Icebreakers are typically quick, low-stakes activities that encourage students to become more familiar with their peers. Many instructors do an ice-breaker on the first days 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.
These activities can be done at the beginning of class on a regular basis to get students talking and engaging with their peers to prime them for a lively and inclusive discussion of course content.
Icebreaker Grab-bag Activities
Supplies: List of statements
Students form a large circle. Explain to students that you will read statements. Each time you read a statement, the students should step into the circle if it’s true for them, introduce themselves to the other students in the inner circle, and step out again. You may choose to do a debrief discussion afterward to ask students what they learned from each other and what further questions they might have for each other. Wrap up this activity by summarizing the learning, stress that we will continue to learn about our commonalities and differences in this dialogue, and encourage participants to follow up with each other about some of these statements.
Statements might include:
- I am an early riser
- I drink a hot beverage every morning
- I get more work done at night
- I grew up on the east coast
- I grew up in the mid-west
- I grew up on the west coast
- I grew up in the south
- I grew up outside the U.S.
- I am the oldest child
- I am the middle child
- I am the youngest child
- I had a male teacher in elementary school
- I grew up in a two-parent household
- Most of my best friends are the same gender as me
- I don’t speak English at home
- I attended a predominantly white school
- I have never participated in a dialogue about X (e.g., race, gender, social class) before
Connect with Someone
Supplies: List of questions
This icebreaker is best suited for later in the semester, once the students have gotten to know each other better. Before beginning, specify that this activity will involve being tapped on the shoulder. If someone in your group is not comfortable with being tapped on the shoulder, offer a non-contact way to participate. Another option is to have the person hold a piece of paper that others can tug on so they don’t have to be touched. (I would encourage all to participate if comfortable).
Have everyone sit in a circle with their heads down and their eyes closed.
The facilitator will go out and touch a couple (2-5 depending on the size of the group) of people on the shoulder. If a person does not want to be touched, tug their piece of paper. The facilitator will say, “If I tapped your shoulder please open your eyes and come where I am standing.” These people who have been touched will go out and touch the people they feel are related to the statements that are read off. When this group has touched a good amount of people for three or four statements, they will go and sit down and close their eyes and the process starts again with the facilitator tapping “new touchers.”
When reading the statements off, the facilitator may want to omit certain ones if they feel they do not apply to their group. In addition, please feel free to add any questions or open it up to your students to add statements at the end.
Statements might include:
- Connect with someone you can depend on
- Connect with someone you would like to get to know better
- Connect with someone who makes you laugh
- Connect with someone who helped you this term
- Connect with someone who motivates you
- Connect with someone who you think is an inspiration
- Connect with someone you admire
- Connect with someone you get along with
- Connect with someone who you look up to
- Connect with someone who makes you smile
- Connect with someone who has helped you through the staff class
- Connect with someone who you would call a friend
- Connect with someone who helps others
- Connect with someone who you feel close to
- Connect with someone who inspires you
- Connect with someone who makes a difference in other’s people’s lives
- Connect with someone who makes you happy
- Connect with someone who challenged you in a positive way
- Connect with someone who is outgoing
- Connect with someone who opened up during the class
- Connect with someone who made you cry
- Connect with someone who encouraged you
- Connect with someone who showed you support
- Connect with someone who made you think
- Connect with someone you admire
- Connect with someone you want to hear talk more
- Connect with someone you enjoyed getting to know
- Connect with someone you liked talking to
- Connect with someone you feel is talented
In this activity you divide the group into two groups. Each group gathers on either side of the blanket so that they can’t see the other group. Each group sends a representative forward (directly next to the blanket) and on 3 the two people holding the blanket drop the blanket. The two people who are in front try and say the other person’s name first. If so, the loser has to join the winner’s team. Game ends when one player is on a team by himself/herself.
Members of the group sit on the floor in a circle and toss a ball to one another. Start off with each group member identifying him/her self. Then one member of the group (with the ball) will call out the name of another member of the group. Then s/he tosses the ball to the indicated group member. Toss the ball until everyone has received it. Start over. The first person should not throw the ball to the same person s/he started with.
Sun & Moon
Supplies: list of good questions
Divide the group into 2 circles. Have half of the participants form a circle, shoulder to shoulder facing out. The other half of the group forms a circle facing inward. The inner circle is the moon and the outer circle the sun. Ask a question from the list of good questions. Tell either the sun or moon to move x paces right/left. Ask another question. Move the other circle, repeat. Make sure to think about how you’re moving the circle or you’ll have people talking to the same people over and over.
Web of Connection
Supplies: ball of string or yarn
Have participants form one large circle. A member of the group starts by stating his/her name and answering a question that you’ve decided on. (What is your favorite memory? What did you enjoy most about this class/retreat?) Then s/he holds onto the string and tosses the ball to another participant. At the end of the activity, there is a web connecting all members of the group. Leader can then say something about how we’re interconnected. If desired, you can bring scissors and cut the web to have each member keep part of the web to remember the connection.
Supplies: paper / flipchart paper, markers
Have participants think of 3-5 significant life experiences that can be used to divide one’s life into segments. Use drawing, words, etc to record the experiences. Share with other members of the group afterwards.
Supplies: bingo sheet pre-made.
Using a typical 5 x 5 bingo grid, design a series of questions that go in each of the 25 boxes (I usually make the center box a freebie). Have members go around and gather 1 signature from each person to try and connect 5 boxes in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.
Family Crest / Shield
Supplies: paper and markers
Have participants draw the shape of a shield on a piece of paper and draw a family crest. You can ask questions as they share like: why did you choose the items you did to indicate your family crest – why those colors – words – etc.
Participants describe something unique about their name. Where is the family origin, how were the named, who were they named for, how is their name unique, is the spelling unique, etc. Usually is a fascinating activity.
Zip Zap Zoom
Active game. Group sits in a circle with one chair too few. The person in the middle points to an individual and says either Zip, Zap or Zoom. If s/he points and says Zip the person pointed at has to say the name of the person on his/her right. If s/he points and says Zap it’s the person on the left. As the person calls out zip or zap they count quickly to 5 or 10. If the person can’t answer correctly, s/he needs to move to the center space. If the person says zoom, everyone has to switch places.
I have a link
Active game. One member of the group volunteers (or is selected) to go first. S/he says, “I have a link…” and says something that’s true about him/herself. Another member of the group that this is also true of comes and joins elbows. Then the new person tries to gain a link. When that person can’t find a link, you switch to the other person with an open elbow until the entire group is linked elbows in a circle.
Active game. The group sits in a circle with one chair too few. The person in the center of the circle states something true about him/herself. All the people who this is true about have to switch seats (not directly left or right) giving the person in the middle a chance to grab a seat.
Supplies: M&Ms, starbursts, skittles, toilet paper, etc
Have members of the group take a handful of candy, or as many pieces of toilet paper required in a “normal” sitting. For each piece of candy or sheet of TP you have them tell something about themselves. If you’d like to get more creative, you can assign specific questions to answer for each color of candy.
2 Truths and a Lie
Group members are instructed to think about 2 truths and 1 lie about themselves. Then they share each with the group and try to trick the group into thinking one of the truths is the lie and that the lie is the truth. The group tries to guess which is the lie.
Pats on the back
Supplies: paper plates, markers
Have participants trace their hand on their paper plate. They tape them to their back and then other group members go around the room and share positive feedback with them in written form.
Supplies: paper cut in the shape of bookmark, pens
Have participants each take a blank bookmark. Write their names at the top. Pass the bookmarks around the group and have people write their first impressions of each other on the bookmark (bulleted points, one per person, anonymously). It’s really fascinating to learn how others first perceive you. Try to encourage non-biting remarks.
Have participants share their “beef” (something they’re upset with) and their “bouquet” (something they’re pleased with). About anything, about the class, about school, etc.
Resource hosted by LSA Inclusive Teaching Initiative, University of Michigan (http://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/).