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Icebreaker Activities

"...meeting a group of strangers who will affect your well being, is at the same time exciting and anxiety producing for both students and teacher." - McKeachie

Objective

Icebreakers help establish a positive environment and provide an opportunity for students to get to know one another and the instructor, both critical to the retention and success of students.

Time

Ten minutes to one hour depending on the icebreaker selected

Benefits

  1. Reduces both student and instructor anxiety prior to introducing the course.
  2. A powerful means of fostering both student-student and faculty-student interactions.
  3. Creates an environment where the learner is expected to participate and the instructor is willing to listen.
  4. Actively engages students from the onset.
  5. Conveys the message that the instructor cares about getting to know the students.
  6. It makes it easier for students to form relationships early in the semester, so they can work together both in and out of class.

37 Icebreaker Activities:

  1. "Sharing Course Trepidations" In pairs or small groups, have students share their trepidations about the course. This may be particularly helpful in a course associated with high anxiety, such as math or writing. Follow this up by either having students introduce each other, and/or by asking the pairs/groups to share their most significant concerns or fears regarding the course. As the groups share, the instructor can validate and address their concerns as appropriate.
  2. "Simple Self-Introductions" In a class where speeches or oral presentations are expected, have students stand and take turns introducing themselves by giving their name, major and/or perhaps their reason for taking the class (aside from fulfilling a requirement).
  3. "Draw a Picture of a Significant Event" Have students draw a picture of a significant event that has occurred over the past six months and then share it with a partner. Following this activity, have the students introduce each other and briefly share the significance of their partner’s picture. This might be particularly appropriate in a design or art class.
  4. "Common Sense Inventory" Assemble five to fifteen common sense statements directly related to the course material, some (or all) of which run counter to popular belief or prejudice. (For example: "Suicide is more likely among women than men.") Individually, have students mark each statement as true or false and then share their answers in small groups. Allow students to debate their differences. Instruct the groups to reach consensus and have a presenter from each group share their response to at least one question. Either provide the correct answers or take the cliffhanger approach and let the class wait for them to unfold throughout the semester (Nilson 42). If you take the cliffhanger approach, you might consider readministering this inventory at the end of the semester as a method of reviewing and/or reflecting on the course.
  5. "The Circles of (student’s name)" Have students draw a large circle on a sheet of paper and other smaller circles radiating from it. Students write their name in the central circle and names of groups with which they identify (e.g., gender, age group, ethnic, social, political, ideological, athletic, etc.) in the satellite circles. Then ask students to move around the room to find three classmates who are most and/or least similar to themselves. This activity helps students appreciate the diversity in the class (Nilson 41).
  6. "Syllabus Icebreaker" Have students get into groups of three to five and introduce themselves. Following introductions, have each group generate a list of five to eight questions they have about the class. The instructor then hands out the syllabus and the groups go over it together to answer their questions. Upon completion of this activity, the class reconvenes and the small groups ask any questions not addressed in the syllabus.
  7. "Getting to Know Each Other through Writing" In a writing class, you might have students spend twenty minutes getting to know each other through writing, without speaking.
  8. "The M & M Breaker" When students enter the classroom, they take an M & M. When they introduce themselves, what they share is dependent on the color of their M & M. For example, a red one might mean they share what they hope to get out of the course. On the lighter side, a red one might mean they share a recent accomplishment or success.
  9. "Something …" Have students complete a form with spaces for "something you already know about the subject," "something you want to learn," and "something that could happen in this class that would make it possible to learn what you need to learn." Have each student introduce her/himself and share something from the form. Collect their forms to understand, and, when possible, address their needs.
  10. "Who’s In Our Group?" or "People Search" Have students take approximately twenty minutes to mingle around the room, meeting briefly with as many students as possible. As they mingle, have them identify a person to pair with a statement and write his/ her name next to it. They can use only one person per statement. Ask each student to briefly share a little about his or her experience with the statement selected. The statements can be designed to reflect the course content, such as "Find someone who has taken a related course," or "Find someone who knows the order of the planets," or they can be statements unrelated to the course, such as "Find someone who is wearing shoes without laces" or "Find someone who likes spaghetti with clam sauce." You can grant a prize, such as candy, to the student(s) who gets the most statements completed in the allotted time period.
  11. "Identification" Have students get into pairs or groups of four. Tell them to (individually) look in their purse/wallet/backpack to find something that is significant to them. Each participant shares with his or her group members or partner why the item is significant. The exercise continues until all partners or group members have shared. The class then resumes and class members are asked to introduce their partner or one person from their group, and share something significant about them.
  12. "Dinner Plans" Have each person complete the following sentence: "If I could have dinner with any person, living or dead, it would be____________ because_____________." This one might be particularly relevant in a history or hospitality food service class.
  13. "I’m Unique" Ask each person to share one thing that makes him or her unique. This can be incorporated into a classroom exercise for learning names (e.g., connecting the uniqueness to their name).
  14. "The Magic Wand" You have just found a magic wand that allows you to make any three changes you want. How would you change yourself, your job, or any other part of your life? Have students discuss why it is important to make the change. This might be pertinent in a developmental course where students have concerns about their ability to succeed in college.
  15. "Marooned" Break class into groups of four to seven and tell them "You are marooned on an island. What five (or a different number, depending upon the size of each group) items would you have brought with you if you knew there was a chance that you might be stranded?" Note: They are allowed five items per group, not per person. Have each group report their five items and briefly share why they selected those items. This activity helps them learn about another person’s values and problem solving styles and promotes teamwork.
  16. "Finish the Sentence" Go around the room and have each person introduce themselves and complete the following statement: "I am in this class because . . ."
  17. "Familiar and Unique" Break the class into groups of four (ideally, by counting off). Each small group must come up with four things they have in common (all working full-time, all single parents, etc.). Then they are asked to share something unique about themselves individually. Each group then shares their familiar and unique features with the rest of the class. If appropriate, a master list can be made on the board for the class to look at and discuss.
  18. "Learning from Experience" Have participants introduce themselves and explain one thing they have learned the hard way about the subject you are covering. Post their learning’s on a flip chart and refer to them as appropriate throughout the class/semester. This might be more relevant in an advanced and/or capstone course.
  19. "Questions" Have each student write a question they want answered about the class on a Post-it note. Have them introduce themselves and their question. Post all questions on a wall chart. During, the first session, or at the onset of the next, address any questions not addressed thus far.
  20. "Collective Knowledge" Working in teams, have students introduce themselves and then, as a group, identify three ground rules for the class. Have each group report out (sharing only what they have that is different from what the previous groups reported). As the groups report, reach consensus as a large group regarding the adoption of the various ground rules. If you have a computer/projector in your classroom, you might type and edit these as they are reported. Bring a copy to the next class session and have each student sign it. Consider reviewing and/or modifying as the need arises.
  21. "Who Can Develop?" Have participants identify someone who has contributed to their growth and development as a student, writer, historian, teacher, (or whatever their profession/major is). As they introduce themselves, have them explain their relationship to the person that contributed to their development.
  22. "Developing Yourself" Have each person introduce him/herself and share one action they have recently taken to develop themselves (other than signing up for this class). This can be done as a large group or in small teams.
  23. "First Job" Have participants introduce themselves, sharing their name and something they learned on their first paying job. This might be applicable in a career planning course.
  24. "Brain Teaser" Use an ungraded quiz as an icebreaker. Ask questions that we should all know but may not. Ask members to answer individually, and then give them a few minutes to work in small groups to finish answering the questions. The groups should be able to answer more questions than any one individual. This is a good demonstration of synergy and can lead to a discussion of the concept. Sample questions: What are the names of the planets, starting from the one closest to the sun? What is the most populous state in the U.S.? What eight states begin with the letter "M"?
  25. "My Slogan" Explain that many companies have slogans or "mottos" which reflect their values. For example, Ford Motor Company uses (or used) the slogan, "Quality is Job One." Ask each student to write (or borrow) a slogan to describe him or herself and share that with the class.
  26. "The Best Team" In small groups, have each member share a description of the best team they have ever been on and why it was the best. Post characteristics on a flip chart. Debrief this exercise by having the team identify ways to maximize the "best team" characteristics. This icebreaker would be particularly appropriate in a class where teamwork is expected.
  27. "Three Truths and a Lie" Give each individual a 3x5 card and instruct them to write four statements about themselves: one statement should be false, and three should be true. Explain that the goal is to fool people about which one is false. Allow five minutes to write statements; then have each person read the four statements and have the group guess the lie.
  28. "Guess Who?" At the onset of the first session, have each participant complete and return a 3x5 card with two to three statements about him or herself. For example: Favorite type of food, best all-time TV show, last movie you saw, last book you read, dream vacation, etc. During the first (or following) session, read the clues and have the rest of the class guess which person is being described.
  29. "Cat or Dog Person?" Have each student share if they are a cat person and/or a dog person and why.
  30. Mingle, Mingle, Mingle!" On an index card, have students write an appropriate question they would like to ask of their classmates (i.e., "What is your favorite song?"). Have the students get up and move around or "mingle." When you say "stop," they should speak to the person closest to them to exchange answers to both of their questions. After they have talked for about 30 seconds each, have them mingle some more and repeat the process. An alternative to this would be to have them exchange cards before "mingling" again.
  31. "Interviewing" In an online course, pair students up and have them interview each other (via email, over the phone, etc.). Then, if appropriate, have the students provide a brief report on what they discovered about each other.
  32. "Miscomm-puter-unication" Have the students pair up and share their most embarrassing mishap using a computer. You might start by sharing one of your own computer and/or email mishaps. For example, sending an email to the wrong person. This might be particularly pertinent in an online course and reinforce the importance of proper netiquette.
  33. "Favorite Musician" In a music class, have students share in small groups or pairs who their favorite musician is and why, and what they might say to him or her if they met. This could be followed by asking for volunteers to share something interesting that they learned from this activity.
  34. "Memory Lane" In an online course, have students list two or three major world events that happened the year (or five year period or decade) they were born. Follow this up by having other students try to guess when they were born and whether or not they remember the event(s).
  35. "Mapquest" Because students taking online classes are often from different locations around the world, ask each student to identify:
    • the city, state, territory, province, and/or country where they currently reside.
    • how far from LCC they live.
    • one interesting feature of their city.
  36. "YourName dot Explain" In an online course, have students introduce themselves and tell something about how or why they have their first, middle or last name (e.g., "Joan is my middle name and it is pronounced Joanne. It was my mother’s first name and it is my daughter’s middle name. My grandmother had a 6th grade education, so we are not sure if she realized that Joan would be mispronounced.")
  37. "Good Things come in Threes" In an online course, have students share their three favorite:
    • websites.
    • hobbies or interests.
    • TV shows.

To aid in learning students’ names, consider using a "naming cycle" where students introduce their partner and recall the names of the students previously introduced. This is an excellent, but time-consuming way to learn everyone’s name. At the conclusion, introduce yourself after you have recalled the names of all of the students.

Remember...

  • At the conclusion of an icebreaker activity, introduce yourself and how you wish to be addressed. Briefly, share your background and personal philosophy on learning and teaching. Avoid saying things like "This is the first time I have taught the course," or "I was only asked to teach this course a week ago." While true, these statements make it difficult to create a positive environment.
  • Debrief at the end of icebreaker activities (or any activities) by asking your students what the value of an icebreaker activity is and sharing your rationale for the activity. This is also an opportunity to remind them that their fellow students are valuable resources.

References

Jackson, Carol. "Icebreaker: Mingle, Mingle, Mingle!" The Online Teaching Resource. Teachnology, 2010. Web. 24 Aug. 2010.

Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Print.

Johnson, G.R. First Steps to Excellence in College Teaching. Madison: Magna, 1995. Print.

Nilson, Linda B. Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Boston: Anker, 1998. Print.

Silberman, M. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1996. Print.

Weimer, M. Improving Your Classroom Teaching. Newbury Park: SAGE, 1993. Print

Weimer, M. and Rose Ann Neff. Teaching College: Collected Readings for the New Instructor. Madison: Magna, 1990. Print.

"Icebreakers." Activities and Exercises. Results Through Training, 2010. Web. 4 May 2010.

"Icebreakers, Warm-up, Review, and Motivator Activities." Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition, 2010. Web. 4 May 2010.

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