“Icebreaker of the Week” is a recurring feature of the newsletter The Art of Noticing (robwalker.substack.com). Some are icebreakers I made up or experienced or found somewhere; many are submitted by TAoN readers. After many requests, I am collecting & sharing all the icebreakers here.
If you find this useful or enjoyable, consider buying a copy of the book that spawned the newsletter, The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways To Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, And Discover Joy In The Everyday. There's a whole section of the book with exercises designed to help you converse with, listen to, and connect with others! Plus it makes a great gift :) But if that’s not your kind of thing, maybe just consider subscribing to the free newsletter spinoff of TAoN (robwalker.substack.com). Either way: Thanks!
My name is Rob Walker. I appreciate your interest. → Please submit your icebreakers (whether you made them up or heard/read them somewhere), or your experiences trying these, to [email protected]
[NOTE: This is a read-only document, please do not ask for editing access! But feel free to just copy and paste the whole thing, and put it in a new document that you can edit per your needs.]
February 13, 2023, TAoN No. 128
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Brendan Hall:
If the story of your life is 300 pages long — what’s on page 283?
Brendan adds, in response to my query: “As for why Page 283.... yeah, ‘toward the end but not over’ is what I was going for, so you could pick any number in that range really. I also love this because it opens up even more possibilities as you remove assumptions about how a story of your life should be told. I originally found a version of this mentioned as an entrance exam question in a Rolling Stone article about college applications about 20 years ago.”
Thanks so much! Brendan is on Substack, and Twitter.
Jan 18, 2023, TAoN No. 126
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Karlie B.:
If you were a potato, how would you be prepared?
Karlie B. offered no elaboration on this question — and what elaboration do we need? I love this kind of query. Thank you Karlie!
Nov 14, 2022, TAoN No. 122
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Claire Mason:
If you were a beverage, what would you be?
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be something you enjoy drinking,” Claire clarifies. “But what beverage embodies you?”
A little more backstory: “I’m a big fan of your icebreakers! They remind me of a fun one I came up with at work many years ago. We had a lot of fun coming up with beverages for each other and ourselves! I was a French Earl Grey tea with milk at the time, but feel like I have evolved since then — might have to give it a rethink!”
October 17, 2022, TAoN No. 120
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Estelle Metayer:
Describe your first car, and what it meant for you.
My first car was a Pontiac T1000, which I promptly totalled. But that car had other, happier associations, too! First cars are special objects, no doubt. People always have stories about them. So thanks for this great contribution, Estelle!
August 8, 2022, TAoN No. 117
Today’s icebreaker comes from Alex Hidalgo / @ahidalgosre on Twitter:
Using only food: Where did you grow up?
I’ll say chicken fajitas, brisket, and fried shrimp. See others’ replies here. Unfortunately I do not rememeber who brought this thread to my attention, but whoever it was: thank you!
June 27, 2022, TAoN No. 114
Today’s icebreaker comes from reader Elise Granata:
As a child, what was your third space – the space you felt you belonged, that wasn't home or school? What about as a teen? A young adult?
Elise adds: “This came out of me joking that the mall (more specifically, the Hot Topic t-shirt section) was my third space as a teen. This was in close competition with the pet store in the strip mall by my house that a friend and I would go to regularly after school, because we didn't have to buy anything to be there, and we struck up an odd but friendly relationship with the owner! Weird times.”
I love it. And for me the answer would probably be either the record store, or the house of a certain friend.
May 16, 2022, TAoN No. 111
Today’s icebreaker is something I overheard randomly. I was listening to an Amazing Radio DJ set from the musician Boyfriend (I'm a big fan). Mostly it’s music, but she always has a guest mid-show. This time one of the guests shared an icebreaker that her organization uses in its training process:
If you were a vending machine, what would you dispense?
For the record, Boyfriend’s guests were two representatives of Plan C, a nonprofit project focused on providing information about at-home abortion pill options. I don’t think this icebreaker has anything to do with that (perfectly admirable, in my view) mission; it’s just a fun and kinda weird icebreaker that works in any context!
April 18, 2022, TAoN No. 109
Today’s icebreaker is from reader Sofía:
If you could rule for a day, what would your first decree be?
Actually Sofia made several suggestions, including: Who would win in a fight between Batman and Terminator and why? What's your favourite cleaning product? And, Which is your favourite Spice Girl and why? All fun! Thanks so much Sofía!
February 21, 2022, TAoN No. 104
In the spirit of this issue’s newsletter roundup, I’m going to adapt an icebreaker from a recent issue of The Whippet. (Fingers crossed that The Whippet won’t mind!)
The context is an anecdote about someone who made a set of protest stickers that became really popular, so popular that the person got contacted by an official government agency — which wanted a few of the stickers to preserve for historical purposes! That’s obviously not a turn of events the maker of protest stickers would have predicted … but it’s also kinda cool?
Leading to this question:
“Please tell me about a career milestone you achieved (or you heard about someone else achieving) that is weird/unusual/you would never have thought of until it happened. Doesn’t need to be Nobel Prize level! Just a marker of success, however you define it.”
There are some entertaining answers in The Whippet’s comment section.
January 24, 2022, TAoN No. 100
This week’s icebreaker comes from reader Jackie Bayer:
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
That’s a fun one! And I guess no further explanation required. Thanks so much, Jackie!
January 10, 2022, TAoN No. 98
This week’s icebreaker is a bit of a special edition, as I’ll spell out below. It’s from reader Katherine: “As a trainee English teacher and dabbling writer,” she explained, “I'd love to contribute a metaphor-based icebreaker.”
What object, person, animal or situation is happiness? What about grief? Hope? (Emily Dickinson thought it was 'the thing with feathers ...') How about fear?
Katherine wrote to me a little while back about an icebreaker-related project of hers. “Frustrated by some years of dating incurious people, coupled with the annoyance of pandemic-centred conversation” and a certain “bland” NYT list of 36 questions that (allegedly) lead to love, she says, “I decided to make a massive (free) Google Sheet of interesting / provoking / lols questions.” (Some of the questions are adult, as they say.) Check out a more polished version of her project at interro.co.uk.
In her research she found the TAoN list — “I have recommended it to all my friends, and save it for a languorous coffee break read whenever possible” — and asked me if she could include some of its questions in her lineup.
Of course I said yes — with the friendly “condition” that she contribute one of her questions to the TAoN collection. And that is is exactly what she did above.
“I think [this question] can unfold conversations about personal associations, memories, and experiences without being too scary,” she continues. “And your interlocutor's willingness to go beyond the literal would tell me a lot about their levels of comfort with openness, how happy they are to think of themselves as creative and also just be really interesting! (I happen to think absolutely everyone is creative, but we can unlearn how.) If anyone wanted to send me their responses, I'd love to receive them! @kleedale.”
[“If my icebreaker is an example of cryptomnesia, I apologise whole-heartedly!” she adds. ;) ]
I love it! Thank you Katherine!!
December 13, 2021, TAoN No. 95
This week’s icebreaker is from reader Daniel Seymour:
What dream have you never forgotten and why do you think this remains a conscious memory?
Some people find dream talk boring, but I happen to find dreams fascinating. Or maybe I just find my own dreams fascinating? Anyway, I like this question, it really made me think. Thank you, Daniel!
November 22, 2021, TAoN No. 92
This week’s icebreaker is from friend (and featured noticer!) of TAoN Rob Kilner:
"What olympic event would you do, if you could do any, no previous experience or talent required?"
Actually, it turns out this question came from Rob’s dentist, who asked it mid-checkup. “I found it tricky to respond whilst having my molars counted and prodded,” he says. “But the dentist and dental assistant were having a laugh.”
Rob adds: “The dental assistant said she'd go straight in there for the 100m Men's Final, which nearly made me spit out the dental vacuum cleaner lodged under my tongue.”
Understandable response! My thanks to Rob — he was featured in TAoN No. 33 (where, I just now noticed, I refer to him at one point as “Kilroy,” sorry!), and I recommend his Workers Lunchtime project.
November 8, 2021, TAoN No. 90
This week’s icebreaker is from Lee Coursey:
"What is your most memorable experience involving an animal?"
Naturally I was curious if Lee had an answer to this. The reply in part: “The first one that comes to mind occurred on a trip to Glacier National Park. A female mountain goat and her kid met my wife and I on a high, narrow trail. Apparen