Use of icebreakers to prepare for roleplay (NN8)

Study board cand.merc.
Course title Collaboration, Decision-Making, and Management
Course type/size Elective
Teaching format Face-to-face

Learning consultants’ reflection on the NN connection of this activity 
NN8 underlines ‘relearning’ as a most significant life skill. You learn from others, and others learn from you. Students’ group work can help them master this social competency, and, later in life, workplace teamwork and participation in networks can develop and strengthen the skill. 

In this example, role-play has been used to simulate workplace situations and thus create a learning experience to discuss. Role-play is a group activity that requires students to socialize with each other in a way that may be stressful to some students. Therefore, to make it work successfully, the activity should be carried out in a safe and welcoming learning environment. 

This example illustrates how teachers can use small activities to help students participate in group work with less psychological stress and to boost students’ engagement.  

Teaching philosophy 

“Awareness of the social dimension of learning is didactically important, and a safe and welcoming environment is central to student well-being. Through short (usually 5-10 minutes) icebreakers, students are asked to engage with each other and socialize. This allows for a more socially relaxed atmosphere because students get to interact with each other and ‘break the ice.’ It also serves to bring the energy of the room up because it is physically and creatively stimulating, which helps everyone keep lethargy at bay, and it enables students to perform better in the following activities and contribute to the classroom discussion because they have already been activated. Depending on the nature of the icebreaker, students are encouraged to involve themselves by bringing in experience and knowledge from their life and other courses in the process.” 

Jesper Kollerup 

Key objective(s) aligned with this activity 

  • Reflect on your role in cooperative processes and identify ways on how to actively contribute 

Description of the activity 

In this course, students acquire theoretical knowledge and competencies required to make quick management decisions when the time does not allow to strategize. The course combines paradox management, behavioural psychology and the basic principles of improvisational theatre. 

These competencies are developed through a range of roleplays and exercises situated in different work situations. The roleplays and exercises are embedded in the theory of the course, but also in the students’ own experiences, both from life and other courses. It is crucial that the students feel psychological safety in this course, and therefore the students’ well-being is in focus for them to bring themselves and their experience into play. 

The course is taught on campus and the following icebreaker exercise is presented to the students by the teacher in class. The icebreakers are meant to enhance and develop student well-being and collaboration.  

An icebreaker is an exercise intended to help students get to know each other and “warm up” before the class starts. An icebreaker breaks down barriers and helps a group of students to perform better as a team and enforces collaboration, knowledge-sharing and well-being among students. 

Icebreakers are not used in isolation, but as didactic tools that help to create a collaborative classroom, where the students dare to engage in an open dialogue both in groups and plenum.  

After the icebreaker, it is a good idea to briefly talk about what can be learned from it. Icebreakers often rely on creative participation, matching other people’s energy, active listening, and other general skills that are necessary for good communication and collaboration. Even if such skills are broad in nature, it is often possible to link the learnings to specific aspects or learning objectives of the course. 

Examples of icebreakers

“In one of the icebreakers, I hand out markers and ask the students to draw their hobby on the whiteboard in the classroom. I give them one minute to draw and when the time is up, I walk around and try to guess what was drawn. It usually gets a few giggles because of how the doodles look, but I also point out what was drawn and ask the room what qualities they associate with that particular hobby. For instance, if someone has drawn a football, I suggest that they might be good at coordination and teamwork or performing in high intensity situations, like that of a football tournament match. This is supposed to highlight the learnings and skills that we might have acquired from other areas of our life besides formal education, and it also gives the students an opportunity to share some of the things they care about outside the university with their classmates.” 

Jesper Kollerup 

“One of my favorite icebreakers is teaching students the principle of ‘Yes, and…’ In pairs or small groups, students are asked to do the following: In the first round, one person is going to propose their idea for a party, and everyone else will have to answer that person by starting their sentence by saying ‘No, but…’ They are essentially rejecting the proposal and suggesting an alternative. In the second round, the same person that started will propose another idea for a party, but this time the responders will start their sentence by saying “Yes, but…” before suggesting an alternative that doesn’t outright reject the idea, but neither accepts it unconditionally. In the third and final round, the party-planner gives their proposal, and this time everyone else will enthusiastically reply with “Yes, and…,” and instead of suggesting an alternative idea, they accept the first person’s proposal and add to the idea by heightening it. The key learning here is that saying “No,” or “Yes, but” quickly shuts down an idea and prevents it from properly taking shape, whereas a “Yes, and…” shows acceptance and encouragement, allowing the idea blossom.” 

Jesper Kollerup 

“A simple, but efficient icebreaker, is called the ‘mind meld.’ In pairs, students must count down from three together. The first student says ‘3,’ the second student says ‘2,’ and together they say ‘1!’ and immediately thereafter say a random word at the same time, whichever one comes to mind. For example: “3, 2, (and then together) 1! Banana! Ship!” It is important that the students give their words simultaneously. Now, the goal of the game is to end up saying the same word by forming associations between the two words. The second round might go something like this: “3, 2, 1… Crate! Hammock!” and again, “3, 2, 1… Wood! Furniture!” until they finally – and magically – happen to think of the same word: “3, 2, 1… Chair! Chair!” 

Jesper Kollerup 

Interested in using icebreakers? 

A google search will prompt many good ideas, but we can also recommend chapter 9 from ‘Student Engagement Techiques’ by Elizabeh Barkley