Using an Ice Breaker or Energiser or Warm up is a useful tool in the trainer’s toolkit and goes a long way to making learning fun. Ice breakers 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. As adults you have probably forgotten the importance that play took in your learning and development as a young child. However if you have young children now, you are likely to be incorporating fun and games into their learning. When playing, people don’t even realise they are learning.
As adults we tend to learn better in a more relaxed and entertaining atmosphere.
Play for an adult is critical in our stressful lives. Play has been shown to release endorphins, improve brain functionality and stimulate creativity. It can even help to keep us young and feeling energetic and studies have shown play improves our memory and stimulates the growth of brain cells. Play is just as key for adults as it is for children. Play in adulthood can strengthen personal bonds and help people in overcoming differences and small aggravations that build up over time.
Here are just some of the benefits of using 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
- help clear people’s minds through a change in activity
- 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 and foster new ideas
- consolidate learning
In addition to the start of the course, it is a good idea to include an ice breaker 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. 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 participants to switch gear, focus on the new topic and engage in the learning.
Link to the Content
The key to a successful ice breaker is to make sure it focuses on meeting your objectives and it is appropriate to the group of people involved. Always try to 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.
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 ice breakers 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 ice breaker 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. A game such as a quiz or charades may make reviewing the material 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.
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.
These may include (but are not limited to):
- improved cognitive functioning
- being able to deal with stress with greater ease and fluidity
- creative thinking
- childlike exuberance
- laughing more often
Experiment a bit to find what works for you, as we all could use a bit more play in our responsible, adult lives. If you need any help, we offer a short course on Icebreakers & Games, so check it out!
16 September 2019