Icebreaker Grab Bag – Equitable Teaching

Icebreaker Grab Bag

Icebreaker Grab Bag


Icebreakers are typically quick, low-stakes activities that encourage students to become more familiar with their peers. Many instructors do an icebreaker on the first day of class to learn students’ names. However, frequent use of icebreakers on a daily or weekly basis can assist in building community as your students come to know one another better. Having all students speak and participate at the beginning of each class can also positively impact overall participation in classroom discussion. This collection of icebreakers provides a variety of activities to choose from and implement throughout the semester.

Activity Goals:

  • To build classroom community.

  • To encourage students to speak and participate on a regular basis.

Application in a STEM Course:

Fostering a sense of community in your classroom can create a sense of belonging. According to a CRLT study on retention in STEM courses, “students reported that classroom climate (including their anxiety levels, how welcome they felt in class…and instructor rapport with students) significantly influenced their decisions to stay in or leave STEM disciplines.” If students feel that they are part of a community, they will feel more comfortable engaging and participating in the classroom. Icebreakers are a great way to develop trust in the classroom and help to spur participation from all students. By establishing trust with each other through icebreaker activities, students will be better able to work together across differences in background and identities, promoting collaboration within the classroom.

Application in a Large Course:

Large courses can be impersonal and overwhelming, leaving students feeling lost in a crowded lecture hall. Challenges in large courses include: ensuring all voices are heard, facilitating group discussions, creating a more communal classroom, and involving students in the processing of information through active learning. While not all of the icebreaker activities presented in this guide are feasible for a large course, those that can be used work toward personalizing a large course. These activities can help build a sense of community in your large course, encouraging students to be more participatory and involved in their learning.

Application in an Online Course:

Online learning can feel impersonal and disconnected, but there are inclusive teaching practices you can leverage to build community and connection in your online course. Taking the time to get to know each other through icebreaker activities can help build trust between students, which is a key indicator of whether or not students feel comfortable participating. In one study, researchers asked the question, “What did graduate students who were enrolled in an online course about teaching online find most valuable about online moderation and community building?” From the study, students stated that Student Needs and Community Building were essential components to online learning. Regarding Student Needs, one student stated, “It is necessary that everyone feels safe, comfortable, and welcomed before they will fully engage, enabling them to make personal connections and grow from each other. Regarding Community Building, another student stated, “Learning communities often develop naturally in a traditional classroom environment, but in an online course, the instructor must make that happen.”

Icebreaker Grab Bag Activity Guide:

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