A great activity for everyone


A lively rhythm-party game where players embody animal hand gestures to the beat, aiming to outlast others and be the last one standing.

By Jon Zajac

What is Zoo?

The Zoo icebreaker is a lively and engaging rhythm-based game that I enjoy playing with a group of people. The purpose of this activity is to promote social interaction, have fun, and improve concentration. It involves standing or sitting in a circle while representing oneself as an animal using a unique hand gesture. Each player must memorize the other animals’ gestures to maintain the flow of the game.

To play Zoo, we establish a simple 1-2-3 rhythm beat and start by slapping our thighs for the first two beats and clapping on the third. When the beat starts, everyone shouts “One, two, let’s play Zoo!” and performs their animal hand gesture on the third beat of the initial round. In subsequent rounds, players must quickly recognize and mimic another player’s animal gesture when it is their turn.

The game continues with each person maintaining the rhythm by slapping their thighs twice and then clapping on the third beat unless they need to represent their or another player’s animal. As the game progresses, the beat can become faster, making it more challenging for everyone to stay focused. Failure to perform a correct gesture results in elimination from the game.

Zoo is an excellent icebreaker for groups of 6-15 people aged 10 and up, as it does not involve any materials and creates a fun, inclusive atmosphere. The optional advanced mode, which includes rotating step-by-step in a circular motion during play, adds another layer of complexity to this engaging game.

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Rules for Zoo

  1. Players choose an animal to represent themselves with a unique hand gesture.
  2. The group stands or sits in a circle, facing the center.
  3. A player starts the 1-2-3 rhythm beat by slapping their thighs twice and clapping on the third beat.
  4. Everyone shouts “One, two, let’s play Zoo!” and follows the rhythm beat.
  5. On the third beat, players perform their animal hand gesture if they are the first player.
  6. For subsequent sets of three beats, players represent another player’s animal on the third beat instead of their own.
  7. The represented player must then perform their animal gesture.
  8. Players keep the rhythm going by slapping their thighs twice and clapping on the third beat when it is not their turn to represent an animal.
  9. Failing to represent an animal or messing up a hand gesture results in elimination from the game.
  10. The last player remaining wins the game.
  11. (Advanced mode) Players can rotate step-by-step in a circular motion while playing, but this is recommended for experienced players only.

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Materials needed for Zoo

  • Hands: Used to keep the rhythm and perform animal gestures
  • Imagination: Needed to come up with unique animal representations
  • A group of people: Necessary to form a circle and play the game

(Note: The Zoo icebreaker does not require any physical materials, only hands, imagination, and a group of people.)

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Setting up for Zoo

To set up for the Zoo icebreaker activity, you will need to gather a group of people and have them form a circle either by standing or sitting. Each person in the circle should choose an animal to represent and create a unique hand gesture for that animal. It’s important that no two players choose the same animal or have similar hand gestures to avoid confusion.

Once everyone has chosen their animal and created a hand gesture, select one person to start the rhythm beat. This can be done by having everyone slap their thighs twice and then clapping on the third beat while shouting “One, two, let’s play Zoo!”

It is essential to ensure that all players understand the basic 1-2-3 rhythm beat and are comfortable with it before beginning the game. Once everyone is ready, you can start playing the Zoo icebreaker activity!

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How to play Zoo

  1. Choose Your Animal: I decide to represent myself as a monkey in the game Zoo. I create a hand gesture that is easy to mimic quickly, such as putting my fists together and then opening them up to look like monkey paws. No one else can have the same animal or a similar hand gesture.
  2. Form a Circle: I gather with a group of people and we stand or sit in a circle, facing the center. Everyone in the circle should be able to see each other clearly.
  3. Establish a Beat: We designate someone to start the round by creating a basic 1-2-3 rhythm beat using their hands. We all slap our thighs on the first two beats and clap on the third beat, shouting “One, two, let’s play Zoo!” together.
  4. Perform Your Animal Gesture: On the next set of three beats, I slap my thighs twice and then perform my monkey gesture on the third beat. I continue to keep the beat going by slapping my thighs twice and clapping on the third beat when it’s not my turn.
  5. Represent Another Player’s Animal: When someone else’s animal gesture is performed, I quickly represent their animal on the next rhythm beat, making sure to keep the beat going.
  6. Stay Focused: Even if the beat speeds up, I stay focused and continue to represent my animal or another player’s animal when it’s my turn.
  7. Elimination: If I fail to represent my animal or mess up a hand gesture, I am out of the game. The last player remaining wins.
  8. Advanced Mode (Optional): For an added challenge, we can begin rotating step-by-step in a circular motion while playing the game, but this is recommended for experienced players only.

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Benefits of Zoo

  • Builds familiarity with a group: By having to memorize each other’s hand gestures and animals, players are forced to pay close attention to one another, which can help build a sense of camaraderie.
  • Encourages creativity: The game allows for players to use their imagination when choosing how they want to represent their animal, which can be a fun and engaging way to express oneself.
  • Improves reaction time: With the fast-paced nature of the game, players must quickly identify and respond to their animal being represented, which can help improve reaction time.
  • Promotes active listening: In order to successfully play the game, players must actively listen for their animal to be called and be ready to represent it on the next beat.
  • Enhances memory: Memorizing each player’s hand gesture and animal requires good memory skills. This can help in developing memory recall abilities.
  • Develops rhythm and coordination: Keeping up with the 1-2-3 beat while also representing an animal requires good hand-eye coordination and a sense of rhythm, both of which can be improved through playing the game.
  • Boosts confidence: As players become more familiar with the game, they may feel more comfortable and confident in their ability to quickly respond and represent their animal, which can boost self-esteem.

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Skills built with Zoo

  • Rhythm and Coordination: Playing Zoo requires players to keep a steady rhythm while also paying attention to when it’s their turn to perform their animal gesture. This helps build and improve hand-eye coordination and the ability to maintain a consistent beat.
  • Memory Recall: Players must remember each other’s animal gestures and associate them with the correct person. This strengthens memory recall and the ability to quickly identify symbols or movements.
  • Focus and Concentration: With the increasing speed of the beat and the need to pay attention to when it’s their turn, players build focus and concentration skills. This mental agility helps improve performance in other activities that require sustained attention and quick reaction times.
  • Social Skills: As a group game, Zoo encourages interaction and cooperation among players. It promotes active listening, taking turns, and being aware of others’ actions – all essential social skills for building relationships and working in teams.
  • Confidence and Presentation: Representing an animal through a hand gesture in front of a group helps build confidence and presentation skills. Players learn to express themselves creatively while also being mindful of how their actions fit into the overall flow of the game.
  • Adaptability and Quick Thinking: The need to adjust to a faster beat or unexpected changes in the game, such as another player’s mistake, fosters adaptability and quick thinking. These skills are valuable for managing unpredictable situations both in games and real life.

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Why I like Zoo

As someone who enjoys bringing people together and creating a fun, engaging atmosphere, I really appreciate the Zoo icebreaker game. One of the reasons I like it so much is its simplicity – there are no materials required, and the rules are easy to understand, making it accessible for everyone.

The game also encourages creativity and self-expression through the use of animal representations. This allows players to showcase their individuality while still participating in a group activity. The fact that no two players can have the same animal or similar hand gesture further promotes inclusivity and ensures that everyone has a unique role in the game.

The rhythmic nature of Zoo also keeps things lively and engaging, as players must stay focused and alert to maintain the beat and represent their animal correctly. The optional advanced mode, which involves rotating in a circular motion while playing, adds an extra layer of challenge and excitement to the game.

Additionally, Zoo is suitable for a wide age range (10 and up) and can accommodate a large group of people (6-15), making it a versatile icebreaker for various settings and occasions. The messiness factor is also minimal, which means that it can be played indoors without any major concerns about clean-up.

Overall, I find the Zoo icebreaker to be a well-designed, entertaining, and inclusive game that fosters connection, creativity, and excitement among players. I’m grateful to Leo Tang for introducing this fantastic game to others.

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Tips for making Zoo more inclusive

  • Tip: When choosing animals, encourage players to select creatures that are culturally significant to them or represent their personal interests. This can help create a sense of individuality and inclusivity within the group.
  • Tip: Make sure to explain the importance of respecting everyone’s chosen animal gestures and encourage active listening during the game. By fostering a supportive environment, players may feel more comfortable participating and sharing their unique contributions.
  • Tip: Consider incorporating a discussion before or after the game about the various animals represented. Ask open-ended questions to engage players in conversation, such as “What inspired you to choose that animal?” or “Can you tell us more about your chosen creature’s habitat or behavior?” This can create opportunities for learning and cross-cultural understanding.
  • Tip: If some players are struggling to keep up with the rhythm or hand gestures, offer to practice together as a group before starting the game. Provide constructive feedback in a positive manner, emphasizing that it’s okay to make mistakes and that everyone is here to learn and have fun.
  • Tip: Adapt the game for players with physical limitations by offering alternative ways to participate. For instance, if someone has difficulty using their hands or arms, they could use verbal cues or a different type of gesture to represent their animal. The key is to ensure that everyone can actively engage in the activity and feel included.

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Reflection questions for Zoo

  1. What was your experience like choosing and representing your animal in the Zoo icebreaker? This question can help participants reflect on their level of comfort and creativity during the activity, as well as any connections they made between their chosen animal and their own personality or characteristics.
  2. How did you feel when you had to quickly switch between slapping your thighs and performing another player’s animal gesture? This question can help participants reflect on their ability to stay focused and adapt to changing situations, as well as their willingness to engage with others in a lively and dynamic way.
  3. What strategies did you use to keep up with the increasing speed of the beat, and how did those strategies affect your performance? This question can help participants reflect on their decision-making skills and problem-solving abilities, as well as their physical and mental endurance during the game.
  4. How did you feel when you or another player made a mistake and was eliminated from the game, and what impact did that have on your motivation to continue playing? This question can help participants reflect on their resilience and perseverance in the face of failure, as well as their ability to support and encourage others during challenging situations.
  5. What insights or connections did you gain from observing and interacting with your fellow players during the Zoo icebreaker? This question can help participants reflect on their social awareness and interpersonal skills, as well as their capacity for empathy, collaboration, and teamwork.

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About the author

Jon Zajac

Jon Zajac

Founder & Chief Icebreaker

I started Icebreaker Spot because I truly believe that strong connections are the foundation of successful teams. I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy for people to find and share icebreakers and team building activities, empowering them to build trust, foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve greatness together.

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