Ice Breakers and First Day of Class Activities

a group of students
Peer Advice & Teaching Tips
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Planning for the start of the semester is on my mind. I’ve always believed the first day of class sets the tone for the semester. I teach large sections of gen-ed history and for the fall, most of my students will be freshmen. This semester, I’m planning to use a short, get-acquainted activity so students can meet some of their classmates on the first day.

Professor Sandy Keeter:

In my online classes, the students do an Introductory Discussion Post where they have to tell us Three interesting facts about themselves. In my oncampus classes, we do the same thing, but they have to introduce the person next to them after learning 3 interesting facts.

Professor Donna Sue Shellman:

I use this same type of introductory discussion board post in all of my courses, both seated and online. It helps me and other students to learn about each other, including students in a seated course. In the seated course, I also have students introduce themselves to at least three people in the course; I allow them to talk for a few minutes amongst themselves. It helps them to make connections in class; they often notice some of the same people in other areas of campus and in other courses.

Once they have introduced themselves in my course, they are more likely to talk to those people again if they see each other elsewhere. I stress to students the importance of forming a network of fellow learners, a valuable source of motivation and inspiration as they move through the semester and through their academic careers. I explain that having a fellow student who understands your journey is very comforting. It takes a village…

Professor Terry Weideman:

I have a couple of ice breakers that I use. In the first one, I have students introduce themselves and tell how long they have been at the college, what they are studying, and since I teach nutrition, they are to name their favorite comfort food.

The other one I use, and students love this one, I give the students a bag of the fun size M&M’s (the ones you get for Halloween or Easter) and tell them not to open them until I say so. Then I pick a random color of M&M and have the students open their bag as I call on them. They then have to introduce themself and tell me something they want to learn about nutrition for every M&M they have of the chosen color. Note: You have to watch out for those students who can’t help themselves and eat the M&M’s before it’s their turn!

Professor Essie Childers:

Here’s an activity I do:

  1. I give each student a balloon (any color). Have them to think about the features of a balloon and discuss what causes a balloon to stay afloat.
  2. Discuss traits that would help a college student stay “on course.”
  3. Allow students to blow up their balloon. Form 2 groups if you have a large class.
  4. Students are to toss their balloon in the air and pretend the balloons are students in the class.
  5. Objective of this icebreaker is to not let any balloon fall to the floor. A falling balloon indicates failure to complete a class, failure to seek help from the professor, or failure to seek tutoring. During the discussion period, allow students to generate more ideas. I usually give the students about one minute and thirty seconds (or less).
  6. Discuss your observations. Some balloons fell to the floor when the student became unfocused. This is a great time to talk about multi-tasking. Also, be sure to emphasize the importance of interdependence—students can encourage one another to succeed. Faculty and staff are here to help students succeed.

The fun part: Allow the students to stomp their balloon and return to their seats.

Professor Sherry Singer:

I’ve found students love “I like when and I hate it when.” Give your students an index card and ask them to put three things they like instructors to do on one side and three things they hate on the other. Then read these anonymously and talk realistically about how your class is organized.

But to truly engage students I debunk Ancient Aliens and other history programs. Talking about students’ perceptions of history changes their perspective.

Professor Joan Shriver:

We play a Kahoot Flag game, or one of the short public elementary school games, to see who is the brightest so you know who you want to sit with during the semester.  One semester we had a young man from Kenya who missed his own flag and laughed with the class about it.

Checker board game, each square had something in it like “likes cats” “plays baseball” “likes the Cowboys”…  just to name a few.  Then they have to walk around the room and find someone different to sign each of the squares.  This is a little hectic but they seem to find new friends and get out of their chairs.

2 truths and 1 lie.  Although we don’t know each other we play this to see what we can learn about each other.

I have an Introduce yourself to the class slide where the last question asks about their favorite cookie….  this is an Intro to Computing class so if they don’t understand they do by the time the class/course is over.

I do a game where everyone selects an action that describes them, and we go around the room sharing them with the class like telephone.

  • Me: Musical Mary
  • 2nd person: Kicking Ken
  • 3rd person: Jumping Jack
  • 4th person: Inquisitive Isaac

I start it off. Hi, I’m Musical Mary.

2nd person: Hi, this is Musical Mary, and I am Kicking Ken.

3rd person: Hi, this is Musical Mary, that’s Kicking Ken, and I am Jumping Jack.

4th person: Hi, this is Musical Mary, Kicking Ken, Jumping Jack, and I am Inquisitive Isaac. (Sometimes, depending on the letter, we must get creative with “action” words.)

This way each person learns the names of their classmates. Amazingly, they remember the action with the name throughout the semester, and it helps names become known much sooner than anything else I have tried in the past.

During the game, we help each other remember as the list gets longer and longer!