each other’s names (typical of an icebreaker), they’ll work together as a team to organise themselves and form the line (teambuilding), and become invigorated by being able to get up and move around the room (an energiser).
Preparation for a test or consolidation exercise requires study and review of the material already covered. Just reading it is not always the best way. Research has shown that results can be improved by reviewing and studying using different methods and even locations. Use a game such as a quiz show or charades to make reviewing the material more fun and memorable.
Any session topic that requires the participants to discuss and/or brainstorm ideas can be slow to take off. Speed up the process with a game to provoke thoughts on various topics for discussion. It is a useful tool if a group of people know each other well but feel embarrassed because they have to tackle a difficult or new subject together, icebreakers break down barriers.
Hints and Tips
The following tips might be helpful to you as you use icebreakers, energisers and games in your facilitation.
Link to the Content
Whenever possible, connect your icebreakers and games to the content. Don’t just use them to increase energy; this is not the best use of your time or theirs and you will lose your audience. You should be able to debrief the activity and make connections to one of your learning objectives.
Provide Clear Instructions
Give instructions a little at a time and more than once. If you give all the instructions at the beginning, participants are likely to get confused or forget them. Make sure you repeat the instructions, because there is always someone who is not paying attention or does not quite understand your instructions the first time.
Icebreakers and games rarely go as you envisaged them in your mind and a trial run-through can help you see the potential problems you may face. As you practise, think about how the activity will sound and feel to the participants. Putting yourself in their place will help you see where you may need to make adjustments.
Well-designed and well-facilitated icebreakers help get things off to a great start. By getting to know each other, getting to know the facilitators and learning about the objectives of the event, people can become more engaged in the proceedings and so contribute more effectively towards a successful outcome.
An icebreaker or energiser without a purpose means that you are unable to make that link back to the learning. If you design really good debrief questions you will make sure they get the key concepts that you intended. Icebreakers and games are fun, and participants often forget they are learning while doing them – that is one of the main ideas of them in addition to relaxing and getting to know colleagues. Remember – if you don’t do the work to connect what just happened back to the content, they may leave without learning what they needed to learn.
When people compete in games, they get pretty upset if you change the rules in the middle or at the end. They will be very creative in coming up with new ways to reach the goal, so you have to decide whether or not you want to allow creative solutions that may feel like “cheating” to other groups or individuals. Make sure your rules are clear and comprehensive and then stick to them.
When to break the ice?
Icebreakers, energisers and games can be a very effective way of increasing engagement levels, especially when everyone is feeling tired or distracted. The best times to schedule them are:
- at the beginning of the day
- after breaks
- after lunch
- at recap points
It is also a good idea to have a few extra energisers ready in case you spot that you are losing your participants’ attention. Try to keep icebreakers and energisers to a maximum of 5 minutes so that they don’t eat up your facilitation or training delivery time.