Starting with the person to your left, ask them to say their name as soon as you give them a signal.
As soon as this person says their name, the person to their left calls our their name, and so on.
This impulse of names continues around the circle until it returns to where it started.
Next, record the time it takes the impulse of names to be called all around the circle.
Invite your group to make several attempts, and then change directions.
Note the best time.
Video Transcript for Name Impulse Ice-Breaker
So now you have the opportunity to actually hone your skills around names, but here is the best part about this: if already you have said to yourself “oh my goodness I’m not good with names,” all you need to know is your own name.
Okay now if you need to practice your own name just a few times to yourself. Feel free to practice that to yourself under your own breath. So Mark, Mark, Mark Mark okay. So all you need to know is your own name. Anyone having difficulty with that?
We are going to time this. This is the only stress that is going to be involved in this exercise. Is that in a moment, for example what’s your name again? (Megan) Megan, it hasn’t changed.
So Megan is going to start in a moment, and when she starts I am going to press the go on the stopwatch. And it is going to send an impulse around the group as quickly as possible, at which point you must wait for the person to your right to say their name before you say your own name.
So Megan will say her name and, quickly, Josh directly after that will say his own name and on the way it goes. I will be the last person to say the name at which point I will stop the watch. We are looking to set a nominal world record here. For this group right here right now, as to how quickly we can send the impulse of names, your own name, around the circle. Got the basic idea?
I know, there is a lot of stress here. Now are you the sort of person that likes to start on the one, two, three or just the go? (How about you just start it when I say my name?) Okay, alright, how about I don’t have to make a decision? I like that. So I am going to start it as soon as I hear your name. Okay Megan, are you ready? Everybody ready? Everyone practice their own name?
Remember you are saying your own name as quickly as possible after the person to your right has said theirs.
(Group each says their names as part of Name Impulse ice-breaker)
You have noticed that I have done this a few times. I knew there is always someone that needs to practice their name. Now it would be fair to say that this is not time warp speed territory. 5.70, we need to go to the hundredths of a second. Mr. Guinness will not accept anything under one hundredth of a second. So 5.70 seconds. Now we are going to do it again.
We are going to go in the same order. (Group each says their names). Megan is very excited. I have not seen the time, but do you think we beat the time 5.7 seconds? (yeah) I think so. So the A team going in the clockwise direction the A team going in the clockwise direction, 4.55 seconds folks. Congratulations, excellent give yourselves a hand first of all well done.
We are now going to really test it. We are going now to go in the other direction, the B team. Starting with you Ang, it’s going to go in the opposite direction come back this way, finish with me. So 4.55 has been the record set by the A team. We are now going to go the other way. See if the B team can go any quicker. You do not need to say your name backwards, just the standard name would be fine, but it will go in an opposite direction. Everybody ready?
Ang again would you like to start and I then press the go, or would you like the lead in the one, two, three or the go to go into it? (Five seconds, five, four, three, two, one.) Oh five, four, three, two, one. Alright, everybody ready, particularly Ang?
Here we go. Five, four, three, two, one.
(Group says their names as part of Name Impulse ice-breaker)
Alright, okay 5.13.
Look it could have been operator error. Is that it could have been that the A team were much quicker, but I was a bit slower to stop. So there is only way we can now settle the score, both at the same time. B team is going to go at the same time as the A team, they are going to cross somewhere in the middle and they are going to come back. And whichever one returns first, obviously, is the quickest way.
So the B team is still going the B team direction. A team, A team direction. It will swap in the middle, remember it is going to come in two directions for each of you and come back. And whoever says their name first as it comes back…
(Do I punch you?) No, you don’t punch me. Just simply just punch the air with your name. Punch the air with your name as you get to it. So I don’t even need to time this one.
So this is hard now because I am going to have to give you a go to know when you are both going to start. So how about I give you a go and it runs around and comes back.
(We could high five and then go.) I know how it is going to work because it needs to finish with me, I could say Mark. Then it goes past you and then it finishes on the other side. (I can do this.) That’ll work.
(Hang on, I feel as though that is not fair because you only have to say Mark once.) I love that, you notice I am running the game. I get to play it my way. Okay, everybody ready?
(both groups say their names as part of Name Impulse ice-breaker)
Oh, okay got it. Hands up for those on the winning team.
How To Play Narrative
For something new, ask your group to form a circle! They can be seated or standing, it’s up to you, but I like the sitting-cross-legged position.
To begin, I like to ask everyone in the circle to simply say their own name out loud a few times, to practice, so to speak.
Starting with the person to your left (or right), ask them to say their name as quickly as possible as soon as you give the signal (ie when you say “GO” or “1, 2, 3” whatever.)
Then, the person to the first person’s left will say their name, and then the next person, and around the circle the ‘impulse’ will travel. The impulse will conclude with you saying your name.
OK, got that? Good, because now we’re going to time it.
Label the first attempts as belonging to the ‘A-team,’ that which accepts the impulse in a clock-wise direction. Tally your results, encouraging the group to record ever-faster times with each round. Before too long, the impulse will sound like one very long blurted name. It’s fun.
Now, for a bit of fun, send the impulse the other direction, and label all attempts travelling this way as belonging to the ‘B-team.’
Naturally, everyone is on both teams, but something happens when you talk of pitting one team against another that ignites the competitive juices of a group. People lose sight of the reality.
Of course, after several rounds for the B-team, and perhaps a few semi-finals, announce which team won!
Practical Leadership Tips
It’s unlikely that this exercise will help anyone learn too many new names, but it is fun.
You may note that with each successive round, more and more names will start to blur and some people do not necessarily wait to hear their neighbour’s name before they call theirs. Make a few observations, but keep it fun.
By all means, if the group thinks to use their nicknames (because they are quicker to say,) then let them do that. Remember, this is meant to be fun, and not a serious task as such.
With thanks to Karl Rohnke for introducing me to this gem many years ago.
You could integrate Name Impulse as part of a well-designed SEL program to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships, not to mention enjoy an outrageously fun time.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Demonstrating Self-Discipline & Self-Motivation
Setting Personal & Group Goals
Communicate & Listen Effectively
Build Positive Relationships
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 to one’s well-being of enjoying a good laugh.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus required to successfully pass the impulse quickly and accurately in sequence may speak to the benefits of being mindful, but I wouldn’t push this too far.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Name Impulse could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Two-Way Traffic: Send the impulse in both directions (A and B Teams) at the same time. Note which team was the fastest.
Neighbour Names: Each person says the name of the person to the immediate left (or right) of where they are sitting.
Yell Impulse: Send the impulse of a yell – a blood curdling, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs yell – around the circle. No need to time this event, nor scream anything in particular such as your name. Just simply watch and bask in the excitement, and discomfiture of people preparing for and executing their hollers. It’s just not something we typically to do in front of people, so beware – this variation of Impulse is less an ice-breaker, and more a trust-building exercise.
Impulse By Another Name: Send something other than your name around the circle, perhaps a personal quality, value or favourite colour.
Open the Virtual Adaptation tab to learn how to present this activity online.
Ask your group to navigate to the screen which features the window of every other participant. Establish a clear order or sequence such as alphabetical by first or last name, eg Aaron starts, followed by Ella, then José, Julia, etc, through to Xander. Then challenge your group for each person to say their name (audibly) as quickly as possible in this particular sequence. Repeat the task several times to record a nebulous world record and enjoy the levity it will foster.
If only one window (yours, the meeting host) can be viewed by your group, then the above instructions still apply, it’s just not as fun (or engaging) as viewing the little video screens of each person saying their name quickly.
Invite each person to type their name into the chat room facility according to your established sequence. Extra bonus points if every person spells their name correctly (hard to do when you’re under pressure.)
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Useful Framing Ideas
There are competitions for all sorts of events these days, but I would like to introduce you to one of the lesser-known sports. It’s called Name Impulse ice-breaker, and we are about to attempt to set a new world’s record…
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 fun name-game:
Did you notice the influence of pressure in your ability to perform (say your name?) What does this mean?
Who was on the winning team?
What ideas helped the group record its fastest times?
Did the group always adhere to the parameters of the exercise? Does this matter?
Fun & Interactive ‘Community-Building’ Games Session
What You Need:
12+ people, 45 mins, chairs for everyone
Copy Claps – brilliant, non-verbal opener which to attract your group’s focus
Name Impulse – very simple name-game which seeks to set a new world record
One Duck – contagiously fun circle game which is harder than it seems