Icebreakers creating a safe environment - part 1: Introduction

Icebreakers can be important building blocks to successful group interactions. No matter the type of group, the facilitator has an opportunity to use their group skills to set the tone.

Icebreakers can be important building blocks to a successful group interaction. No matter the type of group, whether adults, youth, children or a combination, the facilitator has an opportunity to use an icebreaker to set the tone. According to Michigan State University Extension, these activities can be used at the beginning of a meeting with a group to get started and familiarize participants with each other, in the middle to refocus a group, or at the end to have as a recreational closing or social break. This article is part one in a series by MSU Extension introducing the four general types of ice breakers. These include introduction, energizing, familiarize/build trust and a studying topic. Part one will focus on the introduction type of icebreaker.

The introduction type of icebreaker is used at the beginning of a meeting to gets things started, familiarizes everyone and creates a relaxed atmosphere as everyone gets to know each other. A facilitator needs to also keep in mind the size of the group they are working with and what icebreakers are most accommodating. Below are some examples of introduction type icebreakers:

  • Name game: Group members are in a circle with the first person introducing themselves. The second person then introduces themselves as well as the first person. The pattern continues until all have been introduced with every preceding name being repeated by each person following. A challenge can be added to this icebreaker by having everyone introduce themselves and include a physical motion that represents them such as, “My name is Jan and I ride horses,” which adds the motion of riding upon a horse.
  • Birthday game: Ask participants to line up in order of their birthdate (month and day) without talking. Once completed, participants should introduce themselves and their birthdate to see if the activity was completed successfully.
  • Questions: Everyone is seated in a circle. One person starts by introducing themselves to the person on their right and then asks a question, that person must then turn and introduce themselves and ask them a completely different question. If a person answers the question, pauses, laughs or repeats a question they are out.
  • Toilet paper: Pass around a roll of toilet papers and ask participants to “take as much as they need.” After the roll has been passed around to everyone, ask each participant to say one thing about themselves for each square of toilet paper they have, starting with their name. This can also be completed successfully with pieces of candy.

In any meeting, it is first important to create a safe space for participants. This happens when individuals feel accepted and protected, both physically and emotionally. When participants feel safe and comfortable they are more likely to be engaged in the learning and discussions. Icebreakers set the stage for three styles of learning; auditory (hearing), kinesthetic (tactile, moving and doing) and visual (seeing). They also build on strengths, encourage appropriate risk-taking in a safe environment and create an opportunity to practice skills where there is acceptance and fun.

To implement successful icebreakers a facilitator needs to create a positive environment; be enthusiastic, upbeat and positive – your attitude can become contagious! The icebreaker can set the tone for the rest of the meeting.

Icebreakers are teaching, learning and bonding tools. You can ask the group from the very beginning what “tone” they would like to have. You could ask the group if there are behaviors toward anyone that are unacceptable to the group. Focusing on the positive and what behaviors the group wants to see is valuable. Youth can sometimes come up with amazing positive things.

Michigan 4-H provides workshops and trainings for youth interested in leadership positions with a section that even focuses on icebreakers. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs contact your local MSU Extension office.

Have fun researching and implementing positive and fun icebreakers for your successful group interactions.

Other articles in the Icebreaker series: Part 2 – Energizing, Part 3 – Building Trust and Part 4 – Studying a Topic.

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