Icebreakers are fun activities to help people get to know one another. Instructors can use them to help acquaint students with course content and expectations.
Icebreakers can also be designed to help warm up online learning spaces and orient students to the online environment.
Icebreakers may involve students:
- playing a game with their classmates
- responding to a funny and/or "getting to know you" prompt
- explaining why they are taking the course
- sharing something meaningful related to the course or discipline, such as a recent headline, article, or other media content related to the course
- creating something (e.g., drawings, video, songs, poems, etc.)
Why use icebreakers?
Icebreakers have several benefits in the classroom. They can:
- help to create a relaxed environment where students share ideas and participate more fully in the class
- encourage students to share ownership for the learning environment of the class
- build rapport among students and foster a productive learning environment
- prepare students for collaborative group work
Considerations for using icebreakers
- What do you want to achieve with an icebreaker? Do you want to set the tone for the learning community or lead into course content in engaging ways?
- Think of your population in choosing or designing an activity. This includes group size, demographics, levels of knowledge, extent to which they know each other, reasons for being in your class, and more. For example, larger classes might need a simple activity and new classes may require a low-risk activity.
- Think through the activity ahead of time and adapt it accordingly. Will the space you have suffice? Do you have all needed supplies? Would the activity lead to issues of confidentiality? Does the activity accommodate varying abilities?
- Icebreakers do not always go exactly as planned. Flexibility and willingness to learn are part of building a positive and open learning community.
Getting started with icebreakers
These tips can help with the logistics of running an icebreaker activity in class. See Getting started with icebreakers for more tips and examples to try.
- Introduce the activity to the group and explain your justification for using it
- Establish a symbol for when the activity is over, such as ringing a bell, clapping, or turning off the lights
- Help students find a partner (do not assume that everyone will match up easily: some students are more introverted than others, some may be resistant, or there may simply be an odd number in the class. It can be easier to count off students)
- Indicate who will start first (e.g., the student with the longest hair, the student whose birthday is closest to today's date, etc.)
- Announce when the activity is halfway finished; that way if only one student has spoken so far, the other will have a chance to participate as well
- Debrief by asking a few pairs to share with the group what they learned about their partner, or one thing they discovered that they have in common with each other
Chlup, D. T., & Collins, T. E. (2010). Breaking the ice: Using icebreakers and re-energizers with adult learners. Adult Learning, 21(3-4), 34-39.
Eggleston, T., & Smith, G. (2004). Building community in the classroom through ice-breakers and parting ways. Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology Online. Retrieved from http://teachpsych.org/resources/Documents/otrp/resources/eggleston04.pdf.
West, E. (1999). The big book of icebreakers: Quick, fun activities for energizing meetings and workshops. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.