I recall the first time I facilitated a group of adults. I was nervous and anxious-a real mess. This was a room filled with strangers-a group in which the only thing they had in common[on the surface] was the fact that they were all parents and caregivers of youth with SED [Serious Emotional Disturbances]diagnoses. This was our very first meeting and once per week, we would find ourselves back here again.
The logical first step was the introduction. The parents needed to know who I was and what brought me there. What did I want from them and what empty promises was I expected to make?
Before parents and participants engage and disclose, an example of what that looks like is needed. We can’t dictate to parents what we wish they’d tell us without that first step. Modeling these types of behaviors and attitudes requires a certain vulnerability. Facilitators who allow themselves to be vulnerable in the presence of strangers are demonstrating their own willingness to confront the silence. No one wants to be the first person to speak, thus be vulnerable.
Icebreakers can play an important role in helping people integrate and connect with one another in a group environment. Icebreakers can also enhance your teaching by helping to stimulate cooperation and participation. Icebreakers can provide positive momentum for small group study and discussion by:
• Helping a new group get to know one another.
• Helping new members to integrate into a group.
• Helping young people feel comfortable together.
• Encouraging cooperation.
• Encouraging listening to others.
• Encouraging working together.
• Encouraging young people to break out of their cliques.
• Developing social skills.
• Building a rapport with leaders.
• Be enthusiastic, whatever happens, be enthusiastic!
• Choose volunteers carefully and don’t cause embarrassment.
• If something is not working move quickly on to the next activity.
• Timing is important. Don’t flog them to death. Use only 2 or 3 icebreakers as a 20-30 minutes introduction. Finish each icebreaker while people are still enjoying it.
• Choose icebreakers appropriate for your age group. No group is the same and your understanding of what will and will not work with your group is a core skill.
Depending on your audience, you may choose to incorporate one or two of the icebreaker activities below into your engagement practices.
Pose the following to your group:
‘You’ve been exiled to a deserted island for a year. In addition to the essentials, you may take one piece of music, one book ( not the Bible) and one luxury item you can carry with you[no boat to leave the island!] What would you take and why?‘
Allow a few minutes for the group to draw up their list of three items, before sharing their choices with the rest of the group. As with most icebreakers and relationship building activities, it’s good for facilitators to join in too!
There you are, sitting or standing before a group of adults[or youth] and you don’t have a clue who these people are. You’d like to start out by introducing yourself, if this is indeed a first time meeting. After that, then what?
Naturally, there is an inclination to ask each participant to introduce themselves to the group, one at a time. But, not every person is comfortable with the self-introduction. Some of us find it difficult to find the ‘appropriate’ things to say. Where does one begin, and what is one to reveal?
Your group is gathered for some common purpose, but the group is unique in many ways. Each person is unique. Group processes inform us that task-oriented groups flow through stages of development and along that continuum, cohesion among them is desired. In support groups, each participant has the opportunity to expand social capital, build a support network and experience some measure of personal growth, as well.
In the earliest stages of the group process are the ‘getting to know you’ sessions. This happens gradually. Depending on the type of group, and the purpose for the group, there are a variety of strategies which are helpful in easing the tension and facilitate discussion.
I like to ask questions. When you don’t know something, the best way to find out is to ask. Questioning others shouldn’t be too invasive or personal in the first meetings, because you want your members to return. Avoid posing those ‘too much-too soon’ questions which require self-disclosure, get too far ‘up in people’s business’, and are personally too sensitive. Keep it light.
Questions may range from what may seem to be trivial to more serious content, appropriate to the stage of the group in its development. On the way, you might discover some interesting things about your group! There are different variations of this exercise, which may be adapted for children, youth and adults. Simply tailor your questions and topics.
Each person may answer a selected question or everyone can respond to the same question. It will encourage conversation, and parents may be pleasantly surprised at how much they may have in common with one another. After asking each question, follow up with the question, “Why?” It will be the responses to this question that will be revealing in subtle ways, and insightful. In between each question, invite others to comment for a mini discussion. Caution everyone to refrain from being judgmental and make it clear that there are no right or wrong answers.
“Would you rather..?”
• Be filthy rich or happy?
• Watch TV or listen to music?
• Own a health food restaurant or an organic green garden?
• Take an all-expense paid vacation to Paris or Nigeria?
• Be invisible or be able to read minds?
• Move your family into the heart of the city or live in the country?
• Be the most popular or the smartest person you know?
• Make headlines for saving somebody’s life or winning a Nobel Prize?
• Go without television or fast food for the rest of your life?
• Your child becoming a musician or professional sports player?
• Always be cold or always be hot?
• Not hear or not see?
• Eliminate hunger and disease or be able to bring lasting world peace?
• Be stranded on a deserted island alone or with someone you don’t like?
• See the future or change the past?
• Be a teacher or a student?
• Commute by car or by bus or train?
Each of the above questions can spark serious discussions and depending on your topic, you may be able to segue into another area of focus. By the time discussions center on parenting or their child’s learning process at school, they will have developed their voice and are better prepared to more freely and openly advocate for their child and themselves.
Pose this question:
“If you could meet any person in history, who would that person be and why?”
That question is not only an icebreaker, conversation starter, and fun way to begin meetings, it is also very revealing. You gain some insights into another person’s values, desires, character traits, whom they respect, and exactly how ‘deep’ they are. The chosen person can be famous or not so famous. This can lead to a multitude of ideas and topics for future sessions or meetings, and invites minimal vulnerability. Exposing one’s self can be frightening, but when it’s cloaked in fun, barriers break down, walls fall, and we invite connections with others.
The Miracle Question
Pose this question:
” If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and the school setting was as you thought it should be, what would it look like? What would have changed and how would you know that it’s different?”
Listen, take notes and check for a similar theme or consensus among the group. Remember their vision and begin to plan and design program sessions around their ideas. Not only are icebreakers a wise choice for easing tension that will always exist in the early stages of task-oriented groups. Not limited to adults, these warm-up exercises can work wonders in youth and in the classroom.
And so the engagement begins! Do you have any ‘go-to’ icebreakers? Share in the comments section.