Popcorn – An Engaging and Entertaining Icebreaker

Paradigm Shift Team-Building Icebreaker Popcorn

Let’s be honest, sometimes we need a fun time-filler that will keep our groups engaged without keeping them bored. Popcorn is just the kind of activity you are looking for…it is fun, it is fast, and it is engaging.

Stephanie Bolen, one of the wonderful Paradigm Shift consultants, explains the instructions for Popcorn in this quick video.

Since I know some of you are visual learners and want to read the instructions, here are the written details of Popcorn.

Round the group into a circle. Teach the participants how to pop like popcorn kernels. This is done by hopping into the air while simultaneously clapping your hands and yelling “pop.”

Take a few minutes for the group to try and pop as loudly or quietly as possible, as low or as high to the ground as possible, or even as quickly or slowly as possible.

When you think they are ready for competition ask them to try and pop without popping at the exact same time as someone else. Everyone will come to the center and act as if they are operating a microwave. Be as creative with your microwave operating as possible.

As soon as the popcorn is in the microwave the participants will try to pop without popping at the same time as someone else. If two participants pop at the same time, both take a seat and cheer on the other kernels.

This game is played on the honor system. If you even think you popped at the same time as someone else, you should take a seat! Last popper (or two poppers) popping is the winner and then the group can play again.

You can download a PDF of the activity explaining the instructions here.

Chicken Noodle Circle – A Great Way to Round Up a Group

Have you ever had a hard time getting your group into a circle? We all know that circles are the best way for a group to communicate, and sometimes we need the group to get into different sizes of circles depending upon the activity. I picked this fun way to circle up a group on a day at the ropes course at OSU Outdoor Adventure.

I typically will introduce this activity as an opportunity for the group to learn a valuable tool in group communication…forming a circle. I will introduce on circle, practice it a few times, and then introduce a new circle. Each time we playfully form the different circles until the group has learned the different ways to circle up.

Chicken Noodle Circle

Ryan Eller

The most common and effective way to organize your group is to round them into a circle. Use this quick and fun activity to help your participants learn how to efficiently circle up.

Number of Participants: 5-75
Time:  5 minutes
Activity Level:  Moderate
Props:  None

Objective:  To get into a circle quickly and effectively.

Description: Teach the participants these five circles:

  1. Chicken Noodle: Ask your participants to get into a circle “Chicken Noodle Style,” which is a shoulder to shoulder circle (this is a small circle).
  2. Chicken Wing: The participants place their hands on their hips and elbows out as they imagine being a chicken wing. The participants will touch elbows around the circle. (This is a medium circle)
  3. Chicken in Flight: Participants spread out for this large circle by stretching their arms out wide, standing on one foot, and leaning over like a chicken flying through the air. (This is the largest circle)
  4. Free Range Chicken: Everyone finds their own spot in the room, sticks their hands straight out to their sides, and spins in a circle. If they have enough room to spin without touching another person, they have officially became a free range chicken. 
  5. The Great Chicken Turnabout - Everyone stands in a Chicken Wing circle, and at count of three everyone turns around and faces the outside of the circle. 

Ask the participants to learn the five circles, and then randomly challenge the group to get into the circles as quickly as possible when you yell out the type of circle. At any point in the day you can ask the participants to get into any of the types of circles depending on the needs of the group.

I have seen a couple different types of Circle Up activities in different books. Check them out for new ideas and references. 

The Hundredth Monkey by Nate Folan and friends – Circle Up pg. 54
Raptor and other Team Building Activities by Sam Sikes – The Great Roundup pg. 103 

Do you have any circle up activities that work with small – large groups? 

Avalanche – A Perfect Way to Mix Up a Group During Team-Building

I work with teams of all ages and backgrounds from many different cultures, and I find that all groups do the same thing: line up next to their friends while standing in a circle. This activity is a fun way to break up cliques without the participants realizing that it was your ulterior motive.



Number of Participants: 5 and up
Time: 2-3 minutes
Activity Level: Moderate-High
Props: None

Objective: For participants to find a new spot in the circle.

Anytime the group is in a circle, and the facilitator yells, “Avalanche,” all of the participants find a new spot in the circle. However, the participants find the new spot in the most creative way possible.

Example ways to move around the circle:

  • Riding a Pogo Stick
  • Pushing a Shopping Cart
  • Walking Across a Balance Beam
  • Rolling on the Ground

What tools do you use to break up a group? What is your favorite way to move around the circle during Avalanche?

Human Javelin – A Loud and Entertaining Team Building Energizer

There are times as a facilitator when you need a go-to activity that will let your group let out some noise and energy and Human Javelin is a perfect energizer for the times. It is perfect for all sizes of groups and all ages of participants. There is something to be said about the power of yelling. Check out the videos below for instruction on how to do this easy and loud activity.

I hope this activity helps you on your quest to create a fun and engaging atmosphere for growth with your group. Have you ever attempted this activity? Do you have a Human Javelin world record?

Thumb Wrestling in Stereo – A Classic Icebreaker and Group Energizer

Paradigm Shift TRiO Workshop

I first learned this great activity from Ryan McCormick at Project Adventure in Boston. It is now one of my “go-to” activities with groups of all sizes. My friend from Australia, Mark Collard, demonstrates this classically fun icebreaker that helps groups break down physical barriers and creates a huge sense of FUNN (Functional Understanding Not Necessary).

For more activities just like this one, check out Mark’s great work on playmeo, the largest online database of group games & activities in the world. You can also buy his two awesome books, No Props and Count Me In, two books that should be in every facilitator’s game bag.

Below you will find my explanation on how to lead this activity with your group:

Thumb Wrestling in Stereo

Number of Participants: 2-200
Time:  5-10 minutes
Activity Level:  Moderate
Props:  None

Objective: To become the Thumb Wrestling Champion of the world.

I love this old school activity with a new twist. Use a creative way to form partners and ask them to place their left hand behind their back. Instruct them to extend their right arms, curl their fingers into each other’s fingers, and stick their thumbs into the air. Their goal is to now pin their partner’s thumb down. That’s right, old school Thumb Wrestling. Play three rounds and declare a winner very loudly.

After round one, invite the participants to challenge each other with a two-person, two-handed thumb wrestle. Do this by clasping right hands together, just as in round one, and clasp left hands together underneath or above the right hands. Play both hands simultaneously.

For round three, group the participants into groups of three and ask them to place their left hands behind their back. All three members of the group will then extend their right hands, curl their fingers inside the palms of the other participants, creating a three-handed thumb-wrestling match.

In round four, invite the participants to play three-person, two-handed thumb wrestling by combining their right hands like before, and mimicking the action with their left hands.

If you would like help implementing this activity or any other activities into your curriculum, don’t hesitate to contact us at Paradigm Shift.




The Who, What, Where, When, and Why of Icebreakers

I love a good icebreaker, and the best icebreakers are group-generated ones! Use Who, What, Where, When, and Why? To create conversations amongst participants and encourage group presentation skills.

Who, What, Where, When, Why

Number of Participants: 4-25
Time: 10-25 minutes
Activity Level: Low
Props: None

Objective: To get to know another participant better.

Description: Group the participants in twos, threes, or sevens (depends on the size of your group, obviously). Ask the groups to find their own space, get comfortable, and ask their partner(s) five questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?

Leave the instructions open-ended and vague, encouraging the participants to answers those questions anyway they see fit.

After a moderate amount of time has passed, ask the participants to come back to the group, circle or square up, and introduce their partner to the group by telling everyone their partner’s answers to the questions. Allow the participant who is being introduced to clarify any statements made by the participant.


  1. Ask the participants to create a secret handshake to share with the group.
  2. Have participants switch their position in the circle or their seat after each introduction. This keeps participants engaged.

Have you facilitated this activity? What suggestions do you have to encourage conversation amongst participants?

Bear, Ninja, Cowboy – A Fun & Competitive Icebreaker

Bear, Ninja, Cowboy is a perfect partner icebreaker that will get your group energized and laughing. It can be used as a name game, a competitive icebreaker, or as a ridiculously fun activity. It is a fun alternative to Rock, Paper, Scissor.


Bear, Ninja, Cowboy

Number of Participants: 2-unlimited
Time:  5-15 minutes
Activity Level:  Moderate
Props:  None

Objective: To have the most winning actions at the end of three rounds.

Description: Pair up the participants in as fun a manner as possible and teach the group three new actions:

  • Cowboy – This action is made by placing your hands on your holster and then shooting your hand pistol while making your best gun noises.
  • Bear – While standing on your hind legs, raise your arms in true bear fashion. Growl as loud as possible to intimidate your partner.
  • Ninja – A ninja will obviously be sly and intense as they kick, punch, or throw their ninja star.

Obviously, a Cowboy would shoot and defeat a Bear, a Bear would maul a Ninja, and a Ninja would defeat a Cowboy with their Ninja star.

Ask the partners to stand back to back and then walk off three paces. After three paces the participants will immediately turn around and act out one of the three actions.  Depending on what they choose, one participant will become the winner. If both participants choose the same action, then they both immediately choose a new action. Play three rounds to see who will be the win the best out of three.


  1. This can be played as a competitive activity, where the winners of each game move on to play winners of other games until there is only one champion.
  2. You can play this in a Rock, Paper, Scissor Olympics style where the winner of each round gains the following of the participants they just defeated. Play until there are only two players left, with half of the room rooting for one player, and the other half cheering for the other.
  3. After each game, ask the partners to pair and share with each other an interesting fact, name, etc.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Did you have any strategies during the activity? What were they?
  2. Did you play to compete or for fun?
  3. What are the differences between playing for fun or competition?

Have you played this fun activity? Do you have any variations I should add to this list? Please comment below!

Eyeball Tag

Eyeball Tag

Not all tag games are equal, and Eyeball Tag is my all-time favorite. This game does not need athletic prowess and quick hands to be successful, but rather great timing mixed with courage and bravery.

Number of Participants: 5-25
Time:  5-10 minutes
Activity Level:  Moderate
Props:  Chairs

Objective: To make eye contact with another seated participant and then switch seats without the person in the middle sitting in your chair.

Set Up:
Each participant gets a chair and the group arranges the chairs in a circle. The facilitator or a volunteer does not have a chair and stands in the middle of the circle.

The object of this activity is to switch chairs with another participant after making eye contact with them. If two participants make eye contact, they stand up and move to each other’s chairs as quickly as possible. If the facilitator in the middle sees the participants moving, they will try to sit in an open chair. If successful, the participant in the middle assumes their role and tries to find an open chair. Play this as quickly as possible with as many people switching chairs as they dare.

Facilitator Notes:

  • Make sure your chairs are solid and secure. This game gets lively, and you do not want your chairs to break.
  • Be sure to let your participants know that safety is the number one priority.
  • It is often best to make this game a “walking” activity if your group is a little on the dangerous side.

Have you tried eyeball tag before? What is your favorite tag game?

Let me know if you have any questions on how to implement this into your program.

Ryan Eller
Founder, Paradigm Shift

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I first learned Tweener with Jerrod Murr at a Project Adventure training with Nate Folan. I instantly moved this activity towards the top of favorite activities list.  Tweener is a fun, active, and versatile activity that can be used as a name game, icebreaker, energizer, a debrief, or for just plain FUNN (Fundamental Understanding Not Necessary!).

Paradigm Shift


Number of Participants: 5-25

Time:  5-15 minutes

Activity Level:  Moderate

Props:  A soft throwable that is about the size of a soccer ball. (Make sure it is soft…it can often hit participants in the head)

Objective: To hit the throwable through the legs of another participant.

Set Up: Arrange the group into a circle and instruct the participants to touch feet with those on both sides of them. Make sure they spread their legs a little, but at a comfortable width.

Description: The objective of this activity is to open-palm slap a soft ball (really soft, like a yarn ball or thumb-ball) between the legs of another participant. Start with the ball on the ground at the beginning of each game. If the ball goes between someone’s legs, it is a goal, and all participants will loudly cheer this accomplishment by imitating their favorite soccer announcer.  If the ball goes into the gap created between the legs of two participants, it is a tweener, and the entire group will meekly and softly say “tweener!” Continue play in this manner until all are tired or too much blood has rushed to the heads of the tweener superstars.


  • If a participant hits the ball between another person’s legs, the goal scorer gets to share their name, an interesting fact, or any other intriguing detail.
  • A debriefing variation is to ask the participants to share something when either a goal is scored or there is a tweener.  Use this after an activity or initiative. When a goal is scored, encourage the participants to share their viewpoint of the day or of an activity. When there is a tweener, both participants whose legs split the tweener use one word to describe the activity.
  • An active variation can be played by placing two Tweener groups on opposite sides of a gym or field. When a goal is scored, the person who was scored upon runs to the other group and joins their circle. If there is a tweener, the person who hit the tweener runs to the other group. This variation will have people crisscrossing the field or gym.

I encourage you to play this one…use it as an icebreaker and then follow it up with as a processing activity later. In my experience groups will share more when they are active and familiar with the debriefing process.

Let me know if you have any questions on how to implement this into your programs!

Ryan Eller
Founder, Paradigm Shift

Not The Same Name Game Book

Not The Same Name Game Book Cover

Not The Same Name Book is an essential piece of every facilitator’s book collection! This hands-on book is perfect for any group wanting to get to know each other better.

Add it to your digital library by clicking the “Add to Cart button below!”

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Name games are not limited to the ropes course, classroom or birthday parties. Use these simple name games in any situation where a group will be together for an extended period of time.

Use a name game to:

  • Introduce students to their new teacher and classmates
  • Present new members to a team or organization
  • Open up participants in group counseling
  • Have fun at a birthday party
  • Generate camaraderie within a family or team
  • Open up sequencing activities on a ropes course
  • Start a meeting or workshop
  • Energize participants after lunch or during a long day
  • Develop similar interests within a committee
  • Create opportunities to meet new people at a conference
  • Introduce new students to your youth group

This is not an all-encompassing list; there are so many options that will best fit your group’s needs and size. The best way to use these name games is to try them out! Use them early and often to get a group excited to learn about each other.

Learning and remembering someone’s name is absolutely vital and important to the success of your leadership. We have seen firsthand the results of taking time to allow a group to learn names. The more quickly group members learn the names of other group members the more quickly they will bond and work together.

This will lead to a higher level of success regardless of the type of group you are leading. It is most unlikely that a leader would ever think, “I wish my group knew each other less. I wish they did not know one another’s names.” This idea is, of course, preposterous. So too, is the lack of a strategic plan to encourage stronger group interaction.

Not the Same Name Game will aid that strategic plan. This book will encourage stronger group interaction. We have facilitated these games all across the country and in our international leadership camps. In our realms of leadership, we have seen these name games proven.

We have chosen to use name games early and often in our roles as camp director, small group facilitator, youth pastor, TRiO personnel, and many more. This is a choice we have never regretted. Neither will you.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as we enjoyed writing it, but more importantly, we hope you enjoy facilitating these activities as much as we have. Try out new variations, put your own personality and influence on the activities, and create new stories on how you learned these name games. If you have fun during these name games, your participants will have fun too, regardless of age, gender, position or location. These activities have been tested and approved all across the world, and I hope they bring you the same joy and camaraderie they have brought us!

Ryan & Jerrod

“And so with all things: names were vital and important.” - Algernon H. Blackwood