I am easy ♪ …like an icebreaker on a Monday morning! ♫
Icebreakers are small, easy-going, short activities that “break the ice” for a group of people. They are usually done at the beginning of a class or a meeting. For most of us it is easy to remember the moments when a course starts, people meet for the first time and the atmosphere is a bit frozen. To get the flow of conversation going and students’ thoughts, interest, and focus directed toward the situation in hand, it might require a teacher to facilitate some common easy-going activity for the group at the beginning of the session. Building trust and identifying shared values are important for successful collaboration. Yet, how to get people to relax and share something of themselves, especially in the beginning? Icebreakers are just the right tools for this! – regardless of whether you meet in person or online.
Icebreakers are bigger than they seem. Great icebreakers have some common qualities: all should have the ability to participate, the activity should teach participants something about those around them, and the activity should be quick (Stein and Nash, 2020). Icebreakers serve as facilitators for team building, to getting to know each other, and inviting everyone to participate in common activities and discussions. They lighten up the mood of the meeting as well as lower the threshold for one to speak up and participate.
Sometimes the best ice breakers are creative tasks, such as drawing or even singing, during which one can fool around a bit – yet at the same time they test the limits of one’s own comfort zone. In these cases, you need to make sure that your audience is up for it. It is important to create a safe space for all. Icebreakers should not force any one person into the spotlight or create an awkward situation for anyone. Participation should be voluntary and it should be completely ok to decline if the activity feels too demanding. If you don’t know the crowd, design the icebreaker in a way that everyone can participate anonymously and without going too deeply into personal topics. Writing in the chat, for example, breaks anonymity. When using the chat, the ice breaker activities should be neutral and super easy-going.
If you have the luxury of having a class in person, using material objects of some kind is quite a powerful approach to facilitate discussion. As shown in the images below, you can, for example give a selection of postcards from which the participants choose the best fit for the mood of the day. Then let the participants mingle and share their thoughts about their selections, and they might even find people who chose the exact same cards!
Images: Art, Education and Entrepreneurship course at Aalto University 2019, Photo: Enlighten Image, Jaeseong Park
Jaana Brinck, LES – Teacher Services
Stein, M., and Nash, T. 2020. “Icebreakers for Adults: AEC693/WC356, 5/2020”. EDIS 2020 (3). https://doi.org/10.32473/edis-wc356-2020.