January 18, 2018

Progression – A Sure-Fire Icebreaker

This is another icebreaker in the “Sure-fire Icebreaker” series. Below is a full script of an amazing icebreaker. I created such an extensive description because I’ve found that it can be difficult to do a great icebreaker from a three-sentence description. Being a professional speaker and student leader trainer, I’m on college campuses often doing leadership retreats and orientations. Over the past decade, working with tens of thousands of students, I’ve learned the hard way what works and what doesn’t. Most icebreakers flop because the students don’t fully understand the directions or they feel corny or awkward doing it. It ends up being a lot of work and not a lot of play. Follow my script and you can skip the learning curve and move right into awesomeness!

This is a very low risk, low gradient activity that is a lot of fun. I like to have at least 10 people to start. After that it works with any size group you have room for. I’ve done it with 1000 students before. This also works with groups who’ve never meet before and groups who are very close to each other. Have fun!

“How many of you know how to play rock-paper-scissors? Let’s review. Rock beats…scissors.”

I review because 100% of the time I say, rock beats…1/2 of the people say scissors and the other 1/2 say paper. It makes me laugh every time.

“That’s why we review. Scissor beats…paper. Paper beats…rock. There’s no dynamite or nuclear bombs or hand grenades. Just rock, paper and scissors.”

“Here’s how it works. My I get a volunteer please? What’s your name? John. Give John a big round of applause. The object of this activity* is to go from a 1 to a 5.”

I hold up one finger and then five to demonstrate…

“Here’s how it works. Everyone will start as a 1. Let’s say I’m a 1. I hold up my finger and look for someone else who has a 1 up. I introduce myself.”

While shaking hands I say…

“Hi, I’m Troy…Hi, I’m John. You don’t need to tell them your lives’ story. Just introduce yourself. Then you have a duel. Feel free to get intense, maybe do a little sumo thing.”

I get down into a sumo stance and have my partner do the same if they’re comfortable. Everyone usually laughs at that.

“When we have our face-off it will look like this- we say, rock, paper, scissors, shoot.”

On ‘shoot’ you show your rock, paper, or scissors.

“It’s not, rock, paper shoot. It’s, rock, paper, scissors, shoot. Not, one, two, shoot. It’s, one, two, three, shoot. Got it? That’s very important. Okay John, here we go. Rock, paper, scissors, shoot.”

Let’s say John wins.

“Nice John. Since John won, he goes from a 1 to a 2. Since I didn’t win, I stay at a 1.”

Hold up your fingers to demonstrate. This type of modeling helps cement the learning.

“Okay, let’s say I’m at a 3. I walk around holding up three fingers and look for someone else who is holding up three fingers.”

Of course, I demonstrate this. And I look to John and hint for him to put up three fingers.

“Introduce yourself…Hi, I’m Troy. Hi, I’m John. Nice to meet you. And then have a face-off.”

I get into the sumo position again- just for fun.

“Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!”

Let’s pretend I won.

“Oh, I got you John. Since I won, I go from a 3 to a…4. Since John didn’t win, he goes from a 3 to a…2. Right, he goes down one. But you don’t go below a 1. 1 is the lowest number. Excellent. Thank you John. Let’s give John a big thank you for volunteering.

“Remember, the object is to go from a 1 to a 5. If you’re so fortunate as to get to 5, then you come up to this area of the room. You could even come up on stage.”

I like to have all the 5s come to the general area in which I’m setting up the activity. Going up on stage is even better if that’s possible.

“And you hang out with all the other fives and just be cool. You can walk around all cool like. And give high-fives to all the other 5.”

“What questions do you have?”

“Alright, let’s get to it. Everyone hold up one finger. Find someone else with a one up in the air, and begin!”

Playing music is a nice touch here.

When everyone starts playing I’ll usually join in with them for the first couple minutes. Then I’ll head over to where the 5s will be going. I like to get there before any 5s arrive. I go there to greet them with a high-five, big smile and a wahoo! My goal is to keep the energy up and encourage them to welcome the new 5s with a big high-five.

When I notice that just a little less than 1/2 of the group has made it to a 5, I stop the activity. I shut the music off and say…

“Freeze where you are. Hold up the number of fingers you are at right now.”

It may take a little bit longer than normal to quiet everyone down because some people have to finish the round they just started. It’s okay. Be patient.

“If you are at a 3, let me hear you! If you are a 4 let me hear you! If you are a 5! If you are a 2! If you are a 1! Raise your hand if you did not get past a 3? Did anyone not get past a 2? Is it possible that someone didn’t get past a 1?! Amazing! Let’s give them a big hand because that takes talent!”

If no one raises their hand for not getting past a 1 then I say…)

“I didn’t think so. If you didn’t get past a 2, raise your hand again. Let’s give them a big hand because that’s a very difficult thing to do. They’ve got skills!”

There is another version you can do that is much higher gradient. Instead of going from 1 to 5, they act out different things. For example, instead of a 1 they would be an egg. They squat down a bit and waddle around and look for another person who is looking like an egg. The winner goes from an egg to a chicken. They tuck their arms under and flap away while making chicken sounds. Do you see what I mean by higher gradient? This can be quite scary for some people to role-play like this. Only do this with a group that is ready. If they aren’t, you’ll have people walking out of the room or resentful they have to play this “cheesy” kid game. But if they’re ready they will have a blast and become even closer as a group.

Here’s the progression I usually use: Egg…chicken…dinosaur…Elvis…graduating senior.

It helps to have a motion and a sound for each [I’m open to suggestions for a sound for the egg].

Feel free to make up your own progression. Maybe figure out a way to use your school mascot. Have fun, be creative .

*When I do this with groups who aren’t necessarily there for icebreakers I like to call it an activity instead of an icebreaker or game . Some people don’t like icebreakers or games, but if it’s just an activity, then they may be able to buy into it easier. I know it is a little detail but it could make all the difference with some groups.

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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