Give each person two toy wooden (or plastic) blocks.
Form random pairs.
Invite each partnership to suspend the four blocks between the tips of each of their index fingers.
When ready, ask everyone to move about the area while also, using their free index fingers, attempting to break the block-bridges of any other pair.
Whenever the blocks belonging to a pair fall or get knocked down, each of them is permitted to pick up (any) two blocks on the floor, and then seek a new partner to connect with (re-form block bridge) and continue playing.
Only pairs with a fully connected block-bridge are entitled to break the bridges of other pairs.
Encourage this process of forming and re-forming new partnerships many times.
Continue play for several minutes.
Video Transcript for Ice-Breakers
presented by Nate Folan
This activity is focused on the opportunity to learn how other people work, looking at how many of you partner and pair with each other.
If we’re to reference a book, the book of Teaming by Amy Edmondson, professor down at Harvard University, looking at how do we quickly form our teams to get something done and move on to another project.
And in this case she’ll have a chance to partner with someone, just as we did before connecting with blocks, extending through the block bridge that you’re creating.
This time though when your blocks fall, you’re going to pick up half the blocks, your partner will pick up the other half, and you’ll go find someone else to team with, to partner with and play this game with.
And again through that you’ll notice a variety of different ways that people are playing this game, strategies that emerge, and different ways of interacting with each other. Is that making sense?
And let’s say if there’s an overarching goal with this then maybe trying to connect with as many people as you can to see how they play.
Got it? So go ahead and connect with your current partner, the person that you’re starting with.
(people playing Ice-Breakers)
How To Play Narrative
This exercise is so versatile, it offers many opportunities. To play and have fun. To interact and collaborate with many different people in a short time. To explore a variety of innovative strategies and approaches.
This exercise will also provide the opportunity to follow rules, and potentially, break rules. And certainly, there is an opportunity to reflect on the experience – what just happened – or not.
To start, gather your group in a clear, open space. Provide each person two toy blocks (wooden or otherwise work well.)
By means of demonstration, 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. You may even choose to invite a few moments of practice before you ramp up the fun.
When ready, announce that from now on, pairs will be entitled to use their free index fingers to ‘break the ice’ of other pairs, by knocking their blocks to the floor or ground.
At any time, if a pair’s blocks fall or get knocked down, each partner is permitted to pick up two blocks.
They are then invited to find a new partner to connect with, someone who is also no longer connected to their partner. To connect, these new partners must again suspend their blocks as described above, then continue to play.
Each time a pair’s blocks fall or get knocked down, each person must find a new partner to play with.
Play several two-minute rounds and move on.
Practical Leadership Tips
Ice-breakers is great as an independent activity or could build on the energy generated by Don’t Break the Ice. Whatever you choose, Ice-Breakers is sure to engage your group and provide many teachable moments.
Often people realise, by connecting with different people, that there are many innovative (and not so innovative) strategies and approaches being used. And as play continues and different partnerships occur, more new ideas emerge typically building on or blending ideas from previous partnerships. This is a great opportunity to explore how that happens (or doesn’t happen.)
There may be moments that people use different, more aggressive approaches to knocking the blocks of other pairs than the nominated free index finger. You may see people pushing into to each other, the use of feet, sometimes a head, and get ready, there may even be a rogue person disconnected from their partner. Monitor for safety, yet allow for choices, behaviours, and reactions to emerge. On these occasions, you may choose to invite your group to reflect on the following:
Quality check-in around safety or group norms;
Exploring the idea that we play to find our boundaries or taking something too far; or
The cause and effects of revenge, or someone going ‘rogue.’
For some groups, it may be necessary or desired to require people to partner with everyone at least once before partnering with the same person again. Some people discover an ideal partner – a good friend or a competitive advantage – that they desire and may even intentionally drop their blocks for an opportunity to reconnect. Remember, one intention of this activity is for the group to interact and for people to work in pairs with many people in a short time frame.
Ice-Breakers could be used as a brief way to introduce the concept of Teaming by author and Harvard Professor, Amy Edmondson. In simple terms, Teaming is the idea that teams or work groups are together for shorter periods of time than previous years. And there is an expectation that people will have developed the following effective Teaming behaviours to engage, and work efficiently, effectively, while most importantly, contributing to an environment of psychological safety. Effective Teaming behaviours include:
With thanks to Ryan McCormick who first demonstrated this activity to me.
You could integrate Ice-Breakers 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 ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
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
Adding to comments described in the Leadership Tips tab, there are many ways in which this partnered exercise can be used to explore and demonstrate a range of positive and not so positive behaviours. In advance, during or conclusion of the activity, invite your group to look at all of the ways in which their social interactions – both within pairs and with other pairs – were helpful towards building positive and healthy relationships. What worked, what didn’t? What behaviours would help to build trust and which ones wouldn’t?
For some, this exercise may be quite difficult to coordinate, so elements of adapatability and resilience could be explored with your group too. For example, in addition to those described in the Reflection Tips tab, you could invite your group to reflect on the following questions:
What is one example of how you needed to adapt to working with two or more partners?
Did you ask your partner to make changes to adapt or accommodate your needs? Why?
Describe how you felt if your blocks would frequently fall as soon as you started?
What did you and/or your partner do to persist in your efforts to be successful?
No Repeats: Challenge every person to only connect (pair) with any other person just once. This means, no one is permitted to pair up with someone they have already paired with earlier.
Poppers: Play with poppers or finger snaps instead of blocks. These objects offer a bit more friction, therefore stay together with less effort when suspended. See Finger-Snaps for more details.
Paired-Shape Variety: Try playing with a variety of shapes beyond the standard wooden cube such as cylinders, 3-dimensional rectangles, 3-dimensional triangles, etc. This variation has the potential for a reflection focused on social justice, diversity, and inclusion. Especially if a variety of block shapes were introduced to the game after your group had grown accustomed to playing with wooden cubes only.
More or Less: Invite people to grab as many blocks as they like. Play as described above beginning with the number of blocks chosen. At the end of a two-minute round, process as needed. Then provide an opportunity for each person to use more or less blocks. Require a minimum of two blocks per person or a total of four between a pair.
Take a look at Finger-Snaps to introduce a new prop to your group that provides many similar opportunities for partner and team-based challenges.
Challenging, quick-reflex exercise for small groups.
Ground-based challenge to foster planning & creativity.
Playful & rapid movement name-game for small groups.
Useful Framing Ideas
Have you ever found yourself attached to a person or idea? So much so that it prevented you from connecting with another person or idea? Let’s explore what it’s like to let go of one person or idea and allow for a new connection…
Healthy relationships are significant to building healthy communities. However, there are times were we become so comfortable, familiar, and attached to the people we are already connected with, that it can be less desirable, uncomfortable and difficult to build relationships with people we are less connected to. Our connection to one person or group of people is our disconnection from other people. What might it be like to explore connecting and disconnecting with people less familiar to us in a short timeframe? What might it be like to interact with, work with, and potentially learn from people we are less connected to? Less committed to? We are going to play an engaging game that allows us to explore those possibilities…
Have you noticed that people generally have different strategies and approaches to particular tasks. Let’s explore this through a playful task…
This is a game of resilience. Notice your reactions, choices, and behaviours as you play…
Let’s connect, move, and challenge each other…
Here’s a quick activity that provides a light touch on Teaming, a concept introduced by Amy Edmondson in her book Teaming…
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 and exciting partner game:
What strategies or approaches emerged as the game went on?
What strategies or approaches were generally accepted? Which were not? Why?
What were some of the most effective strategies for maintaining a connection with a partner?
What thoughts, choices, behaviours were needed to connect with a new partner or to try a new strategy or approach?
When you think about your life and meeting people or trying an idea new to you or, do any of those thoughts, choices, behaviours apply?
What is one strategy or approach to connecting with a person (or idea) new to you would be willing to experiment with for one week?
The inspiration for Ice-Breakers, and many more playful, yet challenging partner activities, was sourced from the following publication: