Any time I happen to start an off-line course, the very first session inevitably opens with this or that type of an ice-breaker. Honestly, I am ok with those games in general, as long as I don’t have to take part in throwing an imaginary ball, repeat dance movements together with all the fourteen names people have already called out, or hectically try to come up with two facts of my life accompanied with a seemingly-true-to-life lie. What’s the deal with those activities? Do we really need them so much?

My humblest opinion

To start with, I am an introvert. It goes well with working with people, but it makes me reluctant to open up straight ahead. Moreover, lots of people I have talked to (adults and teenagers) share my concerns. Sometimes it feels like a waste of time; sometimes it makes you feel awkward; sometimes it is an engaging activity, but you are not in that creative/playful mood to participate.
As a careful reader may have already noticed, I am not a big fan of warm-ups. But to be fair, let’s have a closer look.

Pros (and cons)

  • You will learn your peers’ names. (though, you may forget half of the names in the worst moment and feel bad about it);
  • You have a chance to move around and actively participate. (or you just got to the training place after a long commute and you are happy with your chair so far);
  • You may learn some useful information about other people. (or spend your time looking for a person using a toothbrush of the same colour);
  • It will create a positive atmosphere when people get more open and the ice is finally broken. (or it won’t; it depends).

Think twice

So, when is organizing a warm-up activity worth its time and effort? I believe a few requirements should be met:
– the group is totally new, all people have met for the first time. So, a group which continues the course (even if there are two new people) is not the best audience for an ice-breaker. Or if it is the first week of school and they already had a few teachers with ice-breakers.
– the activity is age- and culture-appropriate. Even if we want to demonstrate teachers some activity for young learners, it does not mean that we all have to sit in a circle on the carpet and say our name along with an animal sound.
– type of activity is suitable for the number of students. No point in making all students ask one person question if the group is big and it would take forever. Snowball games are not that effective if it’s over fifteen people.
– everyone gets about the same experience. Don’t make one person a star of the day while others don’t get the portion of ‘fame’ or attention.
– the ice-breaker content is useful. It should reveal something you, as a teacher or a trainer, can use later. It should give your students some important details about peers.

All the above-mentioned factors bring me to the simple idea that ice-breakers for the sake of ice-breakers do not justify the time spent. Sometimes it may be better to dive into the topic all of the participants come together for. Introduce yourself and get to business without further ado. You will inevitably learn the names on the way, so would everyone else.

My year with no ice-breakers

This academic year, starting in a new school, I haven’t done a single ice-breaker. I introduced myself, the course and just started the lesson. I had a list with names, I was calling names trying to remember who is who, on the way learning to pronounce those I didn’t get from the first try. It was totally ok, at some point even more appropriate for a high school class to set the serious mode. And yes, on a sunny day in a couple of weeks we went to the garden, made a circle sitting on the ground and were playing ‘Never have I ever’ which may be another example of ice-breakers, and it let me know my students much better, but did not feel artificial or weird. Just another activity to open up a bit more.

Some thoughts about classroom management from the times of my job at primary school

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