The weather outside may be chilly, but there’s no reason you can’t “warm up” your classes with a great icebreaker activity!
We asked Cengage Learning’s Faculty Partners: “What’s your favorite ‘icebreaker’ and how do you use it in class?” Below, you’ll find some of their great suggestions. Whether you teach in a classroom or in the online environment, we believe you’ll find something that will engage your students!
Cengage Learning’s Faculty Partners offer some of their favorite icebreakers for the college classroom
I like to have each student tell something unique about themselves—either something they have done, places they have gone or a hobby that might be unique. This works for both online and in-class. I sometimes have them write it down, read it out and have the class try to match it to the person—usually only works with 2nd year classes when students know each other.
—Joey Bryant, Forsyth Technical Community College
Icebreakers are fun ways to get students engaged so I love to scaffold this opportunity in my online class. My learning frameworks online students are directed on how to include a picture in their profile along with a discussion post describing their career pursuit, academic interest, description of a collegiate experience, an interesting fact about them and whether or not they would like to host or join a study group. Everyone then must respond to the post of two peers although they usually do more!
—Rajone Lyman, Houston Community College
“I like it, I hate it.”
I take note cards to class and have students write on one side “I like it when instructors do this: ______________” and on the reverse “I hate it when instructors do this: ______________”
I read over these in class and and address each student answering their questions or responding to their statements in class. I use this to explain how my course works. Students may say for example I like it when teachers show videos. My response would be, I do show videos but there are clips and here is why. Or a student might say I hate essay exams and I would reply well this is a history class and we have those.
This is an excellent quick survey of your course that lets you learn about the preferences of your students, allows you to address their concerns and set the stage for your course. It also allows students to feel that they have some say in the course. If over the semester you address these concerns or preferences students feel a connection because the instructor heard them and responded.
—Sherri Singer, Alamance Community College
We have the students introduce themselves in person or online. There are three things we tell them to mention personal, school, job, two truths and a lie. They then reply to each other getting to know them better.
—Sandy Keeter, Seminole State College
I might show a video from YouTube or ask some sort of question to make them think about something we are going to talk about. Playing a quick game is good too.
—Robert Banik, Mississippi State University
The content of my quantitative literacy course is broken up into four units and each one has a large emphasis on using collaboration to explore unfamiliar concepts. So, on the first day of class students are given a sheet of paper with four multiple choice questions. Students are told that each question is based on an idea that you will learn during the semester. Also, students are told that the main idea is not to expose the mathematics that they don’t know but to use their ideas of what they think is the answer as a way to collaborate with other people in the class.
After students answer all four questions, students will move to a certain corner of the room based on their answer choice. For example, all the students who answered ‘a’ on the first question will move one corner. There they will introduce themselves, find some thing non trivial that they have in common, and then discuss why they chose ‘a’. The students who chose ‘b’, ‘c,’ and ‘d’ will be in their assigned corners doing the same as ‘a’. The teacher goes around to each corner meeting students as well and facilitating discussions. Finally, the process is repeated with questions two, three, and four.
—Luke Walsh, Catawba Valley Community College
It can be challenging to “break the ice” in an online course. So rather than just ask students to post predictable digital introductions, I have sometimes asked students to post with a purpose: I ask them to share a campus resource, event, club, or service they are excited about or plan to explore this semester. So students not only share a bit about themselves by doing so (for instance, whether they are interested in sports, photography, foreign languages, student government…) but other students get to learn about things from their peers that perhaps they didn’t know our college had (like intramural sports, an online writing center, a Facebook video game group…). It’s a great way to create an atmosphere of sharing in an online class while introducing students in an organic way to various resources at our institution.
—Audrey Wick, Blinn College
I teach foreign languages, so I have the students describe themselves in the Target Language with “two truths and a lie.” Then they share in partners or small groups and try to guess which statement is the lie. I’ve done versions of this quick and easy icebreaker in my f2f classes and online.
In more advanced classes, I have students tell the plot of their favorite film in the Target Language, avoiding any identifying character or actor names. The other students in their icebreaker group try to guess which film is their favorite one. This one is fun, since they often remember each other by film title before they even learn each others’ names. It also creates another way to group students later in the class. If your film was science fiction, you’ll be working together on exercise A over here, all of the romantic comedies will work on exercise C over there, etc.
—Heather Bonikowski, Austin Community College
At Arizona State University, we have students from all over the country and the world so I like to get to know where the students are from. At the start of each class, I ask 3 or so students to tell us where they are from and why they came to ASU. I keep a list and try to get to all students during the course of the semester. In recent years, there have been a number of students from China in the business calculus class which I teach and when they are explaining where they are from I call up a map to display and ask them to show the other students their home town on a map. This also helps to engage them with the US students as sometimes many of the Chinese students keep to themselves.
—Joe Rody, Arizona State University