Icebreakers are fun activities designed to help people get to know one another. They can also be designed to get students acquainted with course content and expectations.
Icebreakers allow you to:
- Create a relaxed environment where students share ideas more freely, and participate more fully in the course.
- Encourage students to share ownership for the learning environment of the class.
- Establish positive rapport with students and foster a productive learning environment.
- Support content learning by creating a direct experience with course content or by “sending important messages” about how the content can be viewed in meaningful ways (West, 1999).
- Prepare students for collaborative group work (Barkley, Cross, & Major 2005).
Things to consider first:
- What do you want to achieve with an icebreaker? Do you want to set the tone for the learning community or lead into course content in engaging ways?
- Think of your population in choosing or designing an activity. This includes group size, demographics, levels of knowledge, extent to which they know each other, reasons for being in your class, and others. For example, larger classes might need a simple activity and new classes may require a low risk activity.
- Think through the activity ahead of time and adapt it accordingly. Will the space you have suffice? Do you have all needed supplies? Would the activity lead to issues of confidentiality? Is the activity accommodating for various abilities?
- Icebreakers do not always go exactly as planned. Flexibility and willingness to learn is part of building a positive and open learning community.
Facilitating an icebreaker:
- Introduce the activity to the group. Explain your justification for using it.
- Establish a symbol for when the activity is over, such as ringing a bell, clapping, or turning off the lights.
- Help students find a partner. Do not assume that everyone will match up easily as some students are shyer than others, some may be resistant, or there may simply be an odd number in the class. Ask students to raise their hands if they need a partner and then help them find one.
- Indicate who will start first. For example, the student with the longest hair or the student whose birthday is closest, etc.
- Announce when the activity is halfway finished. That way if only one student talked, the other will have a chance to participate as well.
- Debrief by asking a few pairs to share with the group what they learned about their partner, or one thing they discovered that they have in common with each other.
CTE Faculty Seminar Session Materials
CTE Icebreakers provides a number of example icebreakers for a variety of purposes. (CU NetID required to access. Link redirects to login page.)
Eggleston, T. & Smith, G. Building community in the classroom through ice-breakers and parting ways. Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology Online.
West, E. (1999). The Big Book of Icebreakers: Quick, Fun Activities for Energizing Meetings and Workshops. New York: McGraw-Hill.