Ice breakers are activities or modes of discussion used to help individuals ease into a group setting. Some ice breakers are done in groups and some can be individually completed. Others involve physical activities while others can be purely mental. Any activity that suits the intended purpose can be used.
For what are ice breakers used?
They can serve many purposes from facilitating introductions, to prior knowledge assessment, to several other reasons outlined below and others that have probably been inadvertently omitted. Also note that a single ice breaker could easily fall into several of the categories. They are not intended to be mutually exclusive and you should design or choose activities that meet all of your intended needs.
Icebreakers are structured activities that are designed to relax learners, introduce them to each other, and energize them in what is normally an unduly formal atmosphere or situation. Icebreakers are not normally related to the subject matter, where as “openers” are related to the subject matter that is to be discussed. In addition, they often help to break up the cliques and invite people to form random groupings in a non-threatening and fun way.
The term “icebreaker” comes from “break the ice,” which in turn comes from special ships called “icebreakers” that are designed to break up ice in the arctic regions. And just as these ships make it easier for other ships to travel, an icebreaker helps to clear the way for learning to occur by making the learners more comfortable by helping to bring about conversation.