Icebreakers and Energizers

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This section includes games and activities to get participants to mingle, to meet one another, to stimulate and revive the group. If you don't want to interrupt the flow of the session, do some simple stretching exercises instead of an energizer.

Active Group Trust

Form two lines of about eight people each. Clasp arms with the two people across from you, left arm to left arm and right arm to the next person's right arm. Stand shoulder to shoulder and hold firmly. A volunteer stands on a chair and falls into all the arms. A more daring variation is to run and jump into the arms. Do this activity only with careful leadership.

Bust a Move

This is an introductory name game. Everyone goes around the circle and says their name along with an action. The group repeats the name and action after the person “busts their move.” Continue until everyone in the circle has gone.

Catch the Dragon's Tail

This is a very active game, best played out of the way of trees and holes in the ground. About eight to ten people line up, one behind the other. Now everyone puts their arms around the waist of the person in front of them. The last person in line tucks a handkerchief in the back of his belt. The dragon roars and at the signal begins chasing his own tail. The tricky part of this is that the people at the front and back are clearly competing--but those in the middle aren't sure which way to go! When the head finally captures the tail, the head takes the handkerchief and becomes the new tail, while second from the front becomes the new head.

A variation is to have two dragons chasing each others tails. Best is a whole field of dragons chasing each others tails. Wearing nice clothes for this game is not recommended.


This activity works well with very large groups. Ask the group to separate quickly into smaller groups that you are about to announce. Alternate 50‑50 splits (only two groups) and other splits (many groups). Be upbeat and directive in your presentation; keep the groups moving. As soon as the milling around has slowed and distinctly smaller groups have established themselves, give the participants time enough to look at one another, say hi, then hit them with another categorical split.

Present no more than 10 -- 12 groupings. Look through this list and pick those categories that appeal most to you, or create your own.

List of Categories:

  • Clasp your hands and fold your thumbs. Is your right or left thumb on top?
  • Fold your arms. Is your right or left arm on top?
  • Have someone look at your eyes and tell you what color they are. Group yourselves according to eye color.
  • Which leg do you put in your pants first?
  • When you clap, is your right or left hand on top? Parallel hands?
  • When you tap your foot to music, do you use the right or left foot?
  • Using your index finger as a pencil, draw an imaginary circle in the air. Does your finger travel clockwise or counterclockwise?
  • Again, using your index finger as a pencil, draw a profile of a dog. Is the dog facing right or left?
  • With which eye do you give a spontaneous wink?
  • Thinking of clearing a ditch or low fence, off which leg do you jump?
  • What month were you born in?
  • What is your astrological sign?
  • When you lick an ice cream cone, do you rotate the cone clockwise or counter-clockwise?
  • When standing casually with your hands in your pockets, are they in your front or back pockets?
  • Do you prefer cats or dogs?
  • Do you shower primarily in the morning or at night?


As a means of dividing up teams or to pick partners, ask a person to find a partner--someone they don't know but with whom they have something in common that is not visible. After all the people have a partner, ask each pair to disclose what their common trait is. This technique can be used over and over.


This is a quick mixer for medium- to large-sized groups.

Set-up: Ask the group to arrange themselves into clusters of 2's, 3's, 6's, 8's or whatever suits the mood. Give each group a piece of paper and pen.

Play: The task is to generate a list of things that are common to all the people in the cluster but which you could not identify by looking at them. Ask people to come up with a specific number of commonalties or as many as they can in a couple of minutes.

Some examples:

  • Have the same number of brothers or sisters
  • Traveled to a certain country
  • Have the same letter starting their last names
  • Play a particular instrument
  • Wear contact lenses
  • Took a U.S. History class during the past year

Some examples that you can see, and hence don't count: wear glasses, have brown hair, have blue eyes, etc. Given a few minutes, it's amazing how many commonalties people can find with each other. It's a simple way to begin learning about other people in a fun way.

Famous Persons

Pin or tape a card with the name of a famous person on it to the back of each person. They must find out who they are by asking "yes" or "no" questions of other people in the group. Some possible questions: "Am I a man?", "Am I still living?", "Was I a politician?" As each person finds their identity, they should sit down on the sidelines and not participate.

Follow the Leader

This game works best with five or more people. Ask the participants to sit in a circle and one person is sent out of the room. A leader is selected from those participants in the circle.

After the leader is selected, the person who was sent out of the room returns. The group will follow the leader's actions. The leader performs some type of action (clapping, tapping, rubbing his head, etc.) and each time he changes actions, the whole group changes at the same time. The person from outside must observe and try to figure out who the leader is.

Foreign Movie

This activity is a fun way to help participants recognize some of the verbal and nonverbal nuances of language. Arrange students in teams of four and then pairs within the team. One student in each pair will be designated the Foreign Speaker, while the other student is designated the English Translator. Ask the first team of four to stand at least 5-10 feet apart from each other, in front of the entire group. Instruct the team that the foreign speakers are to carry on a conversation based on a topic you will give -- expectations about the experience, how to get along with your host family, tips on effective cross-cultural communication, the cultural adjustment cycle, etc. The catch is they must do it in a "foreign language" either a real one or gibberish. Ambitious students can also add actions to convey an additional layer of cultural customs, which can also be misunderstood, i.e. greeting a host family member or foreign dignitary in the appropriate/inappropriate manner.

The Translators must "translate" what the Foreign Speaker say/do for the group.

After three-five minutes of back-and-forth questions and responses, the Foreign Speakers become the English Translator, and two new students become the Foreign Speakers. Exercise can be repeated until all students have been either the Foreign Speaker and/or the Translator. Feel free to change the topic as new people come into the game.

Variation: International Press Conference. Same set-up as above (two Foreign Speakers and two English Translators). Students in the audience will then pose a question in English to one or the other (or both) Foreign Speakers, who are posing as a foreign Head of State, or a famous individual from another culture (i.e. movie star promoting their new foreign language film in America). The question will be translated by the English Speaker into the Foreign Speaker's 'language.' Foreign Speaker responds (in their 'native' tongue), which is then translated back into English by the English Translator assigned to the Foreign Speaker.

Group Trust

This is a trust-building activity. Encourage people to be gentle and speak softly. Form a circle, shoulder to shoulder, of about eight people around one person in the center. Instruct the person in the center to stand, feet together, arms at her side, eyes closed, and body completely relaxed.

Tell her to lean back and let the members of the group support her and gently pass her around. It is helpful to alternate stronger people around the circle. Let all who want to have a turn in the center. This can also be done with the people making up the circle sitting and the center person standing.


Lie down, heads on each other's stomachs. First person says "Ha-Ha." Try to get through the whole group without breaking into laughter.

Here to There

Using rope, cones or tape, represent the world on the floor. For this activity participants will be asked to move to locations on the world according to how they answer each instruction. In between instructions allow several seconds for participants to introduce themselves and share their reasons with those around them. Sample Questions: -Your host country? -Your participant's host country? -Favorite place you have visited? A place you would like to visit? -Favorite type of food comes from here?

Instant Impulse


  • A quarter or nickel to toss
  • A medium-sized ball
  • Blindfolds (or the group can just keep their eyes closed)

Divide your group into two teams, equal numbers on each side. Ask each team to sit down facing each other with approximately 12″ between the teams. Each team must link together by holding hands so that all the players on a team are connected. The ball is placed exactly between the last two people at the ends of the lines. The ball should be equidistant from both players, and the last players need to rest their free hands on their knees at the start of the game.

At the head of the line, the first players on each team keep their eyes open. All other players are either blindfolded or close their eyes. Position yourself as leader close to the two sighted people at the start of the lines.

Play: Flip a coin. When it lands, "heads" is the signal to send an impulse down the line; "tails" means nothing and the coin is flipped again. When "heads" turns up, the two sighted players immediately squeeze the hand of the next player in line. This impulse is passed down the line as quickly as possible to the last person. As soon as the last person receives it (the grabber), she tries to grab the ball. Whichever person gets the ball, that team wins the round.

Winning a round means the player at the head of the line (the sighted person) rotates to the end of the line (the grabber), and all players move up one spot in the sequence. A team wins the game when the person who started as the sighted player returns to the head of the line and wins a second round.

Should a nervous player send an impulse down the line and grab ball, that team is assessed a penalty. They must reverse rotate one spot. Assess this penalty any time an infraction occurs.

Comments: An ideal number for this game is 5 -- 10 players per team. With larger groups, perhaps create four teams; two competing against each other and then have a final match between the two winners.

I'm a Star Interview

Divide group into partners. Partners will ask assigned questions. Think about your AFS experience. What are you excited about? What are you nervous about? Name one thing you want to do/accomplish in your AFS experience. Break into small groups and partners will introduce each other with their interview information. Group leaders should take note of concerns and ensure that these are addressed at some point in the orientation or on an individual basis.

Knots of People

Divide the group into teams of 8 to 12 members. Have each person join right hands with another person in the group, but it has to be someone who is NOT standing immediately to the left or right. Then have each person join left hands with another person in the group, but it has to be someone who is NOT standing immediately to the left or right and someone other than before. Now the groups have to untangle themselves without letting go of hands. They may have to loosen their grips a little to allow for twisting and turning. They may have to step over or under other people. The first group to untangle their knot is the winner. There are four possible solutions to the knot: One large circle with people facing either direction, two interlocking circles, a figure eight, a circle within a circle. Briefly process activity... Sense of humor is important on an exchange, seeking help from others, be flexible. Variation: Assign one person from the group to untangle the group The catch is the "untangler" can speak, group members can not. They must use nonverbal communication to guide the person who is attempting to untangle the group.


Blindfold each group member. Whisper a number to each one (1 -- 10). Instruct them to order themselves by number in a line without using verbal language. You may develop another form of communication. De-brief. Ask them how it felt.

Person in the Middle

This game requires a sufficient number of people, reasonable strength, and great trust. All participants should sit on the ground in a circle, shoulder to shoulder. They should extend their feet towards the center of the circle (no shoes) and push together as closely as possible. One person stands in the center of the circle and is wedged in place by everyone's feet. He then crosses his arms across his chest and allows himself to fall, keeping his body rigid. He is then passed around the circle until someone fails to hold him up and he falls. That person then takes a place in the center of the circle and the game is repeated.


This is a good warm-up or warm-down exercise. Sit in a circle, facing the center. Have everyone close their eyes, pausing for a moment or two of quiet while everyone gets ready to repeat the sound that the person on the right will be making.

Keeping their eyes closed, the rainstorm gets underway as the leader rubs the palms of his hands together, back and forth. The person to his left joins him, and then the person to her left, and then the next person, and so on around the room until everyone is rubbing palms and they listen to the drizzling rain building in intensity.

When the leader hears the drizzle sound being made by the person on his right, he starts snapping his fingers. One by one around the circle, each person replaces palm-rubbing with finger-snapping, and the sprinkling rain turns into a steady patter. When the snapping action has been picked up by everyone, the leader switches to hand-clapping, and each person then picks it up. A hard rain is falling.

The storm builds to a downpour as the leader begins slapping his thighs. Then the skies open and thunder crashes as the next round has everyone stamping their feet.

And then the storm subsides, just as it grew--foot-stamping, thigh-slapping, hand-clapping, finger-snapping, and back to palm-rubbing. (If there is trouble hearing the changes, have each person alert their neighbor with a gentle nudge each time one action is switched for another.)

For the last round, the leader stops rubbing his hands, and takes the hand of the person on his left, as each of the people does in turn around the circle until there's silence once again.

Shoe Scramble Game

Everyone takes off one shoe and tosses it into a pile. People are then asked to choose one shoe and find the person to whom it belongs. The two then pair off and introduce themselves. The one holding the shoe then "interviews" the other (you can establish a set list of questions or just talk at random). When the entire group is finished, the interviewer introduces the interviewee and tells the group what he has learned about that person. Remember that everyone will be involved in two such transactions because everyone will both take a shoe and be without his own shoe.

Sit on Knees in a Circle

All participants form a circle, standing close together. They then turn so they are standing with their backs to each other. Each person then bends down as if to sit, and carefully sits on the knees of the person behind him. This takes a certain amount of patience and balance, and will invariably end with everyone falling to the ground.


All participants should sit on the ground in a circle. The group leader provides a ball of string (make sure there are no snarls or the game will be a fiasco!). The person who begins the game takes the ball of string, and says her name and something interesting about herself that would not be found in an application (for example: "My name is Mariko and I love peanut butter.") Holding on to the end of the string, she then tosses the ball at random to another participant. The procedure is repeated until everyone has participated. The result is a web of string with each participant holding on to some part of it. The resulting configuration should then lead to a discussion about interdependence, connections, etc.


Sit in a circle. One person starts a message by whispering it in her neighbor's ear. Keep going and see how it comes out in the end. A variation allows the receiver to question the sender. This theoretically demonstrates the value of making sure that you understand what is said.

Telephone-Non Verbal

This game works best with a large group of people--preferably more than ten.

Have the group sit in a circle. Ask everyone to close their eyes, and no peeking, please. The leader starts this game by passing on a non-verbal message to the person on her right. For example, the leader might gently pull on the next person's ear lobe, a friendly pat on the leg, etc. This "message" is then passed around the circle, keeping in mind that all have their eyes closed. As with the traditional game of Telephone, the end result is usually quite different from the original message!

Where I'm Going

Without consulting a map have each participant draw a map of their host country including as much geographical information as they know (cities, mountain ranges, boarder countries etc). On the paper include several facts about the host country such as the type of government, who is the leader of the government, famous people, national pastimes etc. Post maps around the room. Have all participants stroll the room for a gallery walk. If anyone has information to add to a specific map they can write it on the map. In closing, have participants going to the same country gather and talk about what they know/don’t know about their host country.

Who am I?

Group leader cuts up "Who am I" template -- 12 squares per page (see page 77), printed with the names of famous people. Using tape, sticks one square on the back of each participant. Participants must ask each other yes and no questions in order to figure out who they are. Prizes of chocolate or other small candy could be used as participants discover their identity. Best used as an icebreaker, mixer or energizer.


Divide your group in two with one of the groups having an extra person (divide by sex, if possible, but it is not essential). Have each person in the larger group take a chair and form a circle with the chairs. Then, each person should stand behind their chair. The members of the smaller group each take a seat in one of the chairs. This leaves one person standing behind an empty chair and that person is "It." That person winks as inconspicuously as possible at one of the people sitting in the circle. Upon seeing the wink, that person tries to dash over to the empty chair before the standing partner stops them by grabbing their shoulders and holding them down in the chair. If they escape, their standing partner becomes "It" and the game continues until everyone gets sick of it.

This is a great icebreaker in a new group and it gets really crazy!

People Bingo

This works well with large groups. Optional - Kids are given a Bingo card (see page People Bingo77) and are told to seek out others who have these characteristics prior to the official start of the orientation. After introductions, orientation begins with 3-5 minutes for all in group to finish getting answers. --Or just provide Bingo cards at start of orientation. Give prizes for most number of questions answered during the time period or first 2-5 people who get all answers. If it is a group of 30 or more, a person can only give his or her name to another person one time, 20-30, can give their name twice. Optional -- If someone in the group knows what the typical greeting is in the target culture/language ask them to demonstrate it and participants must introduce themselves in this manner before asking anyone to sign their Bingo card.

Has a relative who went on AFS

Can do a bird call Plays the guitar Plays field hockey Is an Aries
Can tap dance

Likes Chinese food Is wearing at least three or more rings Has taken a ride in a hot air balloon

Has more than three siblings
Has eaten a bug

Will dance in front of the group for 5 seconds

Can stand on his/her head Rides horses Can say hello in three different languages
Can roll his/her tongue

Went to a camp this summer Has a birthday in June Can juggle Plays trumpet or saxophone
Has a cat

Has been a member of student government Has traveled outside the U.S. Grew up in a bilingual family Can walk on his or her hands
Has been to Disneyworld

Will sing for 5 seconds in front of the group Can burp on command Is wearing white shoes Wears the same shoe size as you
Is in a band

Has been a cheer leader Likes chess Has taken an AP class Went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean

Lives on a farm

Has hosted an AFS participant Has played on a soccer team Has been on a debate team Likes to cook or bake

Also See This External Site This Wiki contains a multitude of ice breakers, energizers and team-building activities.

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