In advance, for every team of 2 to 4 people, place one roughly-folded t-shirt in a container filled with water and freeze overnight.
When ready, distribute one block of ice to each small group in a suitable outdoor environment.
Each group aims to smash or melt the block of ice to access the t-shirt as quickly as possible.
The first group to have one of their team members wear the frozen garment of clothing, wins.
Video Transcript for Cold Shoulder
presented by Mark Collard
Presently you’re in one of three groups. In a moment I’m going to give you a limited resource and your objective is to solve the problem as quickly as you can.
There is only one way to know that you’ve completed the task, and that’ll be clear when I’ve described it to you.
So when I open up this case, I’m going to give each of you something very identical to each other. And your objective is to try and solve the problem and then take that object and wear it. Your object is to wear this object.
Oh, incidentally what you have to wear is a T-shirt and it’s frozen in a block of ice.
In any way you choose your objective is to extricate this T-shirt, this garment of clothing from the block of ice and the first group to have one person in their group wear that T-shirt wins.
(group murmurs about Cold Shoulder)
So for example, this is the block of ice.
And these haven’t fully frozen so you have a little advantage over some groups that I present this to, but effectively you all have this to gain.
Are there any questions? You can place this on a…
(Do you need the buckets back?)
No… You won’t need the bucket, I’m just going to give you the ice. You won’t even have the buckets.
(But is there any rule?)
The rule is find the quickest way to extricate this T-shirt and have it worn.
(So who wants to wear it?)
You could do whatever you need to do to wear that T-shirt.
(You want to wear it?)
(I don’t mind wearing it.)
Alright, you guys want to take it out? You guys want to take that out? Are you part of a group? There’s your group. Off you go.
(people playing Cold Shoulder)
Alright, we have a winner. They’re first place. We’re now looking for second place.
What do you learn from the exercise really quickly in terms of the props?
(You don’t want to put the t-shirt on, really.)
Use an old T-shirt.
More often than not what you’re going to end up with is something in a part of, so don’t put your Sunday best in there. Put something that’s really really old or otherwise.
This is referred to as Cold Shoulder for obvious reasons. We also do a similar activity where we freeze a pair of shorts and that’s called Chilly Willy…
How To Play Narrative
Got a hot day? Can you get outside? This fast-paced, group initiative will do the trick.
The first thing you need to do is prepare one or more frozen t-shirts (yes, you read that right!) To this end, you’ll need at least 12 hours in advance of presenting the exercise to be fully prepared.
My advice is to grab a bunch of really old t-shirts (one per group,) because there is a significant risk that the tees in question will not survive the exercise intact.
For every small group of 2 to 4 people, place one, roughly-folded t-shirt into a small tub (such as an ice-cream container,) fill it with water and then stick it in a freezer overnight.
Later, remove the tubs from their frozen contents, and present a mind-boggling array of frozen blocks of ice to your now-curious group.
Explain that when you say “GO,” each group will aim to (a) break open or melt the block of ice to get at the t-shirt (which awaits inside – ah, this may not be obvious,) and (b) be the first small group to have one of their team members wear the more than frost-bitten garment of clothing.
It’s as simple, and as hard as that. The first team to wear their frozen t-shirt (with all arms and heads poked through the relevant openings) wins.
I have seen everything from bashing the block against a concrete surface, to sitting it atop of a car’s engine to melt rapidly. Lots of crazy, frenetic pleasure to behold for a few quick minutes.
Practical Leadership Tips
Warning: give yourself plenty of time to freeze the blocks. Distributing half-frozen blocks is not half as much fun, not to mention embarrassing.
Providing access to solid, hard surfaces (rocks, pavement, bricks) is really useful. To this end, presenting this exercise indoors may limit the ‘smashing’ options for your groups, thereby diminishing the fun.
If your groups are properly resourced, do not expect this exercise to take too long. Nor should you expect it to provide substantive opportunities for developing team skills. It’s principally a fun, small group activity which benefits from a little creativity, not to mention a willingness to wear a very cold garment of clothing.
You could certainly present this task to groups of four or more people, but generally speaking, most people find it hard to be physically involved in the task and are more likely to become passive observers.
You could integrate Cold Shoulder as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behaviour and social interactions across different situations.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Use Planning & Organisational Skills
Taking Other’s Perspectives
Demonstrating Empathy & Compassion
Recognising Strengths In Others
Resolving Conflict Constructively
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Seeking and/or Offering Support
Build Positive Relationships
Demonstrating Curiosity & Open-Mindedness
Making Reasoned Judgements
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits of working together as a small team to solve a unique problem.
In a small way, you could argue that the effort required to successfully break the ice to wear the t-shirt may speak to the benefits of being resilient (eg persistence of effort and trial/error) and the development of certain leadership skills such as taking initiative, responsible decision-making and resolving conflict.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Cold Shoulder could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Cold Feet: Try socks (one or two) for an easier challenge. Being a smaller garment, you’ll need smaller containers, and therefore less space in your freezer to prepare.
Chilly Willy: Try shorts or trousers for an equally challenging task.
Team Challenge: Provide one frozen article of clothing for each person in a group. The first team to fit-out all of their members, wins. Given the prep and freezer space requirements for this variation, you are well- advised to freeze socks.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever noticed how hard it is to put on a wet item of clothing? Or maybe tried to extricate yourself from a wet-suit? Imagine if the garment was also frozen…
From a standing start, how long do you think it would take you to put on a t-shirt? What if that t-shirt was trapped inside a container of water. And, the water was frozen…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this unique group initiative:
How many ideas did your group generate to crack open the block of ice?
How much time did your group devote to considering the most effective options? Or, did your group just go with the first idea?
How did your group choose who would ear the frozen t-shirt? Was it consensual?
What other areas of your life/work/play could benefit from quick-thinking?
The inspiration for Cold Shoulder, and many more unique group initiatives, was sourced from the following publication: