Icebreakers, Energizers, and Other Interactive Games

Credits CC Last Updated 2014-03

A practical, and growing, guide to interactive activities digital security trainers can use during their events to keep energy high, discussion flowing, and participants comfortable.

Have feedback on this content? Does something need updating?

Leave a note anywhere on this page - look for the Hypothes.is toolbar in the upper right-hand corner.

Have content you'd like to share with other trainers?

Email us at levelup@riseup.net (GPG public key here) or read our guide on Contributing to LevelUp.

 

Including interactive exercises as part of training sessions can be a powerful teaching tool - whereas all people learn differently (in addition to cultural and regional differences), making training workshops fun and interactive is an effective training approach for most participants.

Why Interactive Exercises?

These are exercises that facilitators and trainers can employ to encourage participants to be more relaxed with each other, become (re-) energised and engaged, and to help break up the pace of the day. There are 3 main types of interactive exercises that are used frequently during digital security trainings:

Icebreakers

As the name implies, Icebreakers are meant to “break the ice” and are usually fun “getting to know you” games and activities - they also help participants get to know their commonalities and differences in a fun way. Participants who are relaxed with each other and their trainer(s) learn better. When you have participants who are less inhibited and more comfortable in the training space, you can expect to have a training that has maximum participation and interactivity.

Energizers

Trainers can help break up the pace of the day with fun interactive sessions called Energizers. Energizers are especially useful after lunch or long periods of sitting, when the group energy is frequently at its lowest and/or participants can seem to be the most disengaged. Energizers are also useful when the group, trainer included, simply needs a fun break from training sessions.

Topic-Based Interactive Games (or Activities)

More customised activities relevant to specific training topics are known as Topic-Based Interactive Games (or Activities in the ADIDS methodology.

When using ADIDS to design your training sessions for adult learners, you will need to design or use pre-existing Activities based on the topic of your session. These will then lead into a Discussion about that particular activity, which is one of the main things that distinguishes these activities from Icebreakers and Energizers.

These activities can be compelling “A-ha!” moments for participants, especially when using a well-designed activity to illuminate complex technical concepts or systems. Sometimes Icebreakers and Energizers can also serve this purpose - for example, a well-designed Spectrogram can be used as an Icebreaker exercise (To learn more, see our Spectrogram Activity page).

Things to Consider with Interactive Exercises

Before building certain exercises into your training plan, selecting specific exercises on the spot during a training, or designing and adapting new exercises for later use, remember to always take the following considerations into account:

Mobility of Participants

You may have participants who are not as capable of mobility as the rest. You will need to choose and/or design Icebreakers and Energizers that will not exclude trainees with mobility problems from participating.

Cultural Differences

In many instances, you will have to work with participants who have different cultural backgrounds. An activity that works for a training with all-male participants from Indonesia may not be ideal for a mixed-gender group from the same country. Likewise, an activity that worked well with a group of women from Western Europe might not work so well when you take it to another group of women from Latin America.

Personal and Physical Space

Try to avoid activities that require participants to touch each other - there are a few exceptions to this, but they tend to be different kinds of workshops. Even if you’re a few days into the training and participants have bonded well, respect the fact that you are still unlikely to know if there is a participant who feels uncomfortable with touch. (For some additional insight, please see The Psychosocial Underpinnings of Security Trainings resource.

Language Barriers

Especially in international or regional workshops, not everyone will necessarily be native speakers of one language. Across the board, trainers should use exercises requiring as few instructions as possible - this is especially useful in this instance. Exercises with uncomplicated instructions can be repeated in multiple languages or dialects if necessary, either by the trainer if they are able or by working with a willing participant to translate.

Example Icebreakers for Your Events

Icebreakers—as the name implies—are meant to “break the ice” and are usually fun “getting to know you” games and activities. These help participants become more familiar with each other, get to know one another, and help them feel comfortable in the training space.

Often, the co-trainers and co-facilitators will illustrate the first steps of the game - or, if training solo, you may choose to work with a willing participant to demonstrate for the rest of the group.

Two Truths and a Lie

The object of this game is for participants to get to know each other by guessing whether or not “facts” about other participants are “truths” or “lies”.

Instructions

Have participants pair up with someone they don’t know OR have everyone face each other in a circle.

  • Ask participants to say 2 true things about themselves and 1 false thing.
  • Give them a few minutes to think about it.
  • Once they are ready, everyone takes turns saying two true things and one lie about themselves.

Those who are not speaking must guess which are the truths and which one is the lie.

Trainer’s Note

The group version of this works best with a smaller number of participants (10 participants maximum) - there also may be some language issues. If you have a mixed group of participants who are not versed in one language, you could have them pair up with a fellow participant who speaks the same language - but you don’t want them to pair up with someone they already know. This activity also works for participants who have problems with mobility as this won’t require them to move.

What’s in the Bag?

The object of this game is for participants to introduce themselves to the rest of the group by using a personal item they feel is “representative” of who they are as an individual.

Instructions

Ask everyone to go look in their bag/backpack, and find one thing that they feel “represents” them (leave it at that so they are free to interpret this as they please). - Give them time to think about the items in their bags, and what they will say. - Each participant will take a turn in describing themselves through the item they chose. - Set a description limit of 3 - 5 sentences per person, to keep time.

Trainer’s Note

This is good for participants who have problems with mobility as this won’t require them to move. Also, the assumption here is that everyone has brought a bag or pack of some kind to the training space - check first before choosing this Icebreaker!

Line-up According To…

The object of this game is to have participants arrange themselves in the provided space according to certain facts about themselves.

Instructions

Have everyone stand in a line or in a “U”-shape, so they can see each other - it can be against a wall if you choose. (See comment about mobility under “Things to Consider Above.”) - Put some thought into what you’re asking participants to reveal about themselves. - Do not ask participants to reveal facts about themselves that they would consider too personal, private, or otherwise more than they would choose to reveal. - Examples of basic facts you can use: shirt color, shoe size, how long it took them to arrive at the training, how many pets they’ve lived with, or participant heights.

Participants can speak with each other as they go about the exercise. Keep in mind that what you might consider an acceptably public fact is not always necessarily the same for an at-risk participant, particularly if they do not know and trust everyone in the room.

Trainer’s Note

This may not be appropriate if you have participants who have problems with mobility; also, make sure that you have enough space for this activity.

Over-Reactions!

The object of this game is to have each participant over-react to a situation, and have the rest of the group guess what scenario the participant is reacting to.

Instructions

You should prepare scenarios on slips of paper ahead of time. Think of situations that would work for your participants. Scenarios can include: - You’ve just won the lottery! - You see someone cute and you want to meet them! - You just got your dream job! - You’re arguing with someone on the phone! - You’re about to give birth! - Your friends just threw you a surprise birthday party!

Randomly give a scenario slip to each participant: - One good way to this is to put them in a box and ask everyone to select one and then pass the box on. - Give everyone time to plan their over-reactions. - Here, you need to determine if the participants will be allowed to speak, or for an added challenge, if they will just have to mime their reactions without making any sound.

Each participant takes their turn over-reacting to their scenario, and everyone tries guessing.

Trainer’s Note

Here you will have to be careful about cultural references - your description of the scenario will have to fit your participants’ realities. If you feel like you don’t yet know enough about your participants to conduct this Icebreaker, save it for a second day activity.

The Wind Blows

The object of this game is to get people who have things in common identify each other by moving to each others’ seats.

Instructions

This needs a big space and chairs in a circle. There should be one chair per participant, but no chair for the starter (most of the time, the starter is you, the trainer!). - You, as the starter, will stand in the middle of the circle and say: “The wind blows for people who…” - Think about something that you like or something that is true of you - end the sentence with this. - For example, if you like strawberry ice cream, you could say “The wind blows for people who…like strawberry ice cream!” - Everyone who likes the same thing (including yourself) or shares the same quality will have to stand and transfer seats.

By the end of one round, one person will be left standing. That person will be the one to start the next round by saying “The wind blows for people who…”.

Trainer’s Note

This may not be appropriate if you have participants who have problems with mobility; also, make sure that you have enough space for this activity. Ensure that your training space doesn’t have hard floors that can cause chairs or participants to slip, as this may cause some participants to fall getting to a vacant chair.

The Question Web

The object of this game is for participants to ask each other questions while keeping track of a physical object that, overtime, creates a web of connection between the individuals in the group.

Instructions

Have everyone standing (or sitting) around in a circle - you will need a ball of yarn for this exercise. - The starter will direct a question to specific person. - To do so, they must throw the ball of yarn to the person they want to whom the question is directed; but, the asker must keep holding the end of the yarn. - Once the first person has asked the question and has thrown the ball of yarn to the person the question is for, the responder must answer the question while holding onto the yarn ball. - Then, they must ask another person a question by throwing the yarn ball to that person, while holding onto their portion of the yarn.

The steps above repeat until either a certain period of time has elapsed, or until everyone has had at least one turn to both answer and ask a question. At the end of this game, you will have a web of questions and answers!

Trainer’s Note

This would work for participants who have mobility issues. In order to set an example of the questions to ask (particularly to avoid asking questions that would be considered too “prying,”) co-trainers or the trainer and a willing participant can ask the first two questions, to illustrate the type of questions to ask. Keep in mind too that this exercise might require basic literacy in a common language among participants.

Animal Names and Sounds

The object of this game is to give participants a chance to safely step outside of themselves and become more at ease around others in the group.

Instructions

Have everyone in a circle (standing or sitting up). Each person takes turns saying their first name, a name of an animal that has the first letter of their name, and a sound associated with that animal. (For example, “I’m Dana, a dog, woof woof!”). - After the first person starts, the person next to them will need to start with the previous person’s name, animal and sound before saying their own name, animal and sound. - For example, if the next person is named Charlie, they would say “Dana, a dog, woof woof! I’m Charlie, a cat, meow…”. - The third person after the second person will have to start with the first person’s name, animal and sound, and the second person’s name, animal and sound before stating their own name animal and sound. - For example, if the third person is named Barbara, they would say “Dana, a dog, woof woof! Charlie, a cat, meow… I’m Barbara, a bird, chirp chirp”.

The steps above repeat until the game once again reaches the first person, who now has to do everyone’s names, animals and sounds!

Trainer’s Note

This is particularly good for a group of people who really don’t know each other: it’s a great way to get everyone to remember each other’s names. This game is also useful for trainers who want to build in an easy way to remember participant names from the beginning. If you have participants who have issues with mobility, this is a good exercise as this will not require much movement.

Example Energizers for Your Events

Energizers are short, fun activities that get participants moving and interacting. These are good exercises to have ready to pull out of your “toolkit” when you feel that the energy level in the room going down (e.g., glazed eyes. yawning participants, random nodding, etc.). Sometimes, your participants will need to simply get up from their seats, stretch and / or walk around to re-energize themselves. You can always call for 5-minute Energizers by playing some dance music and asking everyone to stand-up and dance. Or stretch. Or just take a quick break to get some fresh air away from the training room.

If you are using Jargon Balls in your training, one of the easiest ways to energize the room is to call random Jargon Ball fights with everyone standing up and trying to hit each other with the Jargon Balls. You can even encourage participants to say Jargon-terms you’ve used previously in the training as they do this, as a handy way for them to become more familiar with these terms!

Trainer’s Note

You can crowdsource your Energizers by asking participants to lead an activity. You can do this ahead of time by having a sheet of paper posted visibly in the room, where the participants can list their names as “Volunteer Energizer Leaders”. You can do this more spontaneously as well, selecting participants who seem willing or engaged on the spot. This is a good way for you as a trainer to learn from your participants (and add to your training toolkit), and also to encourage participation and leadership from your participants.

Beat Jam!

The object of this game is for participants to come up with a series of beats that together will form a musical beat.

Instructions

Have your participants stand up in a circle. - The first person starts with one beat done twice. - This could be tapping feet, clapping hands, snapping fingers, or drumming on a table top, etc. - After they finish their beat 2 times, the person on their right will do the first person’s beat twice, and then add another beat. - The first person will continue their beat as this happens.

After the second person finishes their 2 beats twice, the third person does the first and second participants’ beats and then adds their own, again doing it twice. The first and second person continue their original beats. Repeat until everyone in the group has taken a turn to add their beat, and everyone has created a piece of music.

Trainer’s Note

This is ideally for 10-12 participants (8 works too, but not fewer) - it can also work with larger groups if time is managed well. You can also do a variation on Beat Jam where you use motions instead, but the original version works better for participants who have issues with mobility.

Behind the Screen

The object of this game is to test participants’ memory of each other’s names in a test of speed.

Instructions

You will need a big sheet (or a blanket or a large piece of butcher paper). - If you have a blanket or a sheet, make sure it isn’t completely opaque. - You will also need two facilitators to hold the sheet in the middle of the space. - Break the group into two teams. Ask each team to stay on opposite sides of the sheet.

Each team will have one person in front of the screen per round. Once the screen is raised, the first person to name the representative from the other team gets a point.

Trainer’s Note

This is a good activity to do to ensure that participants remember each other’s names.

The Most Efficient Method

The object of this game is for everyone to find the quickest way to get the ball from the first person to the last (to make sure everyone has caught the ball and received it). But, as a facilitator, try not the divulge that until after the groups has done the first round.

Instructions

You will need a small rubber or plastic ball and a timer for this Energizer. - Have everyone in a circle, and give the ball randomly to a participant. - That first person will throw the ball to another participant and so on and so forth. - Everyone should pay attention to the sequence of participants. - Ask the group to toss the ball to each other once more, repeating the same sequence as before. - The trainer should be timing this round.

Ask participants to try to come with a way to beat the current time whilst keeping the same sequence. Do at least 2 more rounds for participants to try and beat the current best time.

Trainer’s Note

This may not be appropriate if you have participants who have problems with mobility; also, make sure that you have enough space for this activity.

Topic-Based Interactive Games (or Activities)

Topic-Based Interactive Games are more customised activities that are relevant to particular topics that the training is focused on. When using ADIDS to design your sessions for adult learners, sometimes you will need to design Topic-Based Interactive Games (usually just called Activities as part of ADIDS) based on the topic of your session.

These will then lead into a Discussion about that particular activity, which is one of the main things that distinguishes these activities from Icebreakers and Energizers above. Some Icebreakers and Energizers may also be adapted as Activities in ADIDS Sessions. An example of this is the broadly used Spectrogram Activity, which is also a popular Icebreaker.

See examples of Topic-Based Interactive Games as Activities in our Trainers’ Curriculum here, found as the Activity & Discussion elements.

Additional Resources