You are on a training course. It’s Friday afternoon. You had a big lunch. The room is warm and you’re feeling a bit sleepy. The trainer is droning on through slide after slide in a monotone voice, which isn’t helping the situation at all. As you slouch down in your chair at the back of the room, your head bobs and, finally, you’re asleep…

As a trainer, this is a horrible situation to put your audience in – and it’s a terrible situation to put yourself in as a trainer too! So how do we avoid it? Obviously creating an interactive and engaging classroom, with a high-tempo; utilizing a variety of different activities and media; group work; discussions; questioning etc… all help. And they help a lot. But sometimes, even if you’re doing all these things as a trainer, you see the energy levels dropping and the eyelids drooping – which means it’s time for an energizer! Although I’m writing in British-English here, energizer with a zee (American-style) seems to be the preferred spelling everywhere these days…

What is an energizer?

An energizer is a short activity designed to quickly increase the energy level of your audience when people are starting to look tired.
If you see any of these in the classroom – it’s time for an energizer!

  • Closed eyes
  • Slouched body language
  • Lots of sighing
  • Heads on the desk
  • Lack of response to questions/interactions
  • Sleeping (don't ever let it get this far!)

Some people groan or complain when you mention energizers (the same with icebreakers) and say things like:

  • “We’re not kids at school, don’t make us do star jumps!” (Jumping jacks for our US-readers)
  • “Can’t we just get on with the session, why are we wasting time? The sooner we get through the rest of the course, the sooner we can go home!”

Explaining the rationale behind your energizer is, therefore, important. As is selecting an appropriate energizer for your audience. I usually explain that we’re just going to do an activity for a couple of minutes to give our brains a break; simply a chance to do something else for a minute so our brains can refresh themselves. I might not even mention the word ‘energizer’ at all…

When should I do an energizer?

Whenever you see any of the tell-tale signs listed above. Generally, you’ll find energizers more useful at the end of difficult or complex topics, after lunch and throughout the afternoon, or in some cases if you are training people outside their normal shift pattern and they’re ‘crashing’ at certain points. You might even need to do an extra one if the coffee machine near your training room is broken!

What sorts of energizers can I do?

It’s a common misconception that all energizers have your audience running around/dancing/jumping/throwing things. I tend to split my energizers into two categories: mental and physical

Mental energizers are designed to get the brain thinking about something totally different, and you want something that will get everybody’s neurons firing! I love to do logic puzzles or games – I think these make great mental energizers.

Physical energizers have your audience moving around in some way – just be careful of any health and safety concerns in your environment! I like to bring a squishy ball or two into the classroom to throw around (away from coffee cups).


    1. The Prisoners and the Hats (Mental)

This is a classic logic problem, it takes a little explaining but the answer is great. I will not give the answer away here – you’ll find it at the bottom of the article. If you’re very adventurous, you can even physically re-create this problem by creating some hats and arranging people carefully in the training room…


There is a prison with a cruel prison warden who likes to play games with his prisoners. One day he gathers four prisoners together and tells them he wants them to play a game. Should they win this game, they will all be released! However, if they lose, their prison sentences will all be doubled. The game rules are as follows:

      • Each prisoner will have a hat placed on their head. There are four hats in total (one per prisoner) – two red and two blue. Each prisoner cannot see the hat on their own head
      • Three prisoners will be placed in a line. The fourth will be behind a screen – let’s call the person behind the screen A, then the others B, C, D.
        Person A can see nothing at all.Person B can see nothing at all.
        Person C can see person B.
        Person D can see B and C (refer to the diagram, it’s much easier to draw this on a flip-chart than explain it!)
      • If any prisoner can work out the colour of the hat on his/her own head, then all four walk free from prison
      • If any prisoner suggests an incorrect answer, or if no answer has been stated within 60 seconds, all four prisoners will have their sentences doubled
      • The prisoners are not allowed to turn around, talk to each other or move in any way

The simple question is: Which prisoner speaks up? And how they can know for sure without guessing?”

    1. Three Light Bulbs, Three Switches (Mental)

      This one is simple to explain – and again, a diagram can help. Answer at the end of the article.

      “There are three light switches in the attic of an old, falling down house. These switches control three separate light bulbs two stories down in the kitchen. You do not know which switch controls which light bulb. Because the staircase of the house is about to collapse you can only make one trip from the attic down into the kitchen – how can you work out which switch controls which bulb?”


    2. Making Sets (Physical)

      This one requires a ball or something you can throw around.

      Get your audience into a circle (standing) and start with the ball in your hand. Explain that the aim of the game is to catch the ball when it is thrown to you, and upon catching, list an item from a set. Then throw the ball on to someone else. If anyone says an item that has already been said, or hesitates for too long they are out – and the ball shouldn’t be thrown to them again. Once only one person remains, they are the winner – choose a new set and everyone can join in again.


      Example sets:

      • Make & Models of cars (Ford Focus! Toyota Corolla! Ferrari F430!)
      • Fruits and Vegetables (Apple! Blueberry! Durian!)
      • Countries of the world (Brazil! China! Democratic Republic of the Congo!)
      • Capital cities (London! Paris! Tegucigalpa!)

(You get the idea)

  1. Laser Darts (Physical)

    This is a test of coordination, and requires a slide with an image of a target (or dart board) and a laser pointer (which you have on your hand-held slide controller, right?)

    “Mark a point at the back of the room where everyone must stand. They must aim the laser pointer (without it being on) at the dart board image projected on the slide. They then quickly turn on the laser pointer – wherever the laser hits first, that is the points they score for that round. They pass the laser to the next person who has a go. Go around the group until everyone has had three attempts. Whoever has the highest score wins.”


    You can use variations of this – I was once training in India when the cricket world-cup was taking place so I replaced the image of the dart board with a cricket pitch and bat and made people bat to score runs, and bowls to take wickets (lives) from others. Needless to say, it went down a storm! If you don’t know or care about the incredible sport that is cricket, I probably wouldn’t bother with this variation though. Instead, think about how you could adapt it to other sports (football, tennis, archery etc…)

Where can I find other ideas for energizers?

There’s literally thousands of things you can do that make great energizers – so be creative and adapt some games/puzzles/activities you already know. Just make sure you’re comfortable with them, and that your audience will be too! Here’s a few links to get you started:

  • Sporcle.com has some great visual games like “identify as many of these famous company logos as you can in 60 seconds”. Really good resource for quick, entertaining quiz-type energizers
  • Mathis Is Fun has a brilliant selection of maths and logic puzzles, there are hundreds of amazing puzzles here
  • 100 Energizers – a document on Slideshare, just one of thousands of similar documents available on the web
  • Search engines will provide loads of great ideas!


In summary, make sure you keep a constant eye on energy levels in the classroom, and have both mental and physical energizers prepared in advance, so you can quickly call on them when needed.

Having a bank of energizers prepared that you can draw from when required is a vital tool in any trainer’s armory. So the next time one of your friends bamboozles you with a logic problem, or your kids tell you about a great game they played at school, think about how you can incorporate it into your classroom!


PS: Tegucigalpa is the capital city of Honduras, in case you were wondering…


Logic Puzzle Answers

  1. Prisoner C in my example can identify which hat he is wearing. How? Because if he was wearing the same colour hat as the prisoner in front of him (B), prisoner D would be able to see two hats the same colour. If prisoner D could see two hats the same colour, he’d know his hat was a different colour and would immediately shout out. Prisoner D’s silence indicates that prisoner C and B must be wearing different colour hats, and because C can see B’s hat – C knows his/her hat is a different colour to B’s! Simple! Kind of…
  2. The important point here is that light bulbs give off both light and… heat! So, you could simply turn two switches on for 5 minutes, then turn one of those two back off again and run downstairs. There will be one light on in the kitchen (the switch you left on), one bulb that is off but hot, which is the switch that was on for 5 minutes that you just turned off, and one bulb off and cold. That’s the switch you didn’t touch at all.