Icebreakers are a critical element of any workshop, class, or similar situation that would be improved by the participants feeling comfortable with each other. While the primary purpose of an icebreaker is to do exactly what their title indicates, break the ice between people, teachers or facilitators can use icebreakers to accomplish this goal in many different manners, while also furthering discussion of the topic at hand.
Among other purposes, icebreakers can be used to:
- help participants or students become familiar with each another,
- encourage participants to recognize and build upon their shared characteristics or interests,
- do a needs assessment or establish goals,
- start a session with brainstorming about the topic in a fun, interactive way,
- facilitate sharing information or views on the topic,
- energize participants,
- ease tension after a particularly difficult discussion,
- transition between topics to allow participants to clear their minds and shift their thoughts to the next subject, and
- separate participants into groups of a particular composition or number.
Depending on the purpose for which they are used, icebreakers can be as short as one minute, or developed into a longer activity of an hour or more. There is always the opportunity to discuss, debrief, reflect, and allow the icebreaker to serve as an introduction to a heavier, more in-depth topic.
While numerous icebreakers can be found online through an Internet search, we have posted some sample icebreakers here. These have been divided by the purpose for which we use them, and some of the icebreakers are duplicated if they fit into more than one category.