Icebreakers and Cultural Games

June 15, 2009 By: Jane Dunham

Try these Icebreakers and Cultural Games
Buzz – Players are seated in a circle of chairs facing the center. One player starts counting with "1," the next player says "2," and so on around the circle. Any player who has a number with "7" in it or which is divisible by seven calls out "Buzz" instead of the number. Any player making a mistake starts over again with "1." Play to see how far this group can count without making a mistake or end at a certain number, perhaps "50."
Dragontail - Each team lines up, one behind the other. Participants put their arms around the waist of the teammate ahead of them. The last person on each team has a handkerchief in the back of his belt. The idea is to try to steal another team's handkerchief, but not let your own be stolen.
Mummy Wrap – Get a bunch of inexpensive toilet paper and form teams of about 5 or 6 people. One person is chosen on each team to be "It," and the job of the rest of the team is to wrap that person completely in toilet paper, leaving no visible clothing or skin (the nose can be covered in such a way that air gets up and under). The team that completes the job first wins.
Nearly 50 more games to explore! (66kb Icon DOC 16)

What are Icebreakers?

  1. They are mixers that help people to learn something about each other
  2. They are relatively short
  3. They usually start off the program

What can Icebreakers Do?

  1. They help program participants relax and get into a receptive spirit.
  2. They emphasize introducing participants to one another and giving some commonalities for later friendships and team building
  3. They let the leader assess the participants and see how active and "free-wheeling" people will be in later exercises
  4. They energize the group for the program to follow

Considerations in Planning Icebreakers

  1. Composition of the group
    • English skills
    • Male and female numbers
    • How reserved, self-confident
    • Age
  2. Expectations of the group
    • How involved do they feel in participating? (E.g. attendees at a dance party may not feel obligated to participate in games)
    • What do they want the total program to do for them?
  3. Nature of the program
    • Are "warm fuzzies" appropriate?
    • Does the group have anything to gain by becoming acquainted with each other?
    • Look for icebreakers that fit into the ultimate goal of the program; use icebreakers that relate to the learning goal. Plan the rest of the program first and then find an icebreaker that fits into the program.
  4. Length of the program
    • Icebreakers can be 30-60 minutes for a week-long retreat; for a half-day session, keep them to about 10 minutes

Things to Be Careful about in Using Icebreakers with International Students

  1. Be sure the exercise is not culture-specific. (E.g. asking people to find their partners in the group, "Famous Couples" -- Sonny and Cher, John Denver and Annie, Abbott and Costello -- requires culture-specific knowledge).
  2. Avoid exercises that involve a lot of physical contact. This can be especially threatening across the gender divide for people from some cultures.
  3. Don't use icebreakers that cause embarrassment or a sense of failure. (E.g. some international students might not feel comfortable doing anything that involves taking off shoes or accessories).
  4. Don't let the icebreakers drag on. When the point has been made, move on. Notice when interest is waning or the group is not really "getting it," and move to something else. If everyone hasn't been introduced in some way and interest is lagging, find a way to push the icebreaker to a conclusion while giving everybody a chance to be known to the others.

Types of Icebreakers

  1. Personality Report: Individuals contribute information about themselves
  2. Personality Clue: Indicators of the personality are given (e.g., how they perform, what others say about them, etc.)