Ask everyone to find a partner and to suspend the four blocks between the tips of each of their index fingers.
Each pair must maintain their connection while moving about the area and, using their free index fingers, attempt to break the connections of other pairs.
At any time, if a pair’s blocks fall or get knocked down, they are permitted to pick up their blocks, re-connect and continue playing.
Play several two-minute rounds and/or swap partners.
Video Transcript for Don’t Break The Ice
presented by Nate Folan
There’s sort of things that are unknown and sometimes we don’t know how we’ll interact with each other, how we’ll treat each other until we engage a certain exercise.
And this exercise tends to draw out interesting behaviour, so just notice how you engage in this game.
It’s called Don’t Break The Ice.
The way it’s going to work is staying connected with your partner. This time again a minimum of four blocks, you can choose more or less but your minimum is four. You’ve going to extend that index finger and only your index finger from each person can connect to the blocks, right?
From here… today we won’t have the attempt with “Bust A Move” that you wanted to just chop the blocks of someone else. Now if that didn’t come up and you think that’s rude you might say ‘No.’ At the same time if it felt like well, there might be this desire, that’s where we’re going.
So between you and your partner again you’re connected with one index finger each that front pad of this between you and your partner. You’re going to be moving around this space trying to chop the blocks of others.
When your blocks fall, simply pick them back up and get connected back with your partner. Continue on moving about the space. We’ll check in in a moment.
Question. Hold on just a minute. There’s a question over here.
(For clarity, you can only chop with a finger?)
Right now you know that you are connected with your partner and there is a… your goal is to chop the blocks of other folks. I would put it in this context. It’s playing away that makes it fun for everyone, and sometimes we don’t know what that is until we play it out.
So let’s play it out and see what happens. Go.
(people playing Don’t Break The Ice)
How To Play Narrative
Ready to bring out the best and the worst in your group all at once? Play this hilarious tag-like game to get people interacting or to set the stage for a discussion about group norms.
Distribute two wooden (or plastic) toy blocks to each person in your group and creatively divide the group into pairs. For example, asking everyone to find a common connection with someone in the group.
Instruct each pair to suspend their four blocks in a straight line between the tips of one of their index fingers. Explain that each partnership should aim to maintain this tenuous connection while moving about the space, at the same time using their free index fingers to ‘break the ice’ of other pairs.
To ensure fair play, be sure to demonstrate and review the following important guidelines:
Only the pairs who are properly connected to each other may attempt to break the connections of other pairs.
Physical contact should be kept to a minimum. Go for finesse! Be light on your feet and use only your index finger to knock other blocks.
People should refrain from pushing, blocking, swatting, etc. Pairs may only use the tips of their index fingers to connect the blocks in a straight line between them, ie linked hands, fingers, or thumbs are not permitted to secure a stronger connection.
If and when the blocks break or fall, pairs are permitted to pick them up and try again!
Play several five-minute rounds, and/or swap partners and adjust rules as desired.
Practical Leadership Tips
Be aware that this activity generally inspires an exuberant atmosphere. Monitor the level of safety-consciousness, and adapt to suit your space and the needs of your group.
Provide time between rounds for partners to brainstorm new strategies, and share out fun moments or lessons learned at the end of the game.
You could introduce this exercise as an elimination game, but it’s much more fun (for everyone) if you allow folks to pick up their blocks and jump back into the action.
Do you see where the name Don’t Break The Ice comes from? Imagine the blocks were square ice-blocks, and you didn’t want them to fall.
You could integrate Don’t Break The Ice 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.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
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
The competitive and physical attributes of this activity may provide you with a valuable lens through which to view the ways in which group members look after one another. For example, if their behaviours demonstrate no regard for other people’s safety in the way they attempt to destroy the connected blocks of other partners, this could be an indicator of other undesirable behaviours within the life of the group. Also, monitor the level of regard for and attention to the rules, eg do partners have a fully connected set of blocks before they destroy the block bridges of others. There would be value in reconciling these and other behaviours in a conversation about how your group can establish and maintain positive relationships, especially if you have created a full value agreement.
The ability to bounce back from failure is a critical emotional competency connected to one’s wellbeing. The interactive nature of this game means that almost all pairs will experience frequent attempts and failure. For some, it would be easy to just give up, or manipulate the rules to suit their desires, while for others, they will draw on other reserves and emotional capacities to persevere. In addition to the questions described in the Reflection Tips tab, consider asking your group to reflect on the following questions:
In the course of the past few minutes, how many times did you have to build your block bridge?
How did you feel with each attempt?
Did you respect the rules of engagement at all times? If not, why did you bend the rules?
What causes someone to keep on going, despite the odds? Do we have examples in this activity?
What did you say to yourself after many failed attempts? Did you blame yourself?
In what ways can we build a more resilient approach? How can others help us?
Non-Dominant Hands: Try switching up the connection point by using a non-dominant hand, thumb, or even pinkie to maintain a connection with your partner!
Back & Forward: Advance the challenge by inviting partners to connect so that each person is facing the opposite direction while still suspending their blocks.
Multiple Connections: When the connection (blocks) between two people are broken, ask each person to pick up any two blocks and connect with a new partner.
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Bust A Move
Challenging partner activity using wooden blocks.
Playful & challenging task for pairs & small groups.
Inventive partner stretch to develop balance & trust.
Useful Framing Ideas
Relationships are the foundation of a community. Sometimes we are distracted or exhausted and have trouble maintaining these relationships. Let’s explore ways to stay connected…
There are times in our lives when we work hard to achieve something, only to get knocked down. This game is a great opportunity to pick up the pieces and try again…
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 highly interactive and energetic game:
What did you learn worked best to maintain the integrity of your connection?
What was the most challenging part of the exercise?
How might this exercise teach us something about collaboration and teamwork?
Could this exercise also say something about how to respond to failure?
The inspiration for Don’t Break The Ice, and many more highly interactive group games, was sourced from the following publication: