Break the Ice

All summer long we get calls and emails asking for icebreakers. Save the call, read on. Here’s a treasure trove of tried and true ideas that have never before been seen in Reunions magazine or While learning from these experiences of other family reunions, feel free to e-mail us your reunion ice breakers.

Sneaky icebreaker
Kick off your reunion with a team relay that will get everyone running. It’s best if people are wearing slip on shoes or sneakers without laces. Divide into teams and line up with boxes or bins placed about 20-25 feet away opposite the teams. The game starts when one member of each team races to the box, removing his/her shoes and putting them in the box. She/he runs back, tags the next person and so on. When everyone is shoeless, the reverse begins; the first person runs to the box, puts on her/his shoes and returns to tag the next person. The first team with all their shoes back on wins.

Ernestine Kinsey Marshall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, reports that there are no shy people in her Phillips family. They make a game of asking each person they encounter, “how are we related?” She says this has turned into “a fun game” for the “little people” who learn about relationships.

Let’s catch up
Shelley Chell, Minneapolis, Minnesota, says the organizer of each Chell Family Reunion is responsible for a “get acquainted” activity. One year they invented a game called “let’s get caught up.” Everyone got a list of things that had happened to someone since the last reunion; bought a new car, moved to a new city, lost a tooth, has same job, learned the names of over 50 Pokemon characters. They circulate, ask questions and attach names to happenings. Then, after collecting names there is a debriefing, where they listen to lots of stories about what everyone has done since the last reunion.

Paint your reunion friendly

A group project can thaw lots of ice. Pre-draw a mural that depicts reunion group history. Provide paint, brushes and palettes for anyone to bring the painting to life. Ask members to initial or sign what they paint. The mural can be auctioned for a bit of reunion income or presented to someone special, particularly if they have display space.

Who am I?
Joan C. Waters, Charlotte Hall, Maryland, writes that her Curtis/Butler Family Reunion has a getting-to-know-you game, i.e., “who am I?” Everyone circulates and gets signatures of those fitting various categories (doctor, college graduate, high schooler, animal lover, etc.). Or they play a trivia game that asks Who’s who in Black History?

The Fontenettes Family Reunion in Layfayette, Louisiana, uses a get acquainted mystery guest. Members move around the room, shake hands and say hello to as many people as they can in time allotted.  The mystery guest mingles and shakes hands with as many as he can but also keeps track of the number who approach him voluntarily. Every fifth person to shake the mystery guests hand receives a prize.

Who’s this?
Curtis Sourwine, Cementon, Pennsylvania, writes that Jacob Sauerwein Descendants’ Reunion members get lists of things to find; someone wearing blue, someone in the Air Force, someone who’s never been to the reunion before, two people attending college. Ask questions whose answers require looking at the family tree, color-coded according to family branches.

We found this story in The Morning Call, Allentown, Pennsylvania. Ann Hoenigman, Mayfield, Ohio, sent Aunt Nancy’s family trivia game, at the O’Donnell reunion. Each person gets a printout of 60 family questions. Whoever gets the most correct wins a prize. Each question leads to a story. They have a microphone and sound system. One member of each family introduces their members and tells something interesting about each person. Children are divided into teams and given a list of questions for the team to find the answers for. An example is. “What was the county in Ireland Tom O’Donnell left in 1906?” The children must find and ask the right older relative to get the answer. The team with the most right answers gets a prize.

Surfing the ‘net
We found these intriguing ideas at from “The Dollar Stretcher, Inc.” in Bradenton, Florida. A tall tale contest determines who can tell the tallest tale. Make it a contest with judges or let the audience vote or make it a fun story hour which ‘old-timers’ and youngsters love. Ask older family members to tell about their parents or ancestors.

Give each member a sealed envelope containing a name of one in a pair. Members must talk to people, give hints and ask questions to try to find your other half. (Romeo /Juliet, The Lone Ranger/Tonto and Hansel/Gretel, or names of grandparents, aunts and uncles with spouses.) The idea is to talk to each other to find who has the other half of your name. Try this “birthday game.” Have all the people born in the same month gather in one group, then have members of each group give their birthdates (January 21, January 9, etc.). Out of 100 people there are lots of matches of two people with the same birthday. If the group is diverse enough, find out where everyone was born (by state). How many states are represented? What’s the most populous state?

Display trivia
This takes finding an affordable supplier. Have reunion group trivia printed on cocktail napkins. Family history, class traditions, unit legends can all be summarized as fast reminders each time someone looks at the napkins. Family trivia napkins can also be sold as fundraisers.

What’s new?
Breen Family branches each bring 50 copies of “family news” (one or two pages of what’s been happening in that particular family since the last reunion). According to Patty Breen Homan “this works wonderfully because when you get more than 80 people together, it is hard to learn all this from everyone.” Before they did this, they’d get detail from a few conversations but leave the reunion still feeling less connected to some members. Now, Friday evening and Saturday morning, many are sitting around reading the “news” and following up with conversations and questions based on what they learned.

We found this at For a bingo game, ask everyone to write their name and something about themselves on a 3×5″ card. Throw the cards in a bowl. Then write players names on bingo sheets. If all names won’t fit that’s ok, choose names for your card. Draw a card from the bowl, read the “fact” and take up to three guesses whose name is on the card. The person whose name and fact were read must stand. Everyone marks the name on their bingo card.

“Icebreaker” Bingo

“Icebreaker” Bingo gets everyone talking and laughing in no time. You make the Bingo cards. Here’s how. Instead of numbers, your cards have words in boxes, such as “fisherman,” “marathons,” “drives an SUV,” “retired in Wisconsin,” “college student.” Then, everyone takes their Bingo card around the reunion and ask people to initial items that describe them. The first person to get a row of initials gets “bingo.”