ICEBREAKERS to help participants get to know each other and better engage in an activity

By Nicholas Finley

When holding a retreat, conference, or any gathering it is important for everyone to stretch their social muscles in order to engage in the event with the proper positive attitude about the activity. "Ice-breakers" and similar activities are some of the best ways to help everyone loosen up a bit while helping participants get to know each other. These types of activities are always a bit awkward and perceived as somewhat "lame." As a leader of any of these activities, be sure to acknowledge the "lame-ness" while being fully committed to joining in the fun.

Some of the ideas listed are also fun games for "down time" at the event.

Note: If the very first icebreaker you do requires you to make a circle and has players' names involved, it might be a good idea to go around the circle and have each person loudly and clearly state their names for the benefit of all participating.

1. Bumpity-Bump-Bump-Bump: All participants form a circle. One person is designated as 'it'. The person who is 'it' is in the middle of the circle. They then begin to randomly choose a participant by pointing to that person and giving a direction (right, left, you, me) this direction is followed by the phrase, "Bumpity - Bump - Bump - Bump. The person chosen must give the name of the person designated by the direction given by the person in the middle of the circle.

Example: Frank, Suzie, George are standing next to each other in the circle in this order. This puts Suzie between George and Frank in the circle. Hannah who is 'it', and in the middle of the circle, points to Suzie. If the direction given by Hannah is 'right' Suzie ought to say George who is to her 'right'; 'left' of course would be Frank; 'me' would be Hannah; and last but not last 'you' would be Suzie herself. If Suzie does not say the person's name directed by Hannah before Hannah finishes saying the phrase 'Bumpity - Bump - Bump - Bump', then Suzie becomes it. This game is a good way to help everybody remember each other's names. This is good for introductory sessions to an event where there are many people who do not know each other.

2. The Quarter Game: Two teams are formed. Each team lines up and the two face inward toward the other team. The teams are then seated on the floor. There is the 'object of great price' (your choice: plastic water bottle, bean bag, stuffed animal). This 'object' is placed equidistant between the two lines at one of the extremities of the two lines.

Team members seated Indian style in a straight-line side-by-side hold hands. The opposite end of the lines from the bottle is the coin flipper. All team members on both teams are holding hands and the two team leaders who are the ones closest to the coin flipper are the only ones with their eyes open. All other team members have their eyes closed.

The coin flipper, when ready, begins flipping the coin (quarter preferably, but any coin will do). When the coin lands on tails the team leaders should do nothing. When the coin lands on heads the leaders squeeze the hand (firmly but gently) of the team member next to them. The squeeze must make it to the end of the line by the person receiving the squeeze on one hand to squeeze the next person's hand with their other hand. When the person closest to the 'object of great price' receives the squeeze on one hand he may then open his eyes and attempt to grab the object. The team who controls the object first receives one point. Play to a predetermined score. Seven is a good number, but may be altered based on time available and enthusiasm invested in the game at any given moment.

3. "How you doin?": The group forms a circle. One person begins by being it. This person begins by greeting the person directly next to them in the circle. It can be on either side, you decide. When greeting this person, the person says, "Hello, (name)! How are you doing?" The person who was greeted then responds with like greeting, "Hello, (name)! How are you doing?" These two then exchange the phrase "How are you doing?" alternately, three times. When this part of game is complete then the two proceed in opposite directions around the inside of circle. All others who are facing in are free to attempt to stop the person as they pass in front of them and to hold polite conversation. The two who are traveling in opposite directions are in a sort of race to attempt to get back to the open spot first. They are only obliged to be polite, but they need to try to get away from greeters in the circle quick (but polite) enough to make it back to the open space. The person who arrives last is then the greeter and chooses someone else to greet as described above, and the whole race is then repeated. Repeat this for as long as desired. This is another good way to reinforce remembrance of names.

4. "Have you ever?": This game follows similar principles as musical chairs. The person in the middle who is it begins with the question: "Have you ever: _____?" The blank is to be filled in with something that holds true for the person who is it. Examples are: "traveled abroad"; "been to rock concert"; "seen the ocean". Everyone who the statement holds true for, must exchange places with another person. The person who is it must move to a spot as well. One person will not be able to find a spot. He or She is then it. Repeat game as much as desired. This is a good way to introduce people to each other in a way that shows their experiences in the past.

5. People Bingo: Make a five by five grid, like a bingo card on a several cards. Fill in the center space as a free space. Fill all the other spaces in with things such as: "born in a different state," "youngest child in family," "fan of __(band)__," etc. All participating are to obtain a signature of one person from the group on each of the spaces to which the category applies. You may want to make a rule that a person may sign another person's card in no more than two spots. The first person to have a completed card wins.

6. Data Processing: Divide the group into smaller groups. Then have each group process each of the following data by having them either line up according to the order or to make a list of the people in the correct order. You can play as many rounds as you like. Each datum that is processed is one round. You can also come up with your own data.


  • Alphabetical by best friend's first name
  • Alphabetical according to favorite food
  • Length of hair
  • Shoe size
  • Birthdays
  • Numbers in last name
  • Length of thumb
  • This can be a good game to introduce everyone to interesting things about all participating.

7. Criminal Dealings: Design a system for secretly identifying the "criminal" and the "cop". You can use a deck of cards. You only need enough cards so each player may have one card. One card needs to be a jack - the criminal, and one needs to be an ace - the cop. All of the other cards should be below ten in rank. Let each person draw and keep a card, without showing it to anyone. The criminal needs to recruit other criminals by winking at them, but without getting caught by the cop. Any person who sees a wink is to wait a few seconds, so as not to be obvious, and then say, "I committed a crime." That person then turns in his card and is out of the game. Play continues until the criminal recruits all players without being caught by the cop, or the cop identifies the criminal. If the cop misidentifies the criminal, he loses the game.

8. Nametag Match Makers: If nametags are already provided, use them, or if you desire you can use 5" x 7" cards for nametags. Then give the following directions:
a. Put your name in the center of your card.
b. In the upper left corner, write your four things that you like to do.
c. In the upper right corner, write your four favorite singers or groups.
d. In the lower left corner, write your four favorite movies.
e. In the lower right corner, write four adjectives that describe you.

When everyone finishes, have them mingle as a group for a few minutes. Without talking, they are to read the upper left corner of the other group members' cards. When time is up, thy are to find one or two people who are most like them and visit for a few minutes. When time is up, they are to mingle again reading the upper right corner of the other group members' cards. They then find the one or two people most like them and visit. Repeat with the lower left corner and lower right corner information. To make sure everyone visits with several people, you could implement a rule that no two people can be in the same group more than once.

9. Knots of People: Divide the group into teams of 8 to 12 members. Have each person join right hands with another person in the group, but it has to be someone who is NOT standing immediately to the left or right of them. Then have each person join left hands with another person in the group, but it has to be someone who is NOT standing immediately to the left or right of them and someone other than before. Now the groups have to untangle themselves without letting go of hands. The may have to loosen their grips a little to allow for twisting and turning. They may have to step over or under other people. The first group to untangle their knot is the winner.

Special Note: There are four possible solutions to the knot
1. One large circle with people facing either direction.
2. Two interlocking circles
3. A figure eight.
4. A circle within a circle.

10. Back to back: Players stand about by pairs, except one player who is it. When 'it' calls, "Back to back!" the players must back up to a partner. When 'it' calls "Face to Face!" these partners must face each other and shake hands. On the next call "Back to back!" and each time here after, all players must change partners. 'It' tries to get a partner during the change. The player left out becomes 'it'.

11. Blanket Stand: Materials: Blanket; Spread out blanket; whole group must get on it so that no appendages are touching the ground off the blanket. If the group completes the 'stand', have them get off the blanket and fold the blanket in half. Repeat above process for as long as possible.

12. Blanket Toss: Materials: blanket and water balloon; All players should be standing around the blanket holding an edge. The leader of the game will throw water balloons into the air. The object of the game is to catch the water balloons in the blanket.

13. Fight for my attention: Two people are challenged to come up to the front of the room and the audience then to choose a topic (of their choice within reason or predetermined topics). The two people must talk about that topic for one minute in front of the crowd, BUT they are both talking about the topic AT THE SAME TIME! The audience must then vote on which person held their attention for longer.

14. Fool Your Family: Materials: One slip of paper for every player. Papers should be in groups of five, and each group represents a family, for example, the Smiths. So the first Smith paper would be Mr. Smith, the second Mrs. Smith, the third Brother Smith and so on. Each family should have a different last name but the same characters (i.e.) one mom and one dad. Each player is given one slip of paper and thy must walk around trading papers with everyone else in the room. They should try to make as many exchanges as possible, and they should not be looking at which papers they are receiving. The leader then calls out "Find you family" The players must find the other members in their family. When they have found them, they must sit in order from dad to baby in a line on the floor. The last family to sit down may be eliminated if you choose to do so. The leader may also give out specific instructions, for example "Find your family without talking".

15. Frozen Beanbag: Materials: bean bags; Players should be balancing beanbags on their heads. On the signal, players move around the area at their own pace. To change the pace or action, the leader can ask the campers to hop or skip. If the bean bag falls off a camper's head, that child is frozen. Another camper (the friend) must pick up the beanbag and replace it on the first person's head without losing his or her own bean bag. When the game is over ask the players how many times they helped their friends, or how many times their friends helped them.

16. King of the Mountain: Every one sits in a circle. Every one goes around the group and says their name (or a number; patron saints names). This allows everyone to learn everyone's name, in case they don't already know. After names (numbers, etc.) this stays with that seat/spot. The king is it or in the number one spot. He starts by saying the name (number, etc.) of a person.

It is suggested that there is a dialogue. Example: if using names, the king might say, "Amy do you want to leave?" answers, "no". The king then replies, "then who?" Amy would then take over and repeat this dialogue with another or the same player. "Scott do you want to leave?" Scott says, "no". Amy says, "then who?" It continues until somebody messes up. When some one messes up that person then goes to the end of the circle (the seat to the right of the king) and everybody else rotates up to where the person who messed up was sitting. Remember, when everyone moves there name stays at that seat/spot. It can get confusing to remember whose name goes with that seat. The goal is to try to keep your spot and move up to the king's spot.

As mentioned previously, if desired numbers can also be used and the dialogue need not be mandatory. For instance the king is 1 and everyone else numbers around the circle out loud before the round begins. The king might call 8. Eight would say 5. Five would say 8. Eight would say 2. And so on, until somebody forgets what number they are and they have thus messed up. They go to the last spot. To make it more interesting you might add in that a person may not call another person who is sitting next to them, therefore when they do that is a mess up as well. Play on until you feel you've had enough. Warning: it might be a while.

17. St. Peter the Aleut: This is a game that we decided might be a fun variation of "King of the Mountain" above. In this case you would use everyone's patron saints. The king is now St. Peter the Aleut. And everyone goes around the circle to St. Peter's left telling everyone his or her patron saint. Then the fun begins. St. Peter will say, "St. Mary of Egypt". St. Mary of Egypt might say, "St. Timothy". St. Timothy might say, "St. Paul".

18. Ghost: Three or four players are chosen to be ghosts. The rest of the group needs to scatter across the playing space and choose a spot to stand in. All players need to close their eyes. The ghosts will roam about the playing space. They will try to haunt the people by standing close behind the players for 10 seconds without them knowing. For the timing the Ghost must count to himself silently 10 one-thousand, 9 one-thousand, and so on to zero. If he remains behind them without them knowing for this ten second period, the ghost will tap them on their head and they will sit down quietly. If a person suspects a person behind them they would ask, "Is there a ghost behind me?" If they are right, the ghost should say, "yes", then that person becomes a ghost. If they are wrong they are out and should sit down. This is a great game if you want to slow and quiet things down a bit.

19. Guess Who: Materials: pieces of paper with names on them, and tape; Each player needs a name taped to their back. The object of the game is to figure out who you are. Everyone goes around and asks the other players questions. The players can only answer yes or no. This game is great when a theme is incorporated. (ex. Cartoon characters, book characters)

20. Ha Ha Ha: This is a contagious laughing game. Player #1 lies on their back and places their head on the belly of player #2. Player #2 then place their head on the belly of player #3 and so on. Players should end up lying in a zig zag formation. Now the first person (player #1) shouts, "ha!" and the next person (player #2) answers with, "ha ha!" …etc. Soon everyone loses control and starts laughing hysterically.

21. Human Pinball: Materials: Ball; All players stand in a circle, facing outwards. Spread your legs as wide as comfortable until your feet are touching your neighbors on either side. Everyone bend down and swing your arms between your legs (flippers). The one person left over enters the circle as the moveable target. The flippers try to hit him by knocking a ball back and forth across the circle. If the target is hit, the person who hit him goes in the circle and becomes the new target.

22. I am the Captain: Materials ball; The players are numbered in a circle with the captain standing in the center. The captain says, "I am the Captain and I have lost my hat, and I think that number ? has it." The captain then throws the ball to that person. As soon as the ball has been caught, they must say, "who sir/maam, not me sir/maam", before the Captain says, "Back to the end of the line." If the player does not say their line, then the player must go to the end of the number order and everyone gets bumped up a number. If the player does say, "who sir/maam, not me sir/maam", before the captain can say their line, then the captain will continue the conversation saying, "yes, you sir/maam." The player replies, "Oh not I sir/maam." The captain asks, "If not you sir/maam then who maam?" The player answers, "Number ? sir/maam" and throws the ball to that player. This game can also be played using names instead of numbers.

23. Jelly Roll: This game is ideal for groups that either don't feel completely comfortable with one another, or are difficult to assemble quickly. Divide the large group into smaller groups by means of color of clothing, birthdays, or counting to group them together. Probably no larger number than 10 in each group; Have them get into these groups, hold hands in one long line and then roll from one end to the other into a "jelly roll" and sit down. This can be used when you need to explain something, break them into groups quickly etc. All you need to do is yell "jelly roll".

24. Group Sit: Form a circle, shoulder close to people beside you. Everyone turn 90 degrees to the left. Put hands on person's hips. Everyone sits down on the knees of the person behind them. Try to sit, stand up, turn around and sit down again. Then try to walk while in lap sit.

25. Leader: All participants sit in a large circle. A person is picked to be it. He leaves the room or sits with this back to the circle. The group then decides on a leader who is to start a motion in which all the children copy. Examples are slapping knees, winking eyes, clapping hands. The motion can and should change occasionally and all in group should copy the leader immediately so as not to give away who the leader is. The person who is it comes in to try to guess who is the leader of the motion. The person who is it has three guesses to attempt to determine the leader. If 'it' guesses correctly then the leader becomes 'it'. If 'it' does not guess correctly a new game is started by choosing a new 'it'.

26. Missing Person: One player stands blindfolded in the center of the room. Have the other children stand in a circle or a line. Have the children switch places in the circle and take one person out of the room. Then unblindfold the person in the center, and give him or her one minute to name the missing player. Let the person who was removed now be blindfolded. Depending on the number of players and the time constraints it might be advisable to alter the length of time the person in the middle has to guess. Thirty seconds might be a better time length to keep attentions on the game.

27. Name Train: The players form one circle. The leader begins to meet people by shuffling like a train across the circle, stopping when he or she comes face to face with a player. The leader will say to the player for example, "Hi, my name is Al". The person facing the leader returns with, "Hi Al, my name is John." The leader raises one arm and then the other saying, "John, …John, John, John,John,John,John." The leader turns and John now holds on to the back of Al and both shuffle out across the circle. Keep repeating until everyone has joined the circle.

28. Silly Sally: Have everybody participating make a circle. The leader explains that Silly Sally has a really cool club. The only way that the campers can join is if they can figure out what Sally likes and doesn't like. Sally only likes things that have double letters in them. Sally likes soccer but she doesn't like golf. Sally likes bananas but Sally doesn't like beans etc.

29. No see 'ems: Materials: tarp and blanket. Group is divided in half. Leaders hold up a tarp so that the two groups are unable to see each other (hence the name no see 'em's). One person from each group crawls up to the tarp and puts their nose up to it. The leaders drop the tarp and the two people must shout out the other person's name. The person who says the correct name first takes the other person to their team.