Icebreakers, brainteasers, and energizers do just what their names say: they help us break the ice, jump-start the brain and get the juices flowing. However, they also serve a much higher purpose in the learning environment. If you’ve been in any Langevin courses, you probably already know that one of our priorities in the classroom is connection. Being able to connect with each of the participants, and to provide a learning environment where learners connect with each other, is of paramount importance to us, and I’ve come to believe, many of you as well.
Let’s explore and discuss why and when each of these instructional techniques comes in handy.
1. Icebreakers: Let’s face it, training can be an intimidating environment. We are trying to take people from not knowing to knowing, or from non-performance to performance; either way it is about change. Some people who are sitting there may be wondering if they’re going to get it or if they should start looking for a new job. Others may be concerned about whether it is safe to participate.
There are as many reasons to feel intimidated in the training environment as there are people taking the course. When we conduct icebreakers, we help learners break down the walls of separation between themselves and the other learners. A simple activity, asking a group to come up with four things they all have in common, often unveils endless similarities among the team members.
Usually this leads to a higher sense of comfort for the learners who are still feeling a bit apprehensive or out on a limb on their own; this creates bonding within the group and steers them towards a smoother phase of ‘storming’ (which we discuss in our Advanced Instructional Techniques workshop).
2. Brainteasers: Word games, puzzles, match-the-items games, and others are fun, but what’s their real benefit? FUN! Think about it. We all know that based on adult learning principles, learners need an environment where they can feel comfortable and can learn with and through each other’s experience. The moment we have them work as a group in solving these puzzles, we are honoring that aspect of their needs as learners.
Each time I create a new group, both in the morning and upon returning from lunch, I make sure to engage the learners in a group brainteaser activity. An added bonus is that puzzles create a ‘response habit’ in the learners. When debriefing the puzzle, each time I ask, “What did you get for _______?” I get a response from the group. As I transition into content delivery, the learners respond when I ask a question. The habit of responding when I ask a question has been anchored.
3. Energizers & Toys: Let me get right to the point on this one. When was the last time you were able to sit for a prolonged period of time without fidgeting or losing focus from time to time? Because we acquire information through our five senses, there are many benefits to using energizers and toys. For example, play-doh® provides a visual trigger because of its color, but have you seen what happens when a learner opens the can and smells it?
They are automatically transported to a time when they played with it–it elicits a positive mental and emotional state in that learner. Koosh balls and other toys help to keep energy in check. The typical nervous activity that adults sometimes experience in training is often diminished (if not eliminated) when all that energy is transferred into a toy. People focus better and learn more. Competitive games that require movement are also excellent, as they shift any lingering stagnant dynamics.
So while at first glance all these instructional techniques may seem just fun, playful and, at times, even corny…they work! They work because they have an impact on the way adult learner’s process information, their energy, and the dynamics of learning.