Training Tips: De-briefing an Icebreaker

Icebreaking activities and energizers should always be de-briefed, or else they’re just wasting participants’ valuable time.

When I led workshops with professionals in the foster care system, I would often use an icebreaking activity that required participants to close their eyes and, as a group the participants were given instructions to count up to 15.  However, if two (or more) participants spoke at the same time, they would have to start all over.  This is a surprisingly difficult challenge, and after about 5 minutes of counting, re-starting, and counting again, I allowed participants to open their eyes.  This made the challenge a little easier, and after one or two more attempts, most groups would be able to count from 1 to 15 without two or more participants speaking up at the same time.

Once this activity was completed, I simply asked: what do you think this activity has to do with the foster care system?  It got participants thinking and offering all sorts of answers.  The answers participants offered during this icebreaking activity were then referred to over and over again throughout the remainder of the multi-day session.

When I led youth leadership conferences, I watched in awe as a colleague held the attention of 50 6th and 7th grade students packed onto a tour bus, rolling through the streets of Washington, DC, with this simple activity:

“Right now, we’re driving by the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on the left-hand side of the bus.  There is a frozen yogurt machine in the center of the building.  Do any of you know why there is a frozen yogurt machine in the center of the building?”

The students began to shout out answers such as:

  • “President Reagan loved jelly beans.  Maybe they have jelly bean-flavored frozen yogurt.”
  • “Frozen yogurt is supposed to be healthier than ice cream.  Maybe it’s an ironic commentary on President Reagan’s nutrition program. Reagan tried to label ketchup as a vegetable.”

Whether the activity is counting while having your eyes closed or coming up with reasons that a frozen yogurt machine would be located in a federal building or something equally as stimulating, simply asking participants to attempt to connect the activity to the topic at hand can lead to conversations that are fun and relevant.

The Train Like A Champion blog is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  These brief “Training Tip” posts are a series of quick reference tips that are published while your beloved Train Like A Champion blogger is currently enjoying a little vacation.  The more in-depth posts will resume again in August.

2 thoughts on “Training Tips: De-briefing an Icebreaker

  1. Fantastic Brian! I am a big fan of calling this type of an activity an “opener” instead of an ice breaker. Ice breakers are great for parties where you can get people to stop thinking about other things happening in life and allow them to interact and engage with one another. An opener does these things but then makes sure what we are doing is relevant to the content. Since our time is so valuable, shouldn’t we always use openers?

    • Thanks Scott – yes, I’m with you, the term “ice breaker” doesn’t seem to fit very well in a professional development setting (but I chose it intentionally for the blog for two reasons: 1) because I think a lot of people use that term and therefore 2) from a search engine optimization standpoint – yes a cheap tactic to try driving a little traffic to this blog post!).

      Whatever they’re called, I definitely think they need to have some sort of connection to the learning at hand. Our learners’ time is definitely valuable (as you mention)!

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