Ice Breakers, Warm-Ups, & Energizers

It is a cliché, but first impressions count. This is as true in the classroom, or workshop session, as it is anywhere else. Added to this is the fact that participants in either context may well arrive with preconceptions and doubts. As such, how the learning process begins can have significant impacts on the subsequent experience for all concerned – the students/participants and the teacher/facilitator. Beginnings occur not only at the outset of the course or workshop, but also the start of each part of it (class, module, workshop, day…). And similar considerations may apply during the learning process – as the day or even the class/session draws on and the participants become tired, bored, de-motivated, etc.

One approach to dealing with these issues is through the use of ‘activities’, which cover a variety of contexts and purposes, both at the start of a session and at points during it. There are many subtle difference between types of these activities and, consequently, there is a range of terminology that is not always used entirely consistently. Nevertheless, here are some examples:

Icebreaker:
“A quick way to help everyone get acquainted; establishes a precedent for participation and discussion; establishes rapport; sets positive expectations.”
Warm-up:
“Quick to facilitate; fun and lighthearted; prepare learners for involvement in a specific learning activity; often point out the need for learning the subject matter.”
Energizers:
“Offer a brief diversion; create a physical relief valve; rejuvenators for the body and mind; great for recharging the group’s energy level.”

Charles, C.L. and Clarke-Epstein, C. “The Instant Trainer” (McGraw-Hill, 1998), pp. 231-232

Other terms include ‘openers’, ‘introductions’, and ‘team-building activities’. For such activities at the start of a course or session, a number of aims can be achieved:

  • “Warm up (energize) the participants and thus put them at ease; learning proceeds best when learners are ready to learn.”
  • “Set the tone for the program and indicate whether the program will be participative, sit-and-listen, or some mixture of these approaches to learning.”
  • “Indicate who has responsibility for learning. You want to communicate that the trainer is a facilitator and that only the participant can assume responsibility for what is learned.”
  • “Communicate immediately the kind of trainer you are – relaxed or compulsive, friendly or distant, super-sober or fun to be with, subject matter or participant orientated.”
  • “May provide later linkage with a particular topic or session; for example, an icebreaker that deals with values can serve as a bridge to such topics as motivation, career planning, management philosophy, and leadership style.”

Eitington, J.E. ‘The Winning Trainer’ 4 Edn. (Butterworth Heinemann, 2002), p. 2.

A number of resource books of all such activities exist:

  • Christian, S., Tubesing, N.L., Instant Icebreakers: 50 Powerful Catalysts for Group Interaction and High-Impact Learning (Whole Person Associates, 1997) ISBN 1570251258
  • Kroehnert, G. ‘Basic Training for Trainers’ 3rd Edn. (McGraw Hill, 2000) ISBN 0074709135
  • Kroehnert, G. ‘100 Training Games’ (McGraw Hill, 1991) ISBN. 0074527703
  • Kroehnert, G. ‘101 More Training Games’ (McGraw Hill, 1999) ISBN 0074707493
  • Newstrom, J.W., Scannell, E.E. ‘Even More Games Trainers Play: Experiential Learning Exercises’ (McGraw-Hill, 1994)
  • Newstrom, J.W., Scannell, E.E. ‘Games Trainers Play: Experiential Learning Exercises’ (McGraw-Hill, 1980)