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Icebreaker Activities

"...meeting a group of strangers who will affect your well being, is at the same time exciting and anxiety producing for both students and teacher." - McKeachie


Icebreakers help establish a positive environment and provide an opportunity for students to get to know one another and the instructor, both critical to the retention and success of students.


Ten minutes to one hour depending on the icebreaker selected


  1. Reduces both student and instructor anxiety prior to introducing the course.
  2. A powerful means of fostering both student-student and faculty-student interactions.
  3. Creates an environment where the learner is expected to participate and the instructor is willing to listen.
  4. Actively engages students from the onset.
  5. Conveys the message that the instructor cares about getting to know the students.
  6. It makes it easier for students to form relationships early in the semester, so they can work together both in and out of class.

12 Icebreaker Activities:

  1. Sharing Course Trepidations In pairs or small groups, have students share their trepidations about the course. This may be particularly helpful in a course associated with high anxiety, such as math or writing. Follow this up by either having students introduce each other, and/or by asking the pairs/groups to share their most significant concerns or fears regarding the course. As the groups share, the instructor can validate and address their concerns as appropriate.
  2. Draw a Picture of a Significant Event Have students draw a picture of a significant event that has occurred over the past six months and then share it with a partner. Following this activity, have the students introduce each other and briefly share the significance of their partner’s picture. This might be particularly appropriate in a design or art class.
  3. Common Sense Inventory Assemble five to fifteen common sense statements directly related to the course material, some (or all) of which run counter to popular belief or prejudice. (For example: "Suicide is more likely among women than men.") Individually, have students mark each statement as true or false and then share their answers in small groups. Allow students to debate their differences. Instruct the groups to reach consensus and have a presenter from each group share their response to at least one question. Either provide the correct answers or take the cliffhanger approach and let the class wait for them to unfold throughout the semester (Nilson 42). If you take the cliffhanger approach, you might consider readministering this inventory at the end of the semester as a method of reviewing and/or reflecting on the course.
  4. The Circles of (student’s name) Have students draw a large circle on a sheet of paper and other smaller circles radiating from it. Students write their name in the central circle and names of groups with which they identify (e.g., gender, age group, ethnic, social, political, ideological, athletic, etc.) in the satellite circles. Then ask students to move around the room to find three classmates who are most and/or least similar to themselves. This activity helps students appreciate the diversity in the class (Nilson 41).
  5. Syllabus Icebreaker Have students get into groups of three to five and introduce themselves. Following introductions, have each group generate a list of five to eight questions they have about the class. The instructor then hands out the syllabus and the groups go over it together to answer their questions. Upon completion of this activity, the class reconvenes and the small groups ask any questions not addressed in the syllabus.
  6. Something … Have students complete a form with spaces for "something you already know about the subject," "something you want to learn," and "something that could happen in this class that would make it possible to learn what you need to learn." Have each student introduce her/himself and share something from the form. Collect their forms to understand, and, when possible, address their needs.
  7. Familiar and Unique Break the class into groups of four (ideally, by counting off). Each small group must come up with four things they have in common (all working full-time, all single parents, etc.). Then they are asked to share something unique about themselves individually. Each group then shares their familiar and unique features with the rest of the class. If appropriate, a master list can be made on the board for the class to look at and discuss.
  8. Brain Teaser Use an ungraded quiz as an icebreaker. Ask questions that we should all know but may not. Ask members to answer individually, and then give them a few minutes to work in small groups to finish answering the questions. The groups should be able to answer more questions than any one individual. This is a good demonstration of synergy and can lead to a discussion of the concept. Sample questions: What are the names of the planets, starting from the one closest to the sun? What is the most populous state in the U.S.? What eight states begin with the letter "M"?
  9. Three Truths and a Lie Give each individual a 3x5 card and instruct them to write four statements about themselves: one statement should be false, and three should be true. Explain that the goal is to fool people about which one is false. Allow five minutes to write statements; then have each person read the four statements and have the group guess the lie.
  10. Memory Lane In an online course, have students list two or three major world events that happened the year (or five year period or decade) they were born. Follow this up by having other students try to guess when they were born and whether or not they remember the event(s).
  11. Mapquest Because students taking online classes are often from different locations around the world, ask each student to identify:
    • the city, state, territory, province, and/or country where they currently reside.
    • how far from LCC they live.
    • one interesting feature of their city.
  12. Good Things come in Threes In an online course, have students share their three favorite:
    • websites.
    • hobbies or interests.
    • TV shows.


Jackson, Carol. "Icebreaker: Mingle, Mingle, Mingle!" The Online Teaching Resource. Teachnology, 2010. Web. 24 Aug. 2010.

Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Print.

Johnson, G.R. First Steps to Excellence in College Teaching. Madison: Magna, 1995. Print.

Nilson, Linda B. Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. Boston: Anker, 1998. Print.

Silberman, M. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1996. Print.

Weimer, M. Improving Your Classroom Teaching. Newbury Park: SAGE, 1993. Print

Weimer, M. and Rose Ann Neff. Teaching College: Collected Readings for the New Instructor. Madison: Magna, 1990. Print.

"Icebreakers." Activities and Exercises. Results Through Training, 2010. Web. 4 May 2010.

"Icebreakers, Warm-up, Review, and Motivator Activities." Big Dog & Little Dog’s Performance Juxtaposition, 2010. Web. 4 May 2010.

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