Because students in online courses may never have the opportunity to meet face to face, they may not initially feel the type of connection that typically facilitates and enlivens discussion in an on-campus class.

However, once online students get to know a bit about one another, their conversations around course content can become more meaningful. It simply takes a bit of time, as well as the opportunity and the space, for these types of acquaintanceship-building discussions to take root.

With these icebreakers for online courses, selected from Instructor’s Resource Manual for Christine Harrington, Ph.D.’s Student Success in College: Doing What Works!, you can foster student engagement around relevant topics and build student-to-student connections in the process. Post the questions to your discussion board, or perhaps use them at your first synchronous class meeting.

For the first message board, focus on helping classmates with getting to know one another. Ask each student to share 3-5 interesting facts about himself/herself. Encourage students to look for areas of common ground.


Note: After everyone has shared their interesting facts, you could make a list of these facts and send out a survey to the class (using your course management system or a tool like Survey Monkey) to see the level of class interest in the various activities. For example, if a student says she likes to ride motorcycles and another student says she’s an only child, ask everyone in the class if this describes them (Yes, somewhat, maybe). Share the survey results with the class and they will soon discover they have much in common!


Checking In
Since it’s the beginning of the semester, encourage students to share one positive and one challenging experience they have encountered so far.


Ask students to preview the text and discuss what they are most interested in learning about and how [your course textbook] can support their journey to success. (Harrington, 8)


Reference: Harrington, Christine. 2013. Instructor’s Resource Manual for Student Success in College: Doing What Works! A Research-Focused Approach. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

© 2013 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved.


Share your favorite icebreaker activities