Using Virtual Icebreakers and Fun Activities for a Brain Break

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Course DesignOnline LearningStudent Success
Reading Time: 3 minutes

COVID-19 has changed the teaching landscape for myself and educators throughout the world. Now that millions of students have been thrust into an online environment, educators have to seek new ways to keep students engaged in the virtual classroom.

With so many students enrolled in four to five classes—hybrid or fully online—time spent on the computer could average up to six hours a day. In addition to class time spent on the computer, consider the amount of time playing video games and using the phone for social media.

Dr. Anshell suggests the 20/20/20 rule. “For every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away (and not another screen!). It helps to keep down eye strains.” To relieve stress on the brain, consider infusing virtual icebreakers and fun activities into your lesson planning.

Chin Up

Spending several hours sitting in front of a computer screen can be stressful on your neck, shoulders and back. The Chin-Up exercise directs the student to look up to feel good. The brief video guides students into chin, shoulders and arm exercises. Correctly breathing in and out is emphasized as students keep their eyes closed. When your chin is kept up, your overall body posture is improved.

Mindfulness Meditations

There has been an increase in anxiety and depression among college students since COVID-19. Students are busy juggling several activities at once and adjusting to new learning formats. In three minutes, students can listen to a mindfulness podcast to help calm their minds. Meditations have been shown to decrease mind wandering, anxiety and depression while improving attention and concentration. Students may think mindfulness meditations are silly at first, but will later come to appreciate the benefits of having their mind in a calm state.

Outside Selfie

Have students take a break from the computer by going outside to take a selfie. Changing the scenery allows students to rest the mind and get some fresh air. Students can share their pictures on Padlet or in a discussion forum, promoting opportunities to create a community of learners.

Just Dance

Just dance is a fun activity to incorporate into any class. Take a minute or two to get up and just dance by moving your legs, head and arms. Sing along with the video and give students the chance to see the personal side of you instead of just a teacher on a screen. I promise you, taking a few minutes at the beginning of the class will not cause you to lose their attention. Let students participate by sending you a video clip to play.

One Word Chat

In this activity, I ask students to type in the chat window one word that describes how they feel. As Achor posits, your brain functions better when in a positive mindset, rather than when it is negative, neutral or stressed. The one word chat is a quick icebreaker that is unrelated to the class but gives me an idea of their emotional stance. I make a note of students who use words like lonely, confused, sad, etc. and follow up with a personal email.

Engage with Quizalize

Quizalize is a free, self-paced learning tool for students and educators. It’s a great icebreaker to check a student’s understanding of textual material while allowing you to create questions delivered in a game format. Students can play the game in class or at home—while accessing their knowledge in a fun, non-threatening setting using their laptops or phones. Instructors can create reports to see the overall performance of a class.

These are just a few icebreakers and activities to help students rest their brains. Make online learning fun for you and your students. Be creative by moving outside of your comfort zone to connect with your students. Educators are not teaching in the same classrooms and must pivot to learn new pedagogy to bring active learning to the virtual classroom.

Looking for simple tweaks you can make to improve your online instruction? Check out our webinar, “Life Hacks” to Enhance Your Online Course Today.