Challenging and Fun Classroom Ice Breakers
Our whole life is solving puzzles.
Dr. John Henrick Clarke, a Pan-Africanist writer, historian, and professor, once said A good teacher, like a good entertainer, first must hold his audience's attention, then he can teach his lesson. This is precisely what teachers must embrace to set the tone for a successful classroom learning experience. If an instructor opens with a challenging, yet purposeful activity, student focus will not easily stray from the lesson.
Through the years, I have come across a few ice breakers that have challenged the brightest of minds. Used in association with a lesson concept, they can engage students in lively discussions and lead to further topic investigation. Almost everyone loves solving puzzles; it leads to fulfillment and satisfaction of one's ability to arrive at solutions. In short, they are entertainment and lots of good fun.
Teaching with Purpose
Using ice breakers in a group setting should teach something of value, introduce a concept, and meet an objective. In order to ensure it is successful and encourages creative thinking and involvement, guidelines must be followed. Here are some tips I find useful:
- Keep opening ice breakers to a maximum of ten minutes. Sometimes you have to wrap up the challenge without an outcome to keep to your schedule. If the it is during class it may last as long as twenty minutes, depending upon the goal of your activity.
- Make it fun. Be enthusiastic about the challenge. If you present it with excitement and encourage fun participation your students will find it worth trying.
- It should not make people feel uncomfortable. If this is your first time teaching a group you may want to provide hints or lead them to the solution.
- Encourage a team spirit, competition is sometimes needed but should be monitored for cooperation.
- Build relationships and trust. Your activity should lead to students interacting with each other and making connections as fellow classmates.
- Meet individual and group needs. Choose an activity appropriate for your group's diverse needs, age, skills, physical abilities, and interests.
- Involve all members. You may have to allow for those who are a bit shy. I usually have them do something less active such as keep score or time instead.
- Room set-up and props: Some activities require movement or space, sometimes both. I also suggest you have all your props out and ready to go, especially if it is an opening activity. Remember to keep your props simple (i.e., wad of paper for a ball). The ice breakers I picture here can be drawn on a whiteboard or chart paper. Be creative in design!
Is it the truth or a lie about this author?
One of the most popular games with teens is any variation of a truth or lie investigation. They enjoy guessing what kind of person the interviewee is and whether they can tell they are lying. The easiest form is a true or false question activity. One simply makes either a true or false statement about themselves and chooses a person in the room to answer. Another option is to pick a name out of a decorated box to answer.
I have also played this game by giving three statements about myself and asking which is not true. This is a bit harder to discern but lots of fun. It also requires some creative thought from those who are making the statements. The quiz posted in this section is an example. (Hey, you may discover something new about me, or not.) This is a great ice breaker for introducing people to each other since it requires connecting names with faces.
The set of word challenges below are good visuals for older college-age students. The phrases are simple enough but probably not something younger scholars would understand.
Using an overhead projector, I give participants a few minutes to write out the answer to each one. I then have students place results in a box. We discuss the possible answers before I give them the solutions. I do have more complicated word puzzles but they would require greater description and design.
Note: I have placed the solution to all ice breakers at the end of the article. Some may be harder than others but I have confidence you can think them through. It's pretty tempting, but try not to look ahead!
What Is This?
This one I use as students enter class or to revive student interest between class activities. It is a non-threatening challenge and allows students to exercise their brain. Drawing it on a board requires just a few seconds and little artistic talent. It's much fun and sets a positive flow for the class session. Don't think too hard about this one!
Is It Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?
I have loads of fun with this one every time I post it for students to solve. After a minute or so, I will allow them to ask if it is either an animal, vegetable, or mineral. I'll give you a hint. It is not a mineral! You can allow for probing, such as is it bigger than or smaller than inquiries. To make if even more interesting, toss a foam ball out and have them take turns tossing it to other classmates to answer. If it is a new class, ask them to say their name first before answering.
It Is Definitely an Animal!
My how the mind does work when it comes to this simple visual. It could be anything, yet nothing. I used color on this one so it is easier on the imagination (You can guess what animal it is, right?)
If one knows his or her history this will be an easy guess. This can be used as a math opener or to teach Spanish "value". I'm sure you can think of other uses for this creative artwork.
So Much Work to Accomplish!
College students are challenged by this puzzle. It is so simple yet many over think the solution. There are a couple of correct answers, maybe even three that would fit this puzzle.
Challenge of the Week
Now this ice breaker requires a longer period of time to solve. I have yet to have anyone come up with the right answer on their own. I post this on day one of the week, knowing it will take all five days before we can arrive at the solution.
It is a good way to get people talking to each other in the classroom. It also requires people to think beyond the normal view of logic. I admit the solution is off the wall!
Taxing the Mind
Oh how the world does spin and pitch when it comes to asking the right question! When I first saw this picture, it really threw me for a loop. I thought about it over and over but could not come to a solution. The student who presented it to me finally did relent and put me out of my misery.
As you may assume, this is more appropriate for high school or college level audiences. Placing students in teams and providing them with paper and pencils generates creative thinking. Challenges like this bring people who know each other quite well together to re-familiarize themselves for further classroom discussions or projects.
There are quite a few variations online (Now, some of you will may be tempted to search the net for the answer. It's okay, this is a tough one!) I hope you are much better and quicker than I was at getting through the gate.
Life or Death Choices
Wrapping it Up
If you do an online search for ice breakers the results will be endless. I'm sure you can share a few good ones you have either used in a learning situation or as a fun opening activity. Please do write them in the comment section. I would love to read them.
In summary, here are the benefits of using ice breakers in any learning environment:
- Quality Solutions: Groups bring knowledge, skills, and a vast range of ideas together to solve problems. It stimulates minds to come up with better solutions.
- Cognitive Value: As you present new challenges to students, such as an ice breaker between sessions or as a "break" from class learning, they will restore cognitive vitality. It refreshes the mind and enables the brain to rejuvenate.
- Bias Diminished: Group participation encourages people to consider other acceptable ways of thinking. Individual bias at times is challenged by the group and forces that person to open his or her thoughts to possibilities and change of thought.
- Communication: Listening skills are sharpened through interaction with others during these activities. As planning takes place students are forced to contribute ideas and share from experience. This helps them relax and approach each other easily as the course continues.
Ice Breaker Activity
Simple Starters (from top left to bottom right
Once over lightly, Short-wave radio, Arch enemy, Small pox, Mixed company, Aluminum siding
Man in tuxedo who stood too close to elevator door
Spider doing a handstand
Pig emerging from a fog bank
Pieces of eight (Spanish coin)
Three degrees below zero
Aerial view of used bathtub lot
Life or Death Choice
If I were to ask the other watchman which road leads to heaven's gate, what would he say? The liar will lie about what the truth-teller will say, and point you to the road that goes to hell. The truth teller will tell the truth about how the liar will give you the wrong road and would also point you to the gate of hell. Thus, take the other door!
© 2016 Dianna Mendez
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