Below are a number of group games and icebreakers you can use to help participants get to know each other, get energized, or transition from one activity to another.
Getting to Know You Games
Bring in a bag full of an unusual assortment of items (toys, knick-knacks, kitchen utensils, etc.). Each person, without looking, takes an item out of the bag. Give them a minute to think about how this item represents them. Could think about what the item is for, or about qualities of the item (texture, color, etc.), or about feelings associated with it. As participants go around and introduce themselves, they tell about how the item they picked represents them. Facilitator should model this first.
Story of a name
In pairs, you have one minute to tell a story about your name. The story could be
about your first name, middle name, or last name. It could be about how you got your name,
what your name means, how you feel about your name, or all of these. Tell your partner your
story and listen to your partner’s. After pairs have finished sharing stories, come back to the large group. Ask each participant to introduce their partner and tell something they learned about their
partner’s name. Then ask the partner if there’s anything they’d like to add or clarify about their
story that their partner may not have said. (This could also be a name-learning activity.)
2 Truths and a Lie
Each person shares three statements about themself (one is a lie – but they don’t share which one). The rest of the group tries to guess which statement was a lie.
Provide slips of paper and pens. Invite participants to write a few ice breaker questions such as “what’s your favorite thing to do on weekends, what’s your pet peeve, how have you changed since elementary school?” Put all the questions in a bag and then pass the bag around the circle, participants take turns picking a question and answering it. If you don’t get to all the questions save the bag for future gatherings.
This works well for discussions in big groups – do this first and then open it up to the whole group.
Introduce a theme or question.
- Talk about a recent conflict with a friend and how you resolved it (or didn’t).
- What is the first impression you think you give people? How is it like or unlike the “real” you? What do you wish people knew or understood about you?
- Share an experience that you think shaped who you are today.
1 minute: partner 1 talks – direct them to keep talking, their partner encouraging them to continue by nodding, saying “tell me more about that”, and partner 2 does not ask questions or add their own comments! They just listen and encourage their partner to keep talking.
After one minute partner 2 says “thank you” and shares a comment….something they learned about partner 1, or how they can relate to what partner 1 said, a compliment or a validation.
OR – partner 2 says thank you and asks a follow up question.
Option 1: Do several rounds so the participants get turns with different partners.
Option 2 : Return to the circle and have each participant share something they learned about themself and something they learned about their partner.
Meeting & Moving
Supplies needed: Speakers for playing dance music.
Put on a popular dance song appropriate for your group.
Instruct the participants to mill around (or dance/walk) silently while the music plays.
When the music stops, ask the participants to introduce themselves to a person close by and take turns answering the question that you propose.
Use “get acquainted” questions tailored to your group, such as:
- What is your favorite place to get ice cream and what do you order?
- If someone gave you a free vacation to anywhere, where would you choose to go?
- What is your pet peeve?
- What is your favorite item of clothing?
- Name a movie you saw this summer and offer a review of it.
- What class in school do you think you will like the most this year?
- Name something in your room that’s telling about you.
- What would be the “theme song” of your summer?
Repeat the process until they have each had a turn with every person in the group.
These are effective when the group energy seems to be waning or when you need a quick, fun transition between one activity and another.
What are you doing?
Instructions: Participants stand in a circle. One person (initially, the facilitator) starts by
pantomiming an action. The person next to the facilitator then asks the facilitator, “What are
you doing?” The facilitator names ANY action, but NOT the action that they are currently doing.
(For example, if you are miming playing soccer, you CANNOT say, “I’m playing soccer.” But you
CAN say, “I’m eating a piece of cake that is the size of my head.”) Whatever the facilitator SAYS,
the person who asked the question must begin to pantomime that activity (for example, they
must start acting out eating a piece of cake the size of their head.) Then the next person in the
circle asks that person, “What are you doing?” The game continues around the circle. This can
also be done in small groups once the participants learn how it works.
Name, Name, Name
Instructions: Make a circle around one person. The person in the middle is putting pressure on those in the circle and is trying to get someone to replace them in the middle. They do that by saying someone’s name 3 times before they say their name once. If they succeed in saying someone’s name 3 times before that person says the person in the middle’s name, then the person in the middle joins the outer circle and the other person comes into the center.
Name & Gesture
Instructions: Each person says their name along with a movement of any kind (the movement could be based on a ritual showing something that you do every day, like brushing teeth, combing hair, walking dog, doing homework, etc. ). The rest of the group repeats their name and their movement. Go around the circle one time, and remind people to remember their movement. The second time, do the same thing only a little faster. The third time, everyone tries to say everyone’s name and do their gesture all together (instead of call-and-response style.)
“This is not a pen.”
Everyone stands in a circle. Facilitator holds up a pen and says, “This is not a pen. This is a…” Finish the sentence with something that the pen could be. ANYTHING! And show how it would look or work as that thing. (For example, if you say, “This is a watch,” then put the pen on your wrist as if you were looking at it to see what time it is.) Pass the pen around the circle, and each person repeats the phrase, but tells and shows a different use for the pen (that is not a pen). This can also be done in pairs or small groups once the participants learn the activity. It can also be done as a competition between two groups to see which group can “outlast” the other in coming up with new and creative uses for the pen.
You are throwing a “Wah!” around the circle. The “Wah!” is a kind of ball of energy. There is only one that is in motion at any time. When someone throws the “Wah!,” They raise their two arms above their head and make a throwing motion, while also saying “Wah!” with a lot of energy. As they throw, they make eye contact and direct their throw at someone else in the circle. That person then catches the “Wah!” by throwing their two arms up above their head and saying, “Wah!” The person holds the “Wah!” above their head until they find someone else to throw it to. Try this around the circle until everyone learns it. Then add the second step: When someone catches a “Wah!” – and before they throw it to someone else – the two people on either side of the person holding the “Wah!” make a karate chop toward that person’s stomach (without touching the person at all!!) and simultaneously say, “Wah!” Once that is done, the person holding the “Wah!” can throw it (of course, saying “Wah!” as they throw.)
“Gam Ani” (me too)
Participants stand in a circle. The group leader or a volunteer stands in the middle and says a fun fact about themselves (ex. “I love camping!”). Anyone else who has that fun fact in common runs across the circle to switch spots with someone else. The last person to find a place in the circle is in the center and calls out the next fun fact.
Divide the participants into two groups. The first group that gets itself into order according to the category you name, wins. Examples: first letter of middle name, shoe size, height, birth date.
Make Me Laugh
Assign pairs (try to put participants with new friends). Each person has a glass of water. They take a sip and hold the water in their mouth. Their partner tries to get them to laugh so hard they spit the water out. Object of the game is to keep the water in your mouth for one minute (or if you are the partner – defeat that goal!)
Zip Zap Zop
Invite participants to stand in a circle. Ask the group to repeat the words “Zip, Zap, Zop” three or four times, all together. Introduce the activity by saying,
Imagine that I have a bolt of energy in my hands. To start the game, I will send the bolt out of energy out of my body with a strong forward motion straight to someone else in the circle (use hands, body, eyes, and voice to make contact across the circle) and say, “Zip.”
Explain that the next person takes the energy and passes it immediately to someone else saying “Zap.” That person passes it on to another participant with a “Zop.” The game continues and the “Zip, Zap, Zop” sequence is repeated as the energy moves around the circle. Encourage all players to use their whole body to send energy and to make eye contact. They can send the energy to whomever they want but the goal is to include all players. Practice the game. If there is a mistake, encourage students to simply resume playing without discussion. The group challenge is to go very quickly and stay consistent in rhythm; if students struggle, pause the game, discuss strategy and try again.
Participants bring chairs into a circle. The facilitator has no chair. The facilitator stands in a middle of the circle and explains the rules:
This game works in rounds. During each round there is one person in the middle of the circle. The person in the middle begins each round by saying “Hello Neighbors!” and everyone repeats back “Hi Neighbor!” Then the person in the middle continues, “I like all my neighbors especially those who ___,” and then you fill in the blank with something true about you that no one can see by looking at you. If that statement is also true for you (anyone on the outside of the circle), then you must stand up and find a new seat. It cannot be the seat directly next to you.
Begin the first round for the group:
You: Hello Neighbors!
Participants: Hi Neighbor!
You: I like all my neighbors, especially those who _____ (love playing fetch with their dog.)
All the participants with that quality stand up and find a new seat, and a new person takes the middle to begin the next round.
Notes and adaptations:
- Begin with examples that are low risk (food, pets, sports). As the game progresses, the facilitator can increase the risk by sharing more about themselves (divorced parents, fights with siblings, immigrated to the country).
- To help participants own their strengths, change the second line to “I like all my neighbors who are good at ___ (fill in the blank with something you are good at)?” If this is challenging, remind participants that they don’t need to be the best at something, just good. Facilitators should encourage participants to choose strengths that reflect their interests and accomplishments, and aren’t strictly based on their relationships with others (for example “I am good at playing basketball,” as opposed to “I am good at being a daughter.”)
Ice Breakers with Phones
Rather than asking everyone to put their phones away, ask them to pull them out for one of these:
Ask each person in the group to choose a recent photo from their phone and tell the group about it.
In advance think of a theme and then give participants one minute to find a photo from their personal photos that exemplifies that theme. (You could use a theme that has something to do with your gathering). Go around the circle and have everyone share their photo. Themes can include adjectives like “cute”, “hilarious”, or “strong”, feelings like “proud” or “loving” or situations like “taking a risk,” “being myself”, “family”. Invite the participants to make up their own themes.
Variation – The person that thinks of the theme is the “judge” and after everyone shows a photo the judge then picks the one that they feel best exemplifies the theme. That person gets to be the next judge.
Pick a search term that relates to your gathering (‘rosh hodesh’ is a great one) and invite participants to do a google search in pairs and in 2 minutes find a “fun fact” to present to the whole group.
Guess Your Partner
This activity works well to break the group into pairs for an activity.
Supplies needed: note card and pen or pencil for each person.
- Give each participant a note card and pen or pencil.
- Invite the group to list three of their favorite things to do on the note card. Ask them to also draw a picture (stick figure is fine) or a symbol that represents their interests.
- Collect the cards and put them in a deck.
- One at a time, have each person pick a card and try to guess who their partner is.
Go around the circle and ask everyone to share one thing they did this weekend. It doesn’t have to be a big thing – participants can share about a movie they saw, book they read, project they completed, social event, etc.
In advance print lines from movie or book characters (for example – “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” – Dumbledore). Harry Potter, Hunger games, Fault in Our stars, Lion King, Dr. Seuss are all great sources for quotes. Put one quote on each piece of paper and then place the papers around the room. Provide more quotes than there are participants so there is a large selection. Invite the group to walk around and then stand by the quote they feel applies to them. Invite everyone to share their quote and why they chose it.
Option: Do a second round and invite everyone to stand by a quote that reminds them of someone else in the room. After everyone is at their spot, one at a time participants bring the quote to the person that they connect the quote to and explain why. (This option is a powerful activity – but requires that the participants have had several meetings and know each other).
Who Am I?
Give everyone a piece of paper and a pencil or markers. Allow 5 minutes to draw a picture that conveys who they are without writing any words or numbers. At the end of 5 minutes the group leader collects the pictures. Show the pictures to the group, one at a time, and have them try to guess who drew it. Each artist can then explain how their work expresses who they are.
Give everyone a 3×5 card or card stock cut into a wide strip. Invite participants to write their name at the top of the card. Then pass the card around the circle and each person writes an affirmation about the person on the card. Encourage the group to be specific – use positive adjectives that portray the things you appreciate about each person and their unique qualities, what they add to the group, etc.
Make sure the group leader gets one too!
Divide the group into pairs (be creative in how you do this – maybe invite them to find the person who lives the farthest from their house). Ask the pairs to stand back to back. Put on music and instruct the group to dance without letting their backs come apart. Switch the music to different styles every 30 seconds. If their backs lose touch they are out. Have prizes for the last pair standing and for the most talented pair!
This game promotes recycling! Everyone gets to get rid of clutter and gets to go home with things they actually want. Invite everyone to clean out their drawers and bring over all the funky junk they no longer use or wear. Then you can set up an organized trading or bartering system for a swap. After everyone has swapped stuff donate the leftovers to a local charity.
Make sure the people in the rooms on either side of you (and the principal, if you’re doing this in a school) know that they will be hearing some loud yells/screams in a minute, that it will only last for about two-three minutes, and that everything is OK.
Have the entire group get in a circle. Important: everyone needs to be able to see the eyes of everyone else.
Explain that you will be saying two sets of instructions repeatedly, “heads down” and “heads up.” When you say “heads down,” everyone looks down. Whey you say “heads up,” everyone looks up, STRAIGHT INTO THE EYES of anyone else in the circle. Two possible consequences:
- If they are looking at someone who is looking at someone else, nothing happens;
- If they are looking at someone who is looking right back at them, they are both to point in a very exaggerated manner at the other person and let out a SCREAM OR YELL. They are then “out” and take their places together outside of the circle to observe.
Once the “screamers” have left the circle, the circle closes in and you repeat step two, followed by step three, until you are down to two people.
If you prefer to keep this game quiet, instruct participants to fall down instead of scream.
What made this “fun?” The short answer to the first question is the stress involved. You can then ask them to think about what the actual stress factors in the exercise are (will my scream sound silly? Will I embarrass myself?) and when did the stress seem to lessen or intensify?
Ahead of time write different words on pieces of paper and put them in a container or hat. Divide the group into two teams. Each team picks a word out at random and has five minutes to write down lines containing that word from as many songs as possible. When the time is up each time then has 60 seconds to sing the lines. The team with the most lines wins! Good words to use include mine, together, happy, and be.
The Circle Game
Have the group sit in two concentric circles with those in the inner circle facing those in the outer circle. (If you have an odd number of participants, the group leader should play, too.)
Give each person one minute to tell their partner as much about themself as possible.
After two minutes, ask the outer circle to “rotate” so that everyone has a new partner. Encourage everyone to share something different with this new partner.
Continue playing until everyone has had a turn to be with each person in the circle. If time allows, feature one person at a time and ask the rest of the group to contribute one thing they learned about them today.
Plan for everyone to wrap up and bring something from home that they never use and don’t want (the stranger the better). Everyone draws a number from a hat; the person with the lowest number gets to choose a random gift from the pile and open it. The next person can either steal the item from the first person or take another wrapped gift. The game continues until everyone has a prize. If your item is “stolen,” you can either choose from the pile or take something from someone else. The more stealing that takes place the more fun the game gets.
Before the gathering write the names of famous people or characters on name tags – political figures, celebrities, Jewish leaders you’ve discussed in your group, etc. Put a tag on each participant’s back as they arrive, but don’t let them see their own tag. The participants then mix around asking each other one “yes or no” question until they figure out who they are.