Three Ice Shattering Improv Games for Opening Week of Anything

Oh ice breakers, you are more than just a gum that doesn’t seem to hold its flavor particularly well for me — but hey, who am I to judge?  Ice breakers, you are the cornerstone of every good lesson plan in late August, early September.  And you need a wee might bit of an overhaul.

Here are three easy-to-learn, easy-to-execute, information-rich improv games that could open up doors in your classrooms, and your residence halls, non-profit organizations, executive boards, business councils, youth expeditions, knitting circles and beyond.

1. Five Things

Just learned this from Mike at ImprovBoston in Cambridge, MA this past spring while participating in a workshop with my high school student improv troupe, the Mt. Blue Curtain Raisers. (Yes, blatant plugs there.)

Members stand in a circle.  The first leader calls upon another member to name five things in a given category.

Elwood: Hey Jake!
Jake: What Elwood?
Elwood: Name five terrible names for breakfast cereals!

Now the key here is just to say the first five names that come to mind.  They might be actual breakfast cereals.  They might be made up names.  They might not even sound like breakfast cereals.  The goal here is not to be correct — or funny — it is to be spontaneous.

Jake: Horseshoe Crab Flakes!
Elwood: One!
Jake: Band Aids!
Elwood: Two!
Jake: Christmas Time!

And so on . . .

What You Can Gather From It: Participants’ capacity for spontaneity, abstraction, and risk. Sure, everyone may be laughing and having a good time.  Meanwhile, you are noting which members take right to it, which members struggle with “no wrong answers,” and to what extent the crowd comes together, counting out the ideas, laughing and cheering one another on.

2. Pass & Change

Here’s a classic that tends to open up opportunity for creative expression.

Members stand in a circle.  (Love the circles.)  Play starts with a member pantomiming an object it’s use.  The member then takes that object and “passes” it to the member to his or her right.

Once taking that object, the second member must then use that object as shown before, then “change” that item — physically showing an alteration of that item — and using it for its new purpose.  Play then continues around the circle.

What You Can Gather From It:  Participants’ capacities for imagination and visualization, identifying and remembering details, slowing down and processing deliberately, and ability to follow directions.  It can be quite a fantastic reveal.  To heighten the experience, you might think about using objects from your content area or identified in your reading.

3. Patterns

Simple in design, challenging in execution, awesome for reinforcing ideas and content.

Members (you guessed it) stand in a circle.  Once around the circle, each member chooses an item from an established category.  Everyone repeats each object, so as to reinforce what each member has.

Then it gets really interesting.  The first player raises a right arm and aims it at someone across the circle, saying the name of the object the first player has chosen.   The second player then points at a different member, saying the name of the object that second player has chosen.  This continues until a criss cross pattern is formed.  Repeat that same pattern again and again.  Then attempt to go through the pattern without raising the hand.  Attempt the pattern with eyes shut.  Add a left-handed pattern to accompany the right.  Try to accomplish both.   The variations can go on for some time.

What You Can Gather From It: Participants’ capacities for managing information, remembering patterns, working cooperatively, focusing on a task.  It’s a great one for content — making those patterns related to rote memorization information or key concepts.  Patterns could be items in a system or steps in a cycle, as well, not just objects or terms.

Need more ideas for improv games?  Holler my way in the comments below or wickeddecentlearning at gmail.

You can also check out the Improv Encyclopedia here.

Now go forth and crush some ice.

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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