May 2004, I was fortunate to take my students from Odyssey School to
China with Billy Lee as part of an art/environment project under Institute
We traveled to Shanghai and Beijing as part of our tour, spending times at
schools and organizations showing our environmental art and interacting
Often there was no plan for these interactions and I jumped in and did
some ice breakers/warm ups that could mostly be done without language to
get the students to interact.
Billy has asked me if I would share some of these activities. As a
consultant at Stanford University now I use these experiences a great deal
in the trainings I currently conduct. While they are primarily for
teachers/trainers, they certainly could be adapted to anyone working with
students, particularly students possessing different languages. I hope this
audience will find some value in these activities that can lead to
FRIENDSHIP building. Or at least some fun at the Thanksgiving/Christmas
big family dinner.
Activity #1 Visual Learner or Auditory Learners?
Ask participants to raise their right hand.
Now connect the index finger to the thumb so you have a nice circle.
Place your circle on your cheek but tell them to place the circle on their
Is the group primarily visual learners or auditory learners?
Many people do the “slide from cheek to chin” move.
Activity #2 Can My Brain do Two Functions at Once?
Ask the standing group to place their hands in front of them in the ready to
Tell the group that when you hands cross [not clapping] they are to clap.
Begin by crossing your hands and having them clap each time.
The question usually arises if when you recross your hands is that time for
Get them into a rhythm of clapping hands and then just move your hands a
few inches without actually crossing your hands and invariably people will
It is good to tell the group you will buy them all a………if they can clap on
all the crosses.
Activity #3 Can You Count to Three?
Ask the standing group to divide into pairs and face each other.
Tell the group to count to three by alternating he says which number.
Have them do that for about 20 seconds.
Now tell the group that instead of 1 clap their hands and don’t say 1
Have them do this for about 30 seconds, the laughter will begin.
Now tell the group that 1 is clap and 2 is now stomp your foot.
Have them do that for 30 seconds and have fun with the foul ups that
Activity #4 Is This a Stick?
Have the group form a circle and put a two foot stick (or anything else) in
the center of the circle.
Taking turns, a person goes into the circle and says, “This is not a stick”
and does something with the stick to make it something else. Puts it to his
eye and says, “It is a telescope.”
The next person coming into the circle puts the “telescope” to her eye and
says “This is not a telescope, it is a toothbrush.”
The next person comes in and picks up the stick and starts brushing his
teeth and says…and so the game continues.
Stephen K. Smuin, as former Founding Head of the Odyssey Middle School and
Nueva Middle School, is completing his 42nd year as an educator. Stephen then spent
19 years at Nueva Learning Center in Hillsborough, CA, an international recognized
elementary school for gifted and talented students and founded the middle school. He
left Nueva to become co-founder of Odyssey School, a middle school for gifted and
Steve has taught on the elementary, high school and college level and has published
three major books: Turn Ons!; Can’t Anybody Here Write?; and More Than Metaphors.
Steve has given over 125 workshops in the United States, Canada, Japan, China and
Germany and is most proud of being invited to present at the World Gifted Conference
on two occasions.
Recently, Steve become CEO of Da Vinci Educational Consultants, which provides,
assessments, training, workshops and lectures in Japan, China and Stanford University.
BILLY”S COMMENTS : Stephen was a Most Delightful Director to the
Chinese students and teachers in Beijing and Shanghai.. The Fun &
Sometimes A Bit Embarrassing Games quickly removed all the
ANXIETY from being STRANGERS. We should have more of these
ICE-BREAKING FUN EXERCISES. Indeed, we all should try to invent
one or two such creative games in order to understand more deeply
how FRIENDSHIP maybe be initiated.