Designing Ice Breaker Activities

The time has finally arrived for my colleagues and I to resume in-person workshops. The Covid-19 guidelines are stressful but we are managing to keep everyone as safe and as comfortable as possible. We were given our first training assignment since the beginning of the pandemic and we were quickly able to string together a rather robust workshop.

We brainstormed, edited & printed materials and re-familiarized ourselves with the subjects. We created a PSA and emailed all participants about the new guidelines for “office etiquette”. All that was left was the creation of introduction, we always use a silly ice breaker. It was decided that we would ask the following question:


Where will you be working?

What new hobby or skill did you pick up during the quarantine?

The participants all had great responses and we shared a few laughs, mostly at my expense! I attempted grilling some expensive steaks and ended up with a hockey puck.

Reflecting on the workshop thus far, it dawned on me that our ice breakers are always purely for entertainment and a “get to know you” . I have never truly designed and ice breaker as a learning moment pertaining to the material we are covering.

My feelings are mixed, everything should tie to the workshops goals but I enjoy being silly too much to let it go! Have you ever given thought to the strategy behind an icebreaker and designed material around it? or am i just overthinking something intended to be simple and fun?

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash


Hi Dan! I’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking about ice breakers. I find that ice breakers are a useful opportunity for assessment, to get an idea of where learners are coming from. For example, when I was teaching ESL, icebreakers allowed me to get a sense of how comfortable students were speaking in English and the range of their existing vocabulary. For other subjects, a mix of thematic and silly questions could provide a sense of both personality and relevant experience. That said, I don’t think the rapport-building value of ice breakers can be overstated. Getting to know each other and being silly can promote a sense of community and openness that will make everything that comes after a little bit easier. Thanks for getting me thinking!

The sense of community concept is real! Even people that work in the same building often don’t know their peers. I like that icebreakers at least attempt to bring a sense of community into a room.

That is an interesting reflection!
I think the purpose of an icebreaker- getting to know peers and developing a sense of community- warrants a more “relaxed fit.” You are establishing an environment to support learning.
If you can find a way to connect the introductory activity directly to the learning goals, then all the better!

Sometimes those goals are not exactly the most fun. Sometimes learners are there because the “have to be there”. Either way..No harm in tossing in a fun ice breaker to at least get people talking.

Hi Dan,

Your title drew me in and I enjoyed reading your thoughts about ice breakers. The group I am working on was developed about a year ago and we are all fairly new so ice breakers have been constant especially since we can’t be in the office together. Our group takes turns asking individuals to run Monday morning ice breaker meeting and I struggle every time it is my turn. There have been a lot of get to know you question and I am always trying to find something different and more hands on.

To speak to the question at the end of your post, I do not believe you have to tie ice breakers to the training. Part of the experience is just to get to know your learners so you can make the training more relatable to them. I do wonder if you have an idea of an ice breaker that could be tied to tour learning objectives? It is an interesting thought and would be interesting to see something implemented in the future.

Definitely got me thinking now,

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