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The Value of Crowd-Breakers

Using Crowd-Breakers Effectively

A Whole Bunch of Really Great Crowd-Breakers

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The Value of Crowd-Breakers

When I began teaching teens, I had no use for crowd-breakers. In my mind, I was a teacher, not an entertainer. I viewed games and mixers as last-ditch efforts used by second-rate communicators trying desperately to get through to immature kids.  Yet, over time I changed my tune. Why?

First, I began to realize that the heart (and sometimes the stomach!) was the doorway through which we impact teens' minds and behavior. They didn't care how much I knew until they knew how much I cared. By taking the time to bring some food and plan something fun, I show them that I care. 

Second, I've seen crowd-breakers jumpstart my relationships with students. I find out who's outgoing and who's shy, who's popular and who's lonely. As I begin to respond to them as individuals, I find that they are more open to listen to what I have to say. If I take an interest in their world, they are more likely to take an interest in mine. Given enough time, I just might move from being a teacher to being mentor. 

Third, crowd-breakers start and deepen relationships between students. I believe this is critical. Most students are simply too shy to initiate new relationships. Thus, their school world revolves around and is interpreted by one or a few key people - their friendship cluster. That small cluster becomes both a mirror in which they view themselves and a window through which they view others.  If their cluster sees all jocks as stuck-up bullies, all cheerleaders as snobs, all Hispanics as hoods, all preppies as vain, then they tend to view people just as superficially. They fail to understand that a person's race or chosen school activity doesn't fully define that person. By discovering that they have things in common with these stereotyped people, they become more tolerant - and less likely to strike out in violence.   

Fourth, crowd-breakers build positive memories. If students look forward to character education time each week or month, they're more likely to retain much more than if they dread it.  

Choosing and Using Crowd-Breakers Effectively

A Whole Bunch of Really Great Crowd-Breakers

Treasure Hunt

Tape a couple of candy bars or a few dollar bills to the bottom of a couple of chairs or a few other places. Tell the students that you've hidden a few treasures around the room and the rules are, finder's keepers, loser's weepers. If they can't find some, tell certain people when they're "hot" (close to the prize).

Debriefing: Why do we get so motivated at times to look for hidden treasures? (We know something's there that we want. We also like the competition!) Improving our character is something that doesn't come naturally. We must search for ways to improve it. What can motivate us to seek to improve our character? Are the rewards of good character greater than the candy and dollar bills some of us just found? What are some ways we can seek to improve our character? 

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Name That Tune

Bring a CD player with some popular tunes representing different styles (rock, alternative, punk, hip-hop, country, etc.) and eras of music (60's, 70's, etc.). Each individual competes for him or herself. Play a portion of each song and see who can first guess the title and the band. Have a prize for the person with the most correct guesses. 

Debriefing: If you had to guess 100 songs from many eras and styles, what percentage do you think you'd get right? Yet, all of us have diverse interests and exposures to music from our parents and friends and our own experimentation. How does working as a group make it easier to guess the tunes and bands? Isn't it amazing to think of what we could do with the cumulative wisdom of this group on many different subjects? Some are good at Math, others Science, others incredibly creative, others know tons of popular trivia. When a group of people catch fire with a common vision, you can see why they are far superior to a single person with a vision.  

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Balloon Grenades

Divide the class into two teams, with one row of empty seats between them. Inform them that they are in close combat with enemy forces, locked in a deadly grenade toss that could end in certain doom. Grenades have been set on a delay to go off at an unspecified moment and both teams are throwing them back and forth, hoping that when they explode they will be on the enemy's side. 

At this point you take out a trash bag full of balloons and begin tossing them into the air. Yell out, "Keep them on the enemy's side, but don't set foot on their side or come in physical contact with the enemy, lest they shoot you!" 

To add to the excitement (as if you needed more!), play some motivating music in the background, like a theme from the movie Rocky

After a couple of minutes, call time. The team with the most balloons on their side loses. You can play it once more if they insist.

Debriefing: In what ways is our striving for success much like a warfare? ( 1 - In the business world we face stiff competition. 2 - In many ways the road to success seems to be riddled with grenade holes and opposing forces.) Can you identify some of our enemies - the forces that work against our success? (Peers who tempt us to get involved with destructive behaviors, discouraging comments by others, past failures haunting us.) How can we win against these forces?)

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Name Your Price

Divide the class into three groups. Show them a bag of candy (enough for each in their group to get a piece) and ask them to guess the price. The team closest to the right price gets the candy. Next, show a bag of cheap party favors. Let the two losing teams try to guess the price. The one closest to the correct price gets the favors. Give the losing team a consolation prize, but they have to serve the rest of the class donuts. 

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Famous For A Day

As students enter the classroom, tape a card on their backs each with the name of a different famous person, living or dead. (Make sure they are names everyone would know.) Instruct them to circulate through the class, asking people "yes" or "no" questions such as, "Was I famous for being good at a sport?" "Was I an Entertainer?" "Was I living in the USA?" "Was I a United States president?" "Does my name start with an "S"? They are limited to asking three questions per person. 

The first five to figure out who they are get prize candy. 

Debriefing: In the game, we were trying to decide who we were. Could we have ever guessed the name on our backs had we not gotten input from others? In real life, we're all in the process of discovering who we are and what we want to become. How can other people, including friends and family and counselors, help us determine our strengths and weaknesses and what we can become?

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Back Words

Make sure each row (front to back) has an even number of students. Hand out the same word to every other person in a row, starting with the last person. Tell them that when you say "Go!" each person with a word in hand should try to spell the word on the back of the person in front of them. No talking allowed. When the person thinks they know a letter, they should not say it, but write it down and tell their partner to go to the next letter. The first person in the class to yell out the word gets a bar of candy, along with the person who wrote on his/her back.

Debriefing: Communicating your thoughts with words isn't always easy. But cutting off verbal communication and trying to communicate through other means can be downright exasperating. Yet, don't we often expect the impossible of others when we refuse to tell them how we feel and expect them to decipher our thoughts through our actions or expressions? For example, you may feel that you shouldn't have to tell your boyfriend that you'd rather go to a quite coffee-shop and talk rather than hang out with the crowd at the mall. You feel he should just know by your sullenness that you're not in the mood for a crowd. But what other ways might your boyfriend interpret your mood? The bottom line? If you want people to know what you want and feel, make it clear to them. None of us do too well at other forms of communication.  

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Getting to Know You Through Charades 

Ask for a volunteer to come forward to compete at charades. Give the person a topic, like "a band band you like," "a celebrity you like," "a hero," "a movie you like."  Have them write it secretly on a sheet of paper and give it to you. Then the person tries, with only body movements to get people in the class to guess what they've written. 

To get more people involved, add to the competitive spirit by giving a piece of candy to the person who guesses first. 

Debriefing: What did you get to know about each person? Why is it good to get to know more about people? What surprised you about any of the people's bands or heroes or celebrities that they liked?

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Tell Me More...

Instruct students that you're going to play some music and have them walk randomly about the room and that when you stop the music, you'll shout out a number. At that time you'll have to gather that number of the closest people around you into a group and wait for the instructions. You might come up with creative, yet simple ways of giving the number, such as "1 + 6 - 2," or "The number of blind mice in the nursery rhyme". (Don't make it too hard so as to not embarrass anyone. Tell those left out to join another group.) Here are ideas for what to share each time the music stops:

First stop: Each person tell your name and your favorite school subject.

Second stop: Your name and a favorite hobby or past-time.

Third stop: Your name and your favorite style of music. 

Fourth stop: Your name and a personal hero or person you respect and why.

Debriefing: It's easy to make judgments on people from first impressions or from what we've heard from somebody else. Yet, if we want to respect people, we've got to know them more deeply. Keep getting to know new people at school. There's so much more to each person than what we see. Tell me something that you learned that you had in common with some other people?

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Linking Arms; Standing Together

Ask students to sit down on the floor with their knees bent in front of them, feet flat on the floor and knees pointing toward the ceiling. Hands can't touch the ground. Now ask each student to try to stand up from that position (not moving feet or touching the floor with your hands). (Neither tell them to do it alone nor to do it with others. Some will probably try to cheat by putting their hands on the floor or moving their feet, so keep an eye out!)

After they try it for a moment by themselves and realize the impossibility, tell them there is a way that most of them can do it. Let them think and try some more. (If someone thinks of sitting down back to back with someone else, let them do it. If not, instruct them next in how to do it. Either way, the point is made.)

Tell them how it's done. Ask each student to find a partner. Putting your legs in the same position as before , sit back to back with the partner and link arms at your elbows. Try to stand up by pushing against each other. If successful, join another successful group so that you try it as a group of four. If the four are successful, try it with eight. See which group wins. 

Debriefing: Some of us aren't as good at physical things as others, but what can this game tell us about success in life? (It's often easier to do things together than separately.) While someone may complain that I didn't say anything at first about that we could work together, neither did I say you had to do it individually. We tend to assume that we must do it by ourselves. Yet, in many of life's tasks, it's much easier to work with someone else or as a team. That's why it's so important to learn to get along, respect others and resolve conflicts when they come up. 

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Let's Get Beyond Stereotypes 

Give each student a sheet of notebook paper, a pen or pencil and either a safety pin or masking tape. On the paper they should write two statements about something that they have done. One statement should be true (but not known to other students) and the other false. Challenge them to be creative. Let them know that their object will be to make it hard for students to guess which statement is true and which is false. They should leave a couple of inches after each statement for other students to write. 

Give them a couple of examples: "I had an Iguana named Madonna." "I've flown an airplane." "I once ate a grasshopper." "I had brain surgery." After they've had plenty of time, instruct them to have someone fasten the paper to their backs. Have everyone stand up and go around the room, putting a check by the statements that they think are true. 

After they've had enough time to get around to most people, have everyone sit down and take off their papers. Find out the winner and top five who got the most checks for their false statement. Give them prizes and have them read their statements. You may want to ask them more information on the true statements if they sound really interesting.  

If you want more discussion, allow anyone to share their unusual true statements.

Debriefing: Putting people in a box keeps us from seeing them for who they really are. What's the stereotype of a cheerleader on TV and movies? (Dingy, air-headed, obsessed with popularity). It's too easy to find out that someone's a cheerleader and put them in that box. By getting to know more about an individual cheerleader, we can discover that there's a real person behind that face who has much more to her than just cheering. 

According to TV and movies, what's the typical jock like? (Popular, bully, heartless, stuck-up). So what happens when you you meet a jock who's nice and volunteers his time to teach English as a second language or visit the elderly? (It breaks the stereotype.) 

If we want to respect others, we must begin by rejecting stereotypes and realizing that there's more to a person than his or her school activities or your first impression. 

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Friendliness Pays Off  

Before class, talk to one of the first students who arrives early and secretly give her a $5.00 bill. Tell her to give the $5.00 to the 10th (less if smaller group) person who introduces his/herself to her. When all the students are in, tell them that someone in the class has $5.00 to give away to a student who introduces him/herself to that student for the 10th time. In order to get it, you must tell that person your name and one of your interests. 

Debriefing: In this game, we were motivated to be friendly because we knew that friendliness paid off in the form of $5.00. Actually, $5.00 is nothing compared to the benefits we reap from establishing relationships with many people. Bill Gates and one of his high school buddies started Micro-Soft and made billions. Ever seen a Hewlett-Packard computer or printer? Hewlett and Packard met and became friends in college.  And it's not just money you receive from getting to know people. Some of your best times in life will be as a result of friendships, some of which started with a mere handshake and get-to-know-you small-talk. 

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Learning to Lean

Divide into groups of 6 or 8 - it must be an even number. Ask each group to stand in a circle holding hands and count off in order, one, two, one, two. Instruct the students: "When I say 'Go!' all the even numbered students lean forward while the odd students lean back. Keep holding hands so that you'll support each other from falling." Say "Go!" again and ask the even numbers to lean back while the odd numbers lean forward. 

Debriefing - Great successes in business or sports speak of the awesome power of synergy - when two or more people dream together and work together in pursuit of a goal. In order to experience synergy, you have to learn to trust each other and support each other. 

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Trust Fall

Divide into groups of at least 7. One student stands on a chair while the others will stand behind them and catch them as they fall. The person falling faces away from the group as he or she falls backward, trusting that the group will catch him or her. Catchers should be in teams of two standing across from each other, with hands securely grasping each other's wrists. Let the students know the seriousness of this game so that the people do not get hurt. Rotate the group so that each person gets a chance to fall. 

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Finger-Counting Elimination

Pair students up and have them stand back to back. When the leader says "Go!" students turn around holding up any number of fingers on both hands at about waist height. The first to successfully count all the fingers on all four hands wins. Winner stays in; losers sit down. Continue till you have one champion in the room. Have some prize for the winner. 

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What Do We Have in Common? 

Supplies: Paper and pencils, prize for winning team (bubble gum or suckers?)

Purpose: To help students realize all that they have in common with classmates. 

Divide into groups of three or four people. It should not be their closest group of friends. Each team appoints a secretary, who needs a sheet of paper and pencil. Their challenge is to come up with a list of items that they all have in common. The team with the longest list wins. Items that virtually every student has in common (wears clothes, eats food, has a navel, etc.) won't count. Items that count include common interests (for example, enjoying the same band or style, likes to swim) family (for example, both have a brother), has a tattoo, etc.  

Give them only about three minutes, so that they have to work quickly. Giving a one minute warning and thirty second warning will add to the excitement. 

"The winning team gets a free, all expenses paid group vacation to the Bahamas! Just kidding. Here's your bubble gum. Congratulations!"

When time is up, find out which team has the longest list and ask team members to read the similarities they listed. 


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How Much Do You Need?

Supplies: Either a roll of toilet paper, Skittles, M & M's, or peanuts.

Pass around a roll of toilet paper or bowl of Skittles, etc. 

Instruct them to "Take as much as you think you will need."

After everyone has something, the first person begins by telling one thing about himself or herself for each Skittle or sheet of toilet paper they have. Ditto for the rest of the class. 

Variation: Use different colored Skittles and assign a different type question to each color. For example:

Red: personal information (name, favorite subject in school) , favorite style of music)
Yellow: family information (how many brothers or sisters you have)
Orange: what you enjoy doing most 
Green: favorite style of music 
Purple: hobbies and other interests 

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Catch and Share

Bring a soft Frisbee or ball to the meeting. In a classroom you might want to use a large beach ball and have the students stay seated. The leader throws it into the class and whoever catches it either answers a question from the thrower or tells something about themselves. Then, that person throws it to another. 

Variation: Use a ball of yarn, having each person hold on to the string as they pass it on to the next person. You end up with a huge web of relationships!

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Who Did That? 

Have each student write down legibly on a sheet of paper some obscure fact about themselves that nobody else would know about, but you don't mind people knowing. (Examples: I won a BB Gun contest in 4th grade. I have an aunt named Fanny. I play the accordion. I once set my bedroom on fire. I'd like to climb Mount Everest. I have a false tooth.) Put the items in a box and mix them up. Have each student blindly pick a paper. Tell them that if someone gets their own, don't let anyone know.  

Let a person read the paper they got. Allow the class to try to guess who wrote it. 

(If the group doesn't know each other's names, have them written on an overhead or a blackboard in seat order.)

Variations: You could use the same game in future sessions by giving different parameters as to what facts to write down. For example, on various weeks you could have them write down...

This game not only helps students get to know each other, but helps burst their stereo-types of each student. (Who would have thought that the biggest jock in the class used to collect stamps?)

Afterwards they could discuss first impressions and stereotyping. 

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Introduce Your Neighbor

Stand in a circle. Each of you have two minutes to talk to the person on your right and find some interesting facts about him or her. After the two minutes, you'll be asked to introduce the person to the group. 

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Do You Love Your Neighbor?

I've seen groups really get into this one! Arrange chairs in a circle. One person stands in the middle ("It"), who points to a person at random and says, "Do you love your neighbor?" 

If the person answers "Yes!", then everyone has to go to a different chair. "It" finds an open chair. Whoever is left standing becomes "It" in the middle. 

If the person says "No," then "It" asks, "Why not?" 

The person responds with some characteristic of that person, for example, "Because she's blonde," or "Because she's a girl," or, "Because he wears glasses," or "Because he's wearing blue jeans." 

After the response, only those who fall into that category (wears glasses, etc.) have to exchange seats. Again, the one left becomes "It."

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Tell Me More About You...

Divide into small groups and have them complete the following statements: 

- A moment in my life that I'll never forget...
- When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to be a...
- Now I'm thinking about a career in...
- The best time in my life was...

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Trivia Review

Divide into two teams and have a trivia contest. Include some questions about last month's character trait, such as asking what happened in one of your most memorable illustrations (e.g., "How did George Lucas' wreck change his life?" or "In what ways did Tom Cruise exemplify endurance?") or repeating back one of your key points (e.g., "Why is emotional intelligence so important to develop?," "What are five ways we can develop patience?") Losers serve donuts to the winners. 

Benefits: A well-done review helps cement key illustrations or points in their minds, plus motivates them to listen more intently to the present lesson so that they might win the trivia review next month. If nobody remembers anything, you might need to change your teaching style!

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Bulking Up  

For this game, you will need four very large t-shirts or sweatshirts (XXXL). If you don't have any, you might pick some up at a cheap resale place. Divide into four teams of 5 to 7 each. Give each group a shirt and about 15 balloons (variety pack, deflated).  Divide your group into six teams, giving each team approximately 15 balloons. Take the smallest 4 guys in the class and appoint each to a team. 

The team will be bulking their small guy for a bodybuilding contest. Tell each team that they must blow up the balloons and position them under the large t-shirt so as to give the appearance of huge muscles. Give them an appropriate time (about three minutes) and have the adults vote on both the most symmetrical and most heavily muscled contestant. Give out something tough like Beef Jerky to the winning body builders. Make sure to have a camera ready! 

Debriefing: How did each person participate? What if the "muscle man" had not cooperated by letting others help him? Which people emerged as the directors of the effort? Who were helpful in the background, blowing up balloons, etc. How does putting together your ideas and working together as a team help you to succeed in life? 

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Capturing the Memories

Take pictures of students having fun during the  games, discussions, and snack times. At the end of the year, put up a poster board with lots of fun pictures - a reminder to them of all the fun you had in character education.  

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Looking for more crowd-breakers and activities? Remember, you can click on Links to Resources to browse for activities under specific character traits.)