Using Ice BreakersPlanned ice breaker activities can help students and faculty get acquainted and establish classroom community on the first day of class. They can also help students begin to develop a support network for the class.
Individual or Paired Activities
- Using nametags, name tents, or taking photographs will help you and your students get to know each other’s names more easily.
- Have students raise hands to show whether they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors; majors or nonmajors; and other categories of descriptors relevant to your course.
- Have students interview each other and then introduce their partners to the class. Giving them a list of questions to answer may help alleviate awkwardness.
Small Group Activities
- Question for Instructor. Break students into groups of three or four. Have them introduce themselves to each other, talk about and decide on a question they would like the instructor to answer, and then write then group’s question on a note card. Collect the note cards and answer each question.
- Common Ground. In small groups, have students come up with six things that they all have in common. Then have each group share their lists with the rest of the class.
- Group Résumé. Divide students into group of three to six students. Have them create a group resume, to display the resources of the group as a whole, possibly geared toward the subject matter of the course. Data to include on the resume could be: educational background, schools attended, knowledge about course content, job experience, skills, hobbies, travel, family. Groups could be given flip chart paper and markers to display their resumes.
- Venn Diagram of Students. Divide students into groups of three or four. Give each group a large sheet of butcher paper and a different color marker for each person. Have them draw a Venn diagram with an oval for each student. The students in each group are to discuss their similarities and differences. After the discussion, they are to fill in the diagram showing their similarities and differences.
If a group has a hard time getting started, give them some guidance by asking questions such as, “What year are you in school?”, “What is your major?”, “What are your career aspirations?”, "What is your favorite music?", "When is your birthday?", "What sports do you like?, or "Where were you born?"
Whole Class Activities
- Five-Fingers Icebreaker . Have each student give the following information using the five fingers on her/her hand as a prompt.
- Thumb – name something you’re good at or something you need luck for
- Pointer – say where you’re headed, your direction
- Middle – tell the others something that makes you mad
- Ring – name someone or something special to you
- Pinky – state something to remember you by (how about a name?)
- People Search . Do a variation of a scavenger hunt by giving students a sheet of paper with a list of activities (e.g., has studied another language, grew up in another state, hopes to major in ______, has acted in or directed a play, has already bought the text for this course). Have them find other students in the class who have done the activities listed, allowing each student’s name to appear only once on the sheet. The first student to fill in all the blanks or the one who has the most blanks filled in after 10-15 minutes wins the scavenger hunt.
- How do you feel? Ask the students to write down words or phrases that describe their feelings on the first day of class. List the responses on the blackboard. Then ask them to write down what they think you as the teacher are feeling this first day of class. List them on the blackboard in a second column and note the parallels. Briefly comment on your feelings and then discuss the joint student/teacher responsibilities for learning in the course.
- Two True, One False. Go around the class and everyone has to say two true statements about themselves and one false. The rest of the group has to guess which one is false.
- Famous People/Cities . As each participant arrives, tape a 3 x 5 index card on their back with the name of a famous person or city. They must circulate in the room and ask questions that can ONLY be answered with a YES or NO to identify clues that will help them find out the name of the person or city on their index card. EXAMPLES: Paris, Einstein, Washington DC, Mozart, Freud.
- People Bingo. Make a 5 x 5 grid, like a bingo grid. Write "FREE" in the center space. In all the other spaces, write things such as "Born in another state," "Is the youngest child in family," or "Elvis fan." You can also fill the spaces with ideas or concepts related to your course topics “Understands the concept of socialization,” “Can speak more than one language”. Fill in all the grids with items of interest to the students. Run a copy for each person. The students are to get the signature of a person who meets the criteria for each section. You might want to implement a rule that a person can only sign another person's paper in one spot. The first person with a completed card wins.
- The Circles of…Give each student a sheet of paper with a large central circle and other smaller circles radiating from it. Students write their names in the central circle and the names of groups with which they identify in the satellite circles. They ask students to more around the room to find three classmates who are most and/or least similar to themselves.
- Debrief any icebreaker activities you use. Talk with students about why you spent class doing it. Ask for their opinions. Mention to them that their fellow students can be valuable resources.
Education World (n.d.). Icebreakers. Retrieved from http://www.educationworld.com/back_to_school/index.shtml#icebreaker
Erickson, B., Peters, C.B., & Strommer, D.W. (2006). Teaching first year college students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Lyons, R.E., Ksilka, M.L., & Pawlas, G.E. (1999). The adjunct professor’s guide to success. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Silberman, M.L. (1996). Active learning. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W. J. (2010) McKeachie's teaching tips : Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Authored by Terri Tarr (June, 2001)
Revised by Jennifer Beasley (September, 2011)