Classroom icebreakers encourage new students to have conversations, getting to know you and each other in the process. Used early on, icebreakers can help students feel comfortable in your classroom or team meeting. They’re ideal for the first day of school, but can be used throughout the semester and serve as a precursor for teamwork and collaborative learning. Virtual icebreakers—facilitated via social media, discussion boards or in virtual team meetings—have also gained new meaning in helping group members warm up to one another.
An icebreaker can be as simple as asking students to introduce themselves to the class or to the students sitting next to them, but games and activities offer a chance to interact with a greater number of classmates and build camaraderie. According to a guide1 from Nottingham Trent University, for classroom icebreaker games “there ought to be a fun aspect to the activities in order to provide participants with some shared history that they can discuss later and, where possible, a relevance to the taught course/university experience.”
It’s no doubt that icebreaker activities like scavenger hunts or Pictionary are overdone. Keep in mind that some classroom icebreakers could be awkward or uncomfortable for students, such as publicly sharing personal information. The key is to get students talking to each other, having conversations and making connections—without social risk. This could mean facilitating small group activities versus requiring students to share personal information in front of the whole class. As an educator, help your students get to know one another in a safe and effective way.
Here are 20 fresh and easy-to-implement games and activities to break the ice in your in-person, blended or online classroom. Download The Ultimate List of Icebreakers for the College Classroom for an additional 50 activities and fun icebreakers (get the list here).
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1. Concentric circles
This is a great team-building icebreaker for an in-person learning environment. Arrange students in two circles, one inside the other, with students facing each other in pairs. Ask a question, such as “what’s your favorite thing about college and why?” Pairs discuss the answer, then rotate the circle to form new pairs for the next question—exposing students to the different perspectives of their peers. The trick is to provide open-ended questions rather than those with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to get students talking.
2. Find someone who…
This is like Bingo, but with people instead of chips. Students are given a piece of paper with a grid of squares. Written inside each square is an item, such as ‘travelled to another continent’ or ‘has a younger sister.’ Students are given a time limit to find classmates who fit the description. Whoever gets ‘Bingo’ first wins. You can even award a prize of your choice, such as a bonus point or two on an upcoming assignment. This is a good icebreaker to help your students warm up to one another at the start of the school year—especially those who are meeting one another for the first time.
3. Name game
This classic party game can also be applied in the classroom—you can even tweak it to reflect the curriculum. Write down names of famous people (or names related to course material) on sticky notes. Students place a sticky note on their forehead and interact with their classmates, asking questions to understand which person they are embodying. This team icebreaker helps students loosen up and informally interact with their classmates. It also helps them learn about a figure who may have previously been unknown to them.
4. Poker hand
This classroom icebreaker is ideal for large groups of students (a maximum of 50). Shuffle a deck of cards and hand out a card to each student. Set a time limit and instruct students to find four classmates and form a hand of poker. The best hand ‘wins’ when their time is up—consider offering a couple of bonus points on an assignment. Keep in mind that not everyone knows how to play poker, so display the rules of the game on a whiteboard or a slide at the front of the classroom. This activity may help students develop their analytical skills.
5. Three of a kind
Set a time limit and instruct students to find three other students they share something in common with—though not anything obvious or visible, such as hair color. The idea is to help them make connections that may not be immediately apparent. For more strategies to help your students get to know their classmates, download our free list of college icebreakers here.
6. Find your pair
In advance of class, prepare word pairs—such as salt and pepper, or ketchup and mustard—on separate pieces of paper. Have students select a piece of paper from the pile, ensuring they don’t share their word with anyone else. Students then walk around the room and ask yes or no questions to their peers to try and figure out what word they have (and helping them get to know more people in your class). Once students have figured out what word they have, they then must find their pair (if they haven’t already) by continuing to ask questions.
7. Act and react
Ask students to write down an event or scenario on a piece of paper. These may range from “I just got fired from my job” to “I just got stung by a bee.” Fold the pieces of paper up and put them in a bag or hat. Have students randomly draw a slip of paper and react to the experience using their facial features, gestures or words. The remaining students can guess what just happened. This activity will help lighten the mood in your class and allows for student-student interaction.
→ Download Now: 50 Free Icebreakers for College Courses
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8. Two truths and a lie
Divide the class into small groups. Each group sits in a circle, and each participant tells their group three statements; two are true and one is a lie. The other students in the group must guess which is the lie. This interactive icebreaker could be used during the first day of class to make introductions and reduce first-day jitters, all by sharing fun facts with one another.
9. This or that
Present students with a choice between ‘this or that.’ Topics should be relatively light, such as whether they prefer dogs or cats (though you could also tie this back to course material). Students move to the side of the room that reflects their choice. After a few minutes, encourage one or two members in each group to defend their position amongst a new group of students. Ask students to repeat this process for several rounds to help familiarize themselves with a variety of standpoints. Similar to would you rather, this or that is ideal for small or large groups and spurs conversations and makes connections.
10. Longest line
Instruct students to form one continuous line based on certain criteria, such as alphabetically by first name or from shortest to tallest. For large classes, you could ask students to gather in groups based on some commonality (such as by birthday month). The goal is for students to line up as fast as possible—a result of clear and open communication in medium-sized groups. This classroom icebreaker is a great team-building activity and can help create a sense of community should it be used as a first day icebreaker or at the beginning of the year.
11. Three Ps
Divide students into small groups, and have them share three facts about themselves: something personal, something professional and something peculiar, such as an interesting hobby or habit. This icebreaker idea can easily be used in virtual meetings. It should be noted, the personal fact shouldn’t be anything too personal—it could be something as simple as a country they’ve always wanted to travel to. Use this great icebreaker when students go back to school from the summer, helping them warm up to their peers.
12. Beach ball
Like the name suggests, this activity requires an inflatable plastic beach ball. Ahead of class, write different get-to-know you questions on each segment of a beach ball using a Sharpie. Arrange students in a circle. For larger classes, you may want to divide the class into smaller groups. The questions could be “what was one of your highlights from the summer?” or “who is your celebrity idol and why?” Toss the ball. Whoever catches it asks the question closest to their left thumb, answers it and then tosses the ball to another student.
13. Syllabus questionnaire
Before sharing your syllabus with students, place them into groups of five and have them fill in a Google Doc or worksheet with questions they have about your course. Structure the first five minutes as a brainstorming session. After each group has prepared their list of questions, distribute the syllabus and have students find answers to their questions using this document. Re-convene as a group and give students an opportunity to ask any further questions that couldn’t be answered from the syllabus. You may also wish to facilitate this activity using individual lesson plans throughout the semester.
14. String a story
Arrive to class with a big roll of yarn or string and cut various pieces ranging from five to 20 inches in length. Bunch the pieces of string together and place them to the side. Have each student draw a piece of string from the pile and slowly wind it around their index finger. As they are winding the string around their finger, students must introduce themselves and give a first-person account of their life—in whatever capacity they wish—until the string is completely wound up.
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15. Blind contour
This activity is a fun way to get your visual arts students talking in a small group of people. Split students into groups of five and have each student choose an object to sketch—without looking at their paper. Give students five minutes to complete their sketch, then have them share it with their team members and ask the remaining students to guess what they drew. Repeat the process with another item or object, until time runs out. This game helps hone students’ observational skills, while making sure students are mentally present.
16. It was the best of classes, it was the worst of classes
This classroom icebreaker not only helps students relate to each other, it can help inform your teaching practices throughout the term. On one side, write “the best class I ever had” and on the other side, write “the worst class I ever had.” Without referring to specific professors or courses, ask students to share what they liked and disliked about their previous courses. Make a list of these items to potentially implement—or avoid—in your own course this semester. Additionally, consider using an anonymous discussion board or a group worksheet in your virtual classroom to encourage participation.
17. The living Likert scale
This icebreaker question for college students lets learners see where they—and their peers—stand on a variety of topics related to your discipline. Before class, write numbers ‘1’ through ‘7’ on pieces of paper and place them across the room. The sheet with ‘1’ on it could refer to ‘strongly disagree’ while ‘7’ might refer to ‘strongly agree.’ Acting as a facilitator, pose a series of statements related to your discipline—such as “I think television can make children act aggressive” in a social psychology class—and have students move to the side of the wall according to their stance. Students who are comfortable sharing their opinions pertaining to the topic may do so.
18. Why am I here?
Have students draw a picture that represents why they enrolled in your course. Encourage them to think beyond the fact that they may need your course credit to graduate, or that their high school guidance counselor recommended your course. They could think about wanting to learn more about your field or simply that their friends were enrolled in your class, too. After five minutes, have students share their picture with the larger group if they’re comfortable—helping students feel like part of one interconnected community.
19. Class in one word
Have students share their perceptions of your discipline in one word, such as ‘complicated,’ ‘analytical,’ or ‘enjoyable.’ Students can go around in a circle—or the order they appear in your Zoom tile view—and describe their past experiences in your field using a single word. In an asynchronous course, set up an anonymous discussion question in Top Hat and have students respond on their own time. This activity offers a humanizing view of who else is in the same boat.
20. Philosophical chairs
A statement that has two possible responses—agree or disagree—is read out loud. Depending on whether they agree or disagree with this statement, students move to one side of the room or the other. After everyone has chosen a side, ask one or two students on each side to take turns defending their positions. This allows students to visualize where their peers’ opinions come from, relative to their own.
Classroom icebreakers aren’t just a ‘feel good’ exercise. The best icebreakers can help students create connections and build a sense of camaraderie in your classroom. It can also help educators get to know their students and build better relationships. Whether you’re in a physical classroom or in a remote team setting, the above icebreakers will surely create a light-hearted environment for your students to thrive in.
As Jennifer Gonzalez explains on her website, Cult of Pedagogy,2, “building solid relationships with your students is arguably the most important thing you can do to be an effective teacher. It helps you build trust so students take academic risks, allows you to better differentiate for individual needs, and prevents the kinds of power struggles often found in poorly managed classrooms.”
Download The Ultimate List of Icebreakers for the College Classroom, packed with 50 easy-to-implement games and activities for your next course. Get the full list of activities here.
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- Ice-Breaker Activities to use in Your First-Year Student Induction. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www4.ntu.ac.uk/adq/document_uploads/running_a_course/193397.pdf
- Gonzalez, J. (2017, July 23). A 4-Part System for Getting to Know Your Students. Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/relationship-building/