Promoting interculturalism, tolerance and diversity in the learning process

Teaching techniques: Ice-Breaking Exercises (Discouraging factor #5)

  • Factor #5: Feeling of exclusion from the group (classmates)

When working with multicultural groups of learners, the development of effective and appropriate relationships and interactions among people from various origins and cultures as well as within heterogeneous groups is of great importance. Intercultural competences permit sharing an awareness of similarities and differences among people, thus avoiding risks such as placing stereotypes and discarding cultural diversity. People from diverse backgrounds have different, but equally significant contributions to an intercultural encounter due to their own experiences with race, gender, religion, etc. In order for interactions to run smoothly and to avoid misunderstandings, uncomfortable situations and conflict, both the members of the group and their educator should be aware of the different values, beliefs and attitudes represented in this specific group.

A multicultural group of people suggests the representation of different cultures, religions, nationalities, ethnic groups and backgrounds. That’s why it is important for the educator to “break the ice”, get to know the members of the group and allow them to get to know each other from the very beginning. Ice-breaking activities can be a very effective way to start a learning session, help people get to know each other and introduce different cultural identities within the group. By getting to know each other, the participants can become more engaged and active in the educational process and raise their motivation for learning. In order to be successful, the chosen ice-breaking activities need to have specific objectives and to be appropriate and comfortable for everyone involved.

Ice breakers are usually used in the beginning of an event, meeting, training session, study group, etc. when people don’t know each other well or at all but meet for a specific, common purpose. Such activities can be used when:

  • The participants come from different backgrounds
  • The educator needs to get to know the participants and have them know each other
  • The group is newly formed and the people in it need to bond quickly so as to work towards a common goal
  • The topics for discussion are new or sensitive to all or part of the participants

Icebreakers should be relaxing and non-threatening to the participants. In general, they should not require people to reveal too much personal information or to have close physical contacts with other people, as this may be stressful or culturally inappropriate. They should not embarrass the participants or make them feel compelled to participate. They should also not show disrespect for any cultures, religions, races or genders. At the end of every ice-breaking exercise, the educator should summarize what was learned during the activities and start a discussion by asking for comments and feedback from the group.

There are many ice-breaking exercises, each one serving different types of objectives. Below are a few examples of ice-breaking exercises, which can be useful for introduction to identity, cultural diversity, stereotypes and inclusion.

1. Culture Shock Name Game
2. Fruit bowl / Anyone who…
3. Orange Exercise