12 Icebreakers for the College Classroom
Icebreakers can be an effective method for developing classroom community and introducing course content in an engaging way. Icebreakers are commonly used to create a relaxed environment that encourages participation. Putting students in conversation with each other at the beginning of a course can also lead to ongoing interaction and increased learning. Student ownership of the learning environment is also a possible outcome of utilizing icebreakers.
The following twelve icebreakers have been used successfully in many college classrooms. Feel free to borrow one of these ideas for your own class!
- Sharing Course Trepidations. Some students have high anxiety about beginning a new course, especially in some courses, such as math or writing, which may be associated with high student anxiety and expectations. Have your students pair up or work in groups to share some of their fears and concerns about starting your course. Groups can share with the larger class if they feel comfortable; this provides validation for the students and an opportunity for the instructor to address student concerns.
- Simple Self-Introductions. Have students introduce themselves to the rest of the class, including their names, majors, and year in school. You can even have them include a “fun fact” about themselves. This also may help you remember them a little bit better. This is a particularly useful exercise in a course where student speaking, in the form of speeches, oral presentations, or regular discussions, are expected.
- Draw a Picture or Doodle of a Significant Event. Students can draw a recent event in which they partook (or something recent that happened to them) and exchange their drawings with a partner. The pairs can either introduce themselves to one another and discuss the events or introduce each other to the larger group while describing one another’s events to the class.
- Draw a Picture of Why The Student Is Taking the Class. Ask students to draw their reason for enrolling in the course (other than it fulfills a requirement; encourage them to be creative). They can then share these in pairs, groups, or with the larger class.
- Bingo. Make a 5×5 grid to use as a Bingo sheet. In each box, write a “fun fact,” or something that at least one of your students will probably relate to. Some examples might be: has traveled to Europe; plays a sport; is left-handed, but they can also be related to your discipline. Have your students walk around and talk to others until they find matches; the first to find all of them “wins.”
- Getting to Know Each Other through Writing. Instead of asking students to interview one another verbally, have your students write down the information that is traditionally shared in an introduction. Students can write their names, majors, reasons for enrolling in your course, “fun facts” about themselves, etc. Have your students swap papers with one another and learn about their partners without speaking. This is especially useful in a writing-intensive course.
- The M&M Icebreaker. Each student should be given an M&M (or a Lifesaver, or other multicolored candy). They can be given this piece of candy either as they walk in to the room or while they are already sitting in their seats. Develop a few questions or ideas about what students can share with the rest of the class. Then ask the students to introduce themselves to either a small group of other students or to the whole class, depending on the size of your course. When they introduce themselves, what they share or say is dependent on the color of their piece of candy. For example, a red one might mean they share why they decided to take the course or what they did over the school break.
- Syllabus Icebreaker. Before distributing syllabi, have students get into small groups (3-5 students depending on the size of your course) and introduce themselves to one another. In their groups, students write a list of questions they have about the class. After their questions are written down, hand out the syllabus and have the students find answers to their questions using the syllabus. This is not only an icebreaker, but can also show students that many of their questions can be answered by reading the syllabus. Afterward, the class “debriefs” as a large group and discusses any questions that were not answered in the syllabus.
- Syllabus Jigsaw. Divide your syllabus into a few major sections. Have your students get into groups and distribute one major section to each group (for example, Group A gets “homework assignments”). Each group studies the section of the syllabus until they are confident about the information in it; groups then present that section of the syllabus to the rest of the class.
- Best and Worst Classes. Divide the chalkboard/whiteboard into 2 sections. On one side, write “the best class I have ever had” and on the other side write “the worst class I have ever had”. Under each of these headings, write “what the teacher did” and “what the students did” As a group, have your students share what they liked and disliked about past courses, being careful not to mention any course, department, or instructor by name. At the end, point out to students what you would like to achieve as an instructor but emphasize that you can’t do it alone.
- Common Sense Inventory. Make a list of true or false statements pertaining to content in your course (for example, in a Biology course, one might read, “Evolution is simply change over time”). Have students get into groups and decide whether each statement is true or false. As a large group, “debrief” by going over the answers and clarifying misconceptions.
- Anonymous Classroom Survey. Write 2 or 3 open-ended questions pertaining to course content. Consider including at least one question that most students will be able to answer and at least one question that students will find challenging. Have your students respond anonymously on note cards; collect the answers to get a general sense of your students’ starting point.
Lansing Community College Center for Teaching Excellence. (2013). Icebreaker activities.
Wiemer, M. (2013, January 9). First day of class activities that create a climate for learning. The Teaching Professor Blog.
Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence. (2012, September 12). Breaking the ice.