Icebreakers aren’t just fun–they can play an essential role in helping your students become comfortable with each other at the beginning of and throughout the school year. They also have serious potential for team-building, bonding, and concentration! This is a tried-and-true list of beloved games, especially suitable for upper elementary and older grades.
7/28/15: As you make plans on how to use this list, check out my follow-up post: Icebreakers: A Learning Moment & Follow-Up
Game of Whiz:
Description: This icebreaker is sure to help everyone get comfortable with each other and have fun as they play with sound effects.
- Everyone stands in a circle facing each other.
- Pick a person for the first turn. He or she can pass the turn by doing one of the following actions/sounds:
- Saying, “Whiz,” while turning with hands extended as if passing an object to the person on the right or left only.
- Saying, “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na,” while waving arms like tentacles across the circle to someone else (make eye contact so they know who you are passing the turn to!) Note: The person across the circle has to receive the turn by saying “Sha-na-na-na-na-na-na” back at the passer before passing the turn to someone else!
- Yelling, “Ahhhh!” while putting palms together and pointing at a new person. Note: The person across the circle has to receive the turn by yelling “Ahhh” back at the passer while putting their palms together above their head before passing the turn to someone else.
- If someone tries to pass “Whiz” to you, you can also deflect it by putting your palms out and saying, “Boink!” Then that person has to pass the turn the other direction (“Boink” only allowed with “Whiz.”)
- After a couple of practice rounds, you can try elimination, where people get out if they forget to receive the “Sha-na-na’s” or yells properly, or otherwise mess up.
- The last two people standing win!
Description: Another great icebreaker that allows everyone to just be silly and have fun together as they train with their “samurai sword” hands, drilling, “Hoi!” at each other.
- Everyone stands in a circle facing each other.
- Everyone puts their hands together as if in samurai training and bows to each other chanting, “Hoi, hoi, hoi, hoi, hoi.”
- Then the first person puts their palms together with arms extended, and while pointing them at someone says, “Hoi!”
- The person who was pointed at has to respond by putting his/her hands above his/her head with palms together while saying, “Hoi!”
- The two people standing on either side of the person pointed at also put their palms together and slash at that person’s torso (without actual contact), saying, “Hoi!”
- After their neighbors slash and say hoi, the person with their hands above the head then drops them in front, pointing at a new person, and saying, “Hoi!”
- After a couple of practice rounds, you can try elimination, where people are out if they say “hoi” out of turn, lose the beat, or motion their hands in the wrong way.
- When you get to the last two people, the leader can have them stand back to back, walk 5 paces, and then turn and “hoi” at each other–the first to say it & point wins!
Description: This game takes serious observations skills as everyone pretends to be diplomats at an international conference, mingling among an assassin!
- Everyone stands in a circle facing out (no peeking!)
- The leader is in the center and walks among them, talking about random topics to serve as a distraction as to who they choose as the assassin. The leader taps one person on the shoulder twice, designating him or her as the assassin, and continues to walk and talk a bit to keep anyone from knowing the assassin’s identity.
- The leader tells everyone to turn and then mingle as if they’re at an international conference. They should shake hands while saying hello in another language (Variations: leader can tell everyone to greet each other as an animal, or in an accent, etc.).
- The assassin mingles, too, and intermittently kills people as they shake hands by squeezing someone’s hand twice.
- Once their hand has been squeezed twice, a person should fall to the ground and faint or die as dramatically as possible.
- As people begin to notice a pattern, someone can raise their hand and shout, “I have an accusation to make!” Someone else has to say, “I second the accusation” for the person to make the accusation–if no one seconds it, they die. If someone seconds it, the leader counts to three, and then the two people have to point at the accused assassin. They must point at the same person! If they disagree, they both die.
- If they both point at the same person, and that person is the assassin, they win. If they both point at the same person, and it’s not the assassin, they both die.
Description: This is a variation of the popular game, “Fruit basket.” Only instead of calling out fruits, the person in the middle calls out get-to-know-you descriptions!
- Everyone stands in a circle facing in on a place marker (or sitting on their chairs).
- The person who starts out as “it” stands in the middle without a place marker, and calls out “Carriwitchet if you have [person shares something about themselves or something they’ve done]!”
- Everyone who has also done that thing or who shares the description has to find a new place marker. When switching, you must find a place at least 2 place markers away.
- The person in the middle runs to a place marker, and the last person without a place marker is the new “it” in the middle.
Description: This is a great clap/chant game to help get everyone in rhythm and unified! It’s also fun to see how many words for each topic the group can come up with. It is a trickier game to get used to, though, so make sure you have plenty of time for everyone to practice the beat!
- Everyone sits in a circle facing in.
- The leader starts everyone off in the clap/snap/chant pattern as follows:
|Opening Verse spoken by all:||Subject-choosing verse spoken by leader while everyone continues the hand rhythm|
- Ideas for subjects:
- fruits, desserts, cereals, sports, school, summer, animals
- When you state your example, it must be on the snaps! If it’s more than one syllable, you can say it over both snaps, but it cannot be spoken with the pat/clap.
- Everyone goes counterclockwise around the circle from the leader stating an example of the subject when it is their turn.
- NO repeated examples!
- After a few practice rounds, you can try elimination. If a person can’t think of something on their turn, says their example off-rhythm, or repeats an example someone else already said, they are out!
Description: This is a classic concentration rhythm game, where everyone tries to get the Big Booty out!
- Everyone sits in a circle facing in.
- The leader is “Big Booty,” and then everyone else numbers off counterclockwise, starting at 1.
- Everyone puts their hands in the air and says, the following:
- “Ahhh, Big–”
- BOO-ty, (pat). They start a simple pat/clap pattern.
- Big BOOty, (clap on “boo”)
- Big BOOty. (pat on “boo”)
- Big Booty, (pat)
- Number __ (clap)
- Big Booty starts off by passing his/her turn by saying their own title, and then someone else’s number.
- One pat/clap beat in between turns.
- The person whose number is spoken then receives the turn by saying their number and then passes it by saying someone else’s number, or “Big Booty.”
- After a few practice rounds, you can try elimination. If someone doesn’t receive their turn by saying their own number first, missing the beat, or responding when it’s not their turn, they are out.
- When someone gets out, they go the end of the numbers (to the right of Big Booty), and everyone numbers off, starting at 1, to the left of Big Booty.
- The goal is to get Big Booty out and to become Big Booty yourself!
Captain’s Coming (source)
Description: This is a silly version of Simon Says that gets everyone scrambling to follow the captain’s orders!
- The leader is the captain, and is in charge of calling out actions and refereeing
- Actions to be called out:
- “Captain’s Coming!” (1-person command): Everyone stands at attention with their hand in salute, and they can’t move until the captain says, “At Ease!” If the captain calls other actions before saying, “at ease,” and people move to do them, they are out!
- “Man Overboard!” (2-person command): One person drops to one knee the other stands behind them, puts a hand on their shoulder. Both put their hands above their eyes to look for the man overboard.
- “Crow’s Nest!” (3-person command): Three players stand with their backs toward each other and link elbows, forming a crow’s nest.
- “Mess Table!” (4-person command): Four players huddle around a make-believe table and pretend to eat savagely, making sounds like, “NOM-NOM-NOM-NOM!!”
- “Walk the Plank!” (5-person command): Five people stand in a single file row hands on the shoulders of person in front of them. The captain comes and counts out five, starting with the person at the front, but people can keep trying to shuffle into the front of a line of 5 to get included in the plank until the captain starts counting.
- “Mermaid!” (optional 1-person command to get everyone cracking up): Players each thrust out the right hips, puts the right hand on that hip, and makes an exaggerated tail wave with the left hand, yelling, “Howdy, sailor!”
- The captain should revisit “captain’s coming” from time to time to see if everyone is paying attention with “at ease.”
- Everyone has to get in groups, doing the correct actions within a few seconds, or the captain declares them out!
Description: This is a great rainy-day indoor game that gets everyone moving and having fun.
- The leader sets up a rectangular perimeter with markers.
- Everyone loosens their shoelaces or shoe straps and then gets into a crabwalk position on all fours.
- When the leader says, “Go,” everyone crabwalks around trying to knock off each other’s shoes.
- Last one wearing a shoe wins. 🙂
Two Truths & a Lie
Description: This game is a great way to learn about each other–not only the things that people have done, but how good they are at being sneaky. 🙂
- Everyone thinks of two true things they have done and one thing they have NOT done. (for younger students, you might even have them write down their ideas. You may also want to teach them about what makes it fun; saying, “I have 1 brother, I have 2 brothers, I have 2 uncles,” isn’t a particularly interesting one for anyone to guess, which is partly why we emphasize telling them to share things they’ve done).
- Other players take a few turns guessing which is the lie, before the person reveals it!
- The person who correctly guesses the lie gets the next turn!
Never Have I Ever
Description: This is another classic get-to-know-you game that my students always enjoyed playing in the hallways while waiting for the next activity!
- Everyone puts 5 fingers in the air.
- The person whose turn it is says, “Never have I ever ___(something they have honestly never done that they think other people have done)___.”
- Anyone who HAS done it must put down one finger.
- The person who still has at least one finger up wins!
Antoinette van de Rieth (featured image)