Icebreakers for Creative Writing Adult Education Classes

I’m currently doing the ‘Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector’ course (PTLLS). It’s one day a week for nine weeks and today was Session 2.

We’ve been taught that icebreakers are an important part of all adult education classes, whatever the subject. All the early sessions in a course should start with an icebreaker activity, so that participants can get to know each other and feel comfortable with their classmates.

Each of the eleven participants on my course has to run an icebreaker activity sometime over the next few weeks. I put my name down to go first because I hate things like that hanging over me. If it’s got to be done, do it sooner rather than later, is my motto.

So today I split the class into two groups and gave each group an envelope containing six cards. On the cards were written the details of two characters, two objects, a location and either the words ‘Happy Ending’ or ‘Sad Ending’. I asked the groups to create a very short story using the details on the cards. I stipulated that everyone in the group should contribute at least one sentence and each group should nominate a scribe and a spokesperson to read the story aloud. Then they had five minutes to get creative.

I was anxious as they opened the envelopes and got started. No one else on the course is a writer, their chosen subjects include Punjabi, parenting skills and dressmaking, so I wasn’t sure how they’d take to a writing activity. One group was slightly slower getting started until they got the idea of what had to be done, so I did have to give some extra time.

The two stories were read aloud and then I got feedback on the activity. Everyone enjoyed it and liked the fact that it was subject-related rather than just an arbitrary activity. And the tutor thought it went well. He added that if I used it again it might be worth having an extra card or two up my sleeve to throw at a group who finished early, to avoid them getting bored.

So far, as a class, we’ve done two other icebreakers:

  • People Bingo, organised by the tutor. Every one has a ‘bingo card’ but instead of numbers it has requirements such as ‘someone who does extreme sports’, ‘someone who has a pet’ etc. The task is to find fellow course participants who fit the requirement and write their name in the space on the ‘bingo card’.
  • Questions, organised by another participant at the session today. Everyone is given a sheet with a question on it, such as ‘What is your favourite food?’, ‘If money was no object, where would you like to be right now?’ We took it in turns to stand up and answer our question.

Anyone know any other icebreakers?


  1. #1 by susanjanejones on January 13, 2015 - 8:53 pm

    Hi, Sally, that sounds like fun. Our daughter did that a year ago. She did a hand scrub for everyone as she’s a beauty therapist, using sea salt and olive oil. They loved it. Good luck with the rest of the course.

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2015 - 5:54 pm

      I like the sound of that hand scrub, Susan! Unfortunately we’ve got no beauty therapists in our group.

  2. #3 by Lee J Dawson on January 13, 2015 - 9:02 pm

    I like the icebreaker idea that you came up with, Sally. It sounds fun and I can imagine it would have got everyone nattering together. All the best for your course!

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2015 - 5:55 pm

      Yes, Lee, it did get people talking – which is the aim!

  3. #5 by charliebritten on January 13, 2015 - 9:49 pm

    There are whole books written about icebreakers, Sally. Try…/IceBreakerActivTrngSess.doc AND…/2178_45_inductiondice_o.pdf
    (I hope those links work, btw. They are both links to pdfs.) I’m glad your session went well. What you did sounds a lot like the old game of ‘consequences’.

    Btw, I’ve used people bingo with my students on the first day of term, and it works as well as anything does. My students, being teenagers, find anything like this ‘well embarrassing’.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2015 - 5:57 pm

      Thanks so much for the links, Charlie! I’ll try them out later. Glad I’m not teaching teenagers – it must be so difficult to keep their attention!

  4. #7 by Nicola on January 14, 2015 - 5:05 am

    A good icebreakers is to pair off the students and give them 5 minutes to learn as much about the other person as possible. Then they have to tell the audience all they know about their partner.
    Wishing you lots of fun with the course, Sally. All the best.

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2015 - 5:58 pm

      I like that idea, Nicola. I’ll add it to my list for possible future use.

  5. #9 by juliathorley on January 14, 2015 - 9:00 am

    ‘Icebreaker’ is a word that chills my heart. I know they’re a good idea, but I hate it when I have to take part in one – which is why I need them, of course. One activity I did quite like was where we were given a name badge and had to find our partner: I was Bonnie and had to find Clyde,for instance. Quite good fun, but it only works for a big group. The bingo card sounds OK, even to me!

    • #10 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2015 - 6:00 pm

      I think we’re all bit reticent in a room of strangers, Julia. The bingo card did get people asking each other questions. Name badge sounds good if you’re having a big party with people who don’t all know each other.

  6. #11 by blogaboutwriting on January 15, 2015 - 2:54 pm

    An ice-breaker that we did on my PTLLS course and that I’ve since used a few times, is to get everyone to put pens down (no writing allowed!) and ask everyone to think of a word to describe themselves, that starts with the same letter as their first name (eg: Happy Helen, Brave Brian..). Sometimes this takes a few minutes, so be patient and come up with suggestions if someone is stuck. I also reassure people that we will help them during the exercise if they get stuck! Then, you, as the teacher start – eg: “Super Sally”.. the next person along has to repeat your name and then say theirs – eg: “Super Sally, Stubborn Steven…”.. the next person along says the first 2 names and then adds theirs. By the time you’ve gone all the way round the room, the last person (which should actually be the ‘teacher’ again), has to say everyone’s name. It always produces lots of laughs (funny names and when people forget) and it’s a great way to get everyone participating and also learning each other’s names. You have to be a bit brave to do it – it’s always a bit chaotic to start with, until everyone realises what they have to do, but it’s worth it in the end, so if you do try it, don’t panic if it doesn’t work immediately!! I like that ice breaker you did – I’m going to use that one next week! (and I like the idea of the spare card too!)

  7. #12 by blogaboutwriting on January 15, 2015 - 2:59 pm

    I would also add that I agree about ice breakers being an essential part of an adult ed class. I always do them for the first couple of weeks of a new term, when we’ve usually got newcomers in the class. The word ‘ice breaker’ does fill a lot of students’ hearts with fear, though, as I think many of us have memories of being embarrassed by them in the past, so it’s probably useful not to use the word ‘ice breaker’ in the class – and also reassure people that no-one’s going to be put on the spot or made to look stupid. Another one I do (ooh, I’m on a roll now) is to spread out my pictures of the Mr Men & Little Miss characters on the table (I bought a poster with them all on, cut them out and laminated them) and I ask the students to pick one that either describes them or ‘speaks’ to them in some way. Then they have to hold up their character and tell us why they chose ‘Mr Bump’, for example – and why. This is usually quite good fun and tells us a little bit about the members of the class.

    • #13 by Sally Jenkins on January 15, 2015 - 3:08 pm

      Thanks for two great ideas, Helen! I shall copy & paste them into my document of icebreakers. You’re very right about not putting people on the spot and being ready to help them – my mind would go blank if asked to think of a word beginning with ‘S’ to describe myself. On the spur of the moment I can think only of ‘Shy’ and ‘Sexy’ – neither of which I’d like to be saddled with for the duration of a course!

  8. #14 by hilarycustancegreen on January 16, 2015 - 8:39 pm

    Brave stuff. I always ask to go first, because I get extremely anxious waiting to perform in any way. Ice-breakers… there’s the very simple matching up torn bit of paper. You could elaborate on that with messages on the joined up parts that have to then be joined to the rest of the sentence, until the whole group become a sentence.

    • #15 by Sally Jenkins on January 17, 2015 - 7:18 pm

      What a good idea, Hilary! I like the thought of the group having to sort themselves & their words out into one coherent sentence. Thank you.

  9. #16 by Maria Smith (@mariaAsmith) on January 18, 2015 - 1:17 am

    This is a really interesting idea, I can see how it would put people at ease.

    • #17 by Sally Jenkins on January 18, 2015 - 5:27 pm

      Yes, Maria, it did seem to get people chatting with each other. Thanks for dropping by.

  10. #18 by Debbie W on January 30, 2015 - 4:58 pm

    Hello Sally, One activity I used when leading a writing class helped the group bond, with laughter. They came up with some creative and hilarious ideas after each writing a few thoughts about a character’s name, age and occupation (not necessarily paid employment) onto cards which were then distributed around the group.

    They paired up and after about five minutes we had some funny and some intriguing opening
    lines to stories using the info written on the cards to prompt ideas.

    Good luck with the course. Being an adult ed tutor is interesting and fun.

    • #19 by Sally Jenkins on January 30, 2015 - 8:38 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion, Debbie. I’m making a note for possible future use!

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