January 20, 2018

Categorie – A Sure-Fire Icebreaker


Here’s the next edition in the Sure-Fire Icebreaker series. This is a quick icebreaker that is very low gradient and an easy way to meet a lot of people you don’t know and learn random information about them. As a bonus, I often use this icebreaker to get large groups into smaller groups in the last round.

Set up

Have them stand up and get into a large bunched up group.

“I’ll say a number and a category. I might say the number is 4, and the category is ‘people born in the same month as you.’ The music will come on and you will go find 3 other people to make a group of 4 who were born in the same month as you.”

You might get people starting to talk and look around for people born in their same month. If that happens I say;

“I might say that, but I’m not right now. But I might.”

“So, when the music comes on you might put two fingers in the air and start yelling, ‘February!’ if you were born in February.”

Make sure you model this by holding up your birthday number on your fingers and by saying it loud.

“When you find 3 other people to make a group of 4, stand in a circle and get to know as much about the other people as you can while the music is still going. Please remember that a group of 4 is 4, not 5, not 3, but 4.”

“What questions do you have?”

How long you let them look for their groups is important. You’ll need to find the balance between too much and too little time. You want them to be able to form some groups and get to know a little about the people in their groups. But you have to remember that some people aren’t going to be able to find a group so you need to end quick enough that they don’t start checking out or feeling awkward for not being in a group. This is a judgment call and you’ll just need to figure that out in the moment keeping in mind that that timing will vary depending on the group size and participants.

When I feel the time is right, I pause the music and get their focus back (refer to “Getting the focus back” for ideas on how to do that without yelling).

“If you are in a group of exactly four let me hear from you now (If the group is not comfortable with yelling yet then I might just have them raise their hands)! If you don’t have exactly four in your group, raise your hand. Everyone else look at them and say, ‘We still love you’”

I find that most any group I work with is fine with saying “We still love you.” However, I usually only do this after the first round. I don’t acknowledge the people who didn’t get into a group after that round. It just seems to flow better.

Often times I ask questions about the category we just did to have more fun and include people in other ways. If we did a category about the same number of brothers and sisters, after everyone is in the groups, I’ll ask who has the most brothers and sisters. They yell out loud how many they have. I usually say, “Wow, you’ve got your own committee.”

If I want people to get to know others in the group I add an additional category: “People you don’t know so well.” That way they’re not always in the same group with the people they are comfortable hanging out with.

To get into the next round I simply ask them to come closer to me or to come gather around. Sometimes people are hesitant to move closer so I say, “It’s okay to come closer. I showered a couple weeks ago, it should be fine.” Then I say the next number and category.

Some examples of groups I might form…

  • Form a group of 5… The category: People who have the same number of brothers and sisters as you
  • Form a group of 4… The category: People who have the same number of pets as you
  • Form a group of 3… The category: Form yourself in the shape of the letter “H” [I usually need to repeat this two times so everyone understands]
  • Form a group of 3… The category: People whose phone number has the same last digit.
  • Form a group of as many as you can… The category: People who were born in the same month as you


I often use this activity as a smooth way to get them into smaller groups. On the last round I’ll say:

“This last round is a little different. The number is 8 to 10. No less than 8, no more than 10. The categories are (with emphasis on the plural) people you don’t know so well- do the best you can- and forming yourself into a circle, linking elbows, jumping up and down. You only link elbows when you have exactly 8 or 9 or 10 people. Ready, GO!”

Once they start, it might take a little time for all the groups to form. People are usually very good at making it happen but you might need to jump in and help after awhile. While they are forming I like to have the groups that are jumping already turn in a circle as they are jumping…and then reverse directions. That amps up the fun factor and gives other groups more time to form.

When I’m doing large icebreakers at a college campus I usually have orientation leaders in the group too. I’ll change up what a say a little.

“This last round is a little different. First of all, just the orientation leaders, please move yourselves to the outside of the group and spread yourselves out to make a circle around the group. So, the number is 8 to 10. No less than 8, no more than 10. The categories are (with emphasis on the plural) you must have at least one orientation leader in your group. Form your groups with people you don’t know so well – do the best you can. When you have exactly 8 or 9 or 10 people and only 8, 9 or 10 people, get in a circle, linking elbows, jumping up and down. Ready, GO!”

This is great for orientation, leadership retreats, new students and returning students. What’s the point? Everyone has a blast! When a group has fun together, magic happens. And at the same time it creates connections and strengthens your campus community!

Troy Stende uses experiential learning-based leadership programs to help schools develop student leaders and increase student retention. He believes those two things are inseparable and has been helping colleges and universities create connections and strengthen campus community since 1998. Check out his website, on Facebook, or email him.


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