Learners get comfortable with each other while they build a giant floor model of the learning material

The most effective icebreakers often get people acquainted and introduce learning material at the same time. Stand at the door as learners enter the room and hand everyone a large piece of colorful cardboard representing a component of a system or a part of a process you'll be teaching. Write on the back of each what the piece is, how it is used, and what it does.

Give learners five minutes or so to become subject matter experts on their piece. Then have learners assemble the whole system or process on the floor or table top, one component at a time. Each learner in turn introduces himself or herself, puts his or her piece down and explains to the group what it is and what it does. (A variation of this is to include only the name of each component on the back and have learners figure out collaboratively how all the pieces fit together.)

When the entire system or process is assembled, the facilitator can offer information, ask questions, or invent an active exercise to help learners think through and remember how the whole system or process works.

(September/October 1996 issue )