Group Dynamics Exercises


Ice Breakers, Warmups, Energizers, and Motivators For Groups

All groups need ice breakers, warmups and energizers at some time or another. Here are a number that have been successfully used for over thirty years with many different kinds of groups. You can modify most to adapt the characteristics of your group.

When groups first meet, there is often some fear about what may happen. This is true even when many know each other or have attended group events before. Many of these exercises can put a group at ease and build trust . They can be fun too.

If your group is new, make building trust a priority for the first few meetings by using one or more of these exercises.

Some of these encourage more intimacy than others, coming from the heart (feelings) while others are more for what they think (cognitive). In my experience, it is better to start with the cognitive then move toward the feeling exercises. Feeling exercises are not safe for all people. This tends to be more true of men than for women.

THE EXERCISES

1. The Checkin

Start by saying you want them to answer four questions:

1. State your FULL name and what you like to be called.
2. Say where you live now and another place you have lived (may use a different question if all from the same place).
3. State why you are here --if you know. If you do not know say that.
4. And if you have been coerced to attend by your company, spouse, minister or any other person, say something about this. [You will be really surprise at the results this gets -- it often will give such a person permission to be in the group fully.]
Two optional questions if you have the time:
5. For some groups that are in an evening: "Share something about how this day or week has gone."
6. "What do you want most by being part of this group."

You may need to say that the checkin must be done quickly and you will model how to do it. Most people will follow your modeling if you keep it crisp and to the point. Occasionally you will get a person that wants to tell their life story and you may have to stop them politely by saying they will have time to say more later.

People need to tell something about themselves that is totally nonthreatening and safe to feel like they belong to a new group. Talking about personal aspects of their lives rather then their occupation will in most cases be more productive in the long run. You may find a few people that can only talk about their occupation and you need to allow this to some degree.

2. DIALOGUING

A second introduction method is use of dialoguing. I normally us two: one dealing with the cognitive and one with feelings.

Start by asking each person to team up with another person they know the least. Make sure all people have a team mate. If the group is uneven, put three in one group. Then present the cognitive topic. It is best to have open ended subjects, themes or a list for them to choose from.

Explain the first dialogue as being cognitive (point to your head while explaining) and each pair will take about 3 to 5 minutes talking with their partner. They may start slowly, but most will move into the task within a few minutes. Monitor the group and help any pair that seems to be having problems. Give them a one minute warning that time will soon be up. I often gage how long they talk by observing how they are doing, but limit it before they wind down.

When they finish talking, ask some to share with the large group what they talked about. Then shift to the next dialogue by asking them to find another partner they do not know well. Go on to the next theme by explaining it is about feelings (hold your hand over your heart while explaining this.) Again repeat the above process

In a weekend workshop, I use the FCE Mission Statement for the cognitive or a list of community principles. (see here) and (here) . For the feeling part, I use the FCE Philosophy statement (also known as the FCE dream) Also see the Long CB Introduction (click) for more about this exercise.

3. SENTENCE COMPLETION

Using sentence completions allows each person to share something about themselves. Make this fun and on the light side, not too serious. These can be put on a handout or on a wall poster

Examples:

If I could throw caution to the winds and really risk, I would. . . . .

The comic character I would like to be like is. . . . .

The most important decision of my life was/is. . . . .

As a child, may favorite game was. . . . . .

My favorite movie of all times is. . . . . .

What makes me laugh is. . . . . .

Today, I like to play by. . . . . . .

I cry when . . . . . . . .

Make up statements to fit your group. For example if your group is composed mainly of young married couples with children, make up questions about the behavior of the children, like:
My child embraces me when . . . . . .
or
My child make me really angry when . . . . . . .

4. FILL IN THE BLANKS

A second group of questions done slightly different and always done with a handout:

I need ____________ to make my life complete. ...because . . . . . .

If I had ______________ I would be the happiest person in the world.

I  can explain my life as an animal and that animal is a ________________

I like to imagine I'm the cartoon character _____________ because . . . . .

A gift I can give others is ________________

A gift I would like to receive from others is ____________

If I had all the money in the world, I would _________________

I will eat anything put in front of me except _______________

School for me was(is) ________________

If I had to give up a prized possession, it would be _______________

Again, make up your own question to best fit the characteristics of your group.

5. PUZZLE -- A Teamwork Creative Motivator.

This can be used as a first exercise for any kind of group and gets the creativity going in a group. It is fun to do and takes just long enough.

PREPARATION:

Make the puzzle pieces. Here's how:

1. Get 8 different colors of poster board, about 8 x 11.

2. Draw one letter on each using all the space. Use the word T E A M W O R K, or create your own word. Put a number of xxxxxx on the back side of each letter so they will know which is the front.

3. If you plan to use this exercise more than once, laminate the pages.

4. Cut up each letter into puzzle pieces, using not less than 6 pieces per letter. Put the pieces of each letter into a separate envelope. Now you are ready for the exercise.

EXERCISE:

1. Form the people into groups of 3. You can do this a number of different ways. I usually have them count off to make the groups random. So , if you have 27 people, you would count off by 9's.

2. Have them get in their groups.

3. Hand out the puzzle pieces. Tell them they have a puzzle to put together. Stress they are to have fun doing it. Now go to it. No more instructions.

4. Be ready to coach any group that has a hard time getting started. Walk around in the groups.

5. When you see one group about to finish their puzzle, tell them to announce what letter they have. Other groups will follow this lead.

6. Let them figure out they are to make a word. One group may say, "I've got a W." Be prepared to tell one group then have either an M or a W, which ever you need to do.

7. After the group completes the word Teamwork, have them hang it on the wall. As an option you can have them tell what it was like to do the puzzle. Or, you can just go on with other task for the group.

This exercise is courtesy of my wife, Marge Hampton. She used this recently to start an in-service for a group of teachers.

6. Quaker Questions (one of my favorites)

See Quaker Questions

7. OPEN SHARING (another favorite)

[This came from a monastery and is called Antecedent (going before) Benevolence (a kindly act given out of generosity].

Have people sit in a circle. Ask each person to share something that has touched them (in their life or since we last met or in their home life, etc.).

Each person talks no more than 1-5 minutes (time varries with group) so all will have time to share. Give them permission to not speak if that is what they want.

One rule: no one is to comment in any way on what any other person has said until all that want to share have spoken.

Some may need to speak more than once to add something to what they have already said. The facilitator decides when the above process is finished, then invites any person in the group to speak about anything they desire. This process usually results in the focus of discussion going where it needs to go in the group. I've used this in the same group a number of times and allowed it to fill the entire meeting.

You model for them so they get the idea.

8. STORY TELLING

Read the part of the Velveteen Rabbit about the skin horse and the rabbit talking about what it means to be real. Then ask the question: "what being real mean to you?" Click here for this story.

Another good story comes from the book The True Story of The Three Little Pigs As Told by The Wolf (a childrens large format book) . Read it and show the pictures (takes about 5 minutes). Then ask how this story applies to their life. This story can be about perceptions or having to change what you think about a person or group. It sometimes brings up a need to apologize to someone or a decision to change some behavior. Look for other similar stories, and children's stories are usually safe and easy to understand.

9. CARTOONS

Cartoons are very safe and allow meaningful sharing. Watch the newspaper cartoons for something about community, sharing, family life, or a related subject. Clip it and hand a copy to each person. Tell them to read the cartoon. Give a few minutes of silence for them to think about it. Ask what the cartoon means to them. Cartoons allow people to express themselves well and without manipulation. I  have collected over 100 cartoons that I use. Peanuts is a good source and so is Calvin and Hobbes. You can buy complete books of these at your local book store. I would like to provide some of mine here, but to use copyrighted cartoons cost $100 each !! I've had some very surprising deep conversations develop from using cartoons.

10. AN ADVANCED EXERCISE

Do this exercise after the group has established some trust .

Pair off the people. Have them sit facing each other and they can allow their knees to touch.

Tell them you are going to give them a question to talk about for 3 minutes each. Person A will talk first while person B remains totally quiet. Then after 3 minutes Person B will talk while Person A listens.

First tell them they can not talk about what they do for a living or their work, only about their person. You may need to give personal examples.

The question they are to answer is:

"I am ........"

If the speaker stops speaking for 30 seconds, then the listener repeats the question " "Who are you?" If the speaker does not respond, wait another 30 seconds and say the question again.

Their task is to talk about who they are for the 3 minutes. Many people will struggle with this but that is exactly what this exercise is for. In one culture, I only had two pairs that could do this exercise and they struggled a great deal. This has never happen in the US, but many will get very stuck. In there stickiness they will discover they need to learn who they are.

There are 2 follow on questions that can be used:

  • Tell what you look like, giving details about your face.
  • List 10 things you like about yourself.

11. MASK EXERCISE (Click here)

This is an advanced exercise that can allow people to learn about themselves and I use it often.

12. VALUES QUESTIONS

If I suddenly found out that I had 24 hours to live I would spend them . . . . . .

If I had to give up some modern convenience, like TV, car, toilet, telephone, lighting, I would select . . . . . . .

If I had to choose between loosing my hearing or sight, I would choose . . . . . .

NOTE: The following two games were learned when I attending a Playfair at Southern Methodist University in the early 80's, done by Dr. Matt Weinstein. These are document in his book titled Playfair, dated 1980. This is an excellent book that is out of print, but some are often available in the used market. This book has about 100 non competitive games that are very useful

13. GAME -- IMAGINARY BALL

I use this game to create some fun and to build creativity in a group before we do an exercise that works better with some creativity. I almost always use it before doing any role play.

I usually start with a tennis ball, bouncing it up and down in front of my chair. I may toss it to several people and ask them to toss it back. Then I announce we are going to play a special kind of ball game called Imaginary Ball, and we are not going to use the tennis ball. Then I form my hands in from of me like I'm holding a basket ball and may even go through the motions of dribbling it in front of my chair adding a few appropriate sounds. I look across the room and say, "I'm going to throw this basketball to Jim and I want you to throw it back to me.

Then I say, "I'm going to throw this to Steve next and Steve, I want you to throw a ball of some kind, not a basketball, to another person. Call out that persons name and tell them the kind of ball you are going to toss them. That person is to catch it and make up a different kind of ball and throw it to someone else, again calling out their name before you do it.. You can make any kind of round object as long as it won't hurt anyone else. Are you ready?"

If people do not know each others names at the point you play the game, you can use it to help people learn each others names. I tell them to point to a person and ask their name and to repeat it several time in the process of throwing the ball. You can emphasize several times during the game to add sound effects and body movement. For example when throwing a bowling ball to stand up and roll it on the floor.

Your facilitative task is to keep it going and to keep track of who has and has not had the ball. Most groups will do and excellent job of this and see that everyone in the groups gets the ball. But sometimes they loose track and that is when you step in and tell them a certain person has not had the ball yet.

A creative way to end the game is to say, "There are only three people left to get the ball. I want the last two people to find a creative way to end the game." And example is that one person throws the last person an orange. That person peels the orange and eats it in pan-to-mime.

I often have the group stand up after them game and give themselves a standing ovation.

14. GAME -- HOW TO START AN ARGUMENT

This game is used in special applications where it is useful as a safe way to express anger.

Pair off and stand face to face. Demonstrate first: I'm going to say a word like YES. My partner is going to say an opposite word like NO. Another example using 2 words is "It's Cold" "It's Hot". Each set of words is said softly at first then more and more and more forcefully, then reversed to less forcefully, then back to soft. A twist you can offer is to state a third word that is in the middle of the two words, like WARM. This is said by one partner and they decrease the forcefullness and it needs to be said as if it is a question using voice inflection. Waiting to see if the other will say the third word is the object to ending the argument with compromise. You can repeat the cycle a number of times, say 5 or so.

Following the exercise you can debrief the group, getting them to say how it felt.

More to be added later


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