Classroom icebreakers encourage new students to have conversations, get to know each other and feel comfortable in your classroom. They’re ideal for the first day of school, but can also serve as a precursor for teamwork and collaborative learning.
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 icebreakers “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.”
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.
Here are 10 games and activities to break the ice in your classroom.
1. 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 at the start of a new semester to make introductions.
2. Concentric circles
Arrange students in two circles, one inside the other, with students facing each other in pairs. Ask a question, such as “what’s your favourite movie and why?” Pairs discuss the answer, then rotate the circle to form new pairs for the next question. The trick is to provide open-ended questions rather than those with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to get students talking.
3. 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. It’s a simple game, ideal for small or large groups, but spurs conversations and makes connections.
4. 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 and can sign that square. Whoever fills the most squares wins (you can even award a prize).
5. Longest line
Instruct students to form one continuous line based on certain criteria, such as alphabetically by first name or shortest to tallest. For large classes, you could ask students to gather in groups based on commonality (such as by birthday month). This gets students talking and can help build a sense of community.
6. Three Ps
Divide students into small groups, where they share three facts about themselves: something personal, something professional and something peculiar, such as an interesting hobby or habit. 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.
7. 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 mingle with their classmates, asking questions to figure out who they are.
8. Poker hand
This classroom icebreaker is ideal for large groups of students (at least 52). 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. 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.
9. Beach ball
Like the name suggests, this activity requires an inflatable plastic beach ball. Using a Sharpie, write get-to-know-you questions on the beach ball. Arrange students in a circle (for larger classes, you may want to divide the class into smaller groups). Toss the ball. Whoever catches it asks the question closest to their left thumb, answers it and then tosses the ball to another student.
10. 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.
Classroom icebreakers aren’t just a ‘feel good’ exercise. They can help students create connections and build a sense of camaraderie in your classroom. It can also help you get to know your students and build better relationships.
As Jennifer Gonzalez explains in the Cult of Pedagogy2, “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.”
1. 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/187450.pdf
2. Gonzalez, J. (2017, July 23). A 4-Part System for Getting to Know Your Students. Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/relationship-building/
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