Friday, November 8, 2013

Ideas for Ice-Breaking Activities

Contributed by Molly Van Heek, Graduate Associate, and Janae Mehlhaff, Tech Fellow for the Center for Teaching and Learning

       Icebreaker activities are commonly used at the beginning of class periods to reduce any anxiety, establish a foundation for the rest of the semester, and to “break the ice”. There are several benefits to icebreaker activities. This blog post will explore those benefits, establish a few icebreaker examples in face-to-face classes as well as online classes, and convey tips for successful ice breaking.

      Icebreaker activities in the class setting are performed to create a positive learning environment. They are developed to set the tone for the rest of that class period and the rest of the semester. Icebreaker activities give the opportunity for students to get to know the instructor and each other. Furthermore, because of icebreaker activities, students are more willing to ask questions, take risks in class discussion, and to feel accountable for what happens in class.

There are several benefits to utilizing icebreaker activities. Some of the benefits include:
  • Reduces anxiety among students and instructor
  • Establishes a stage for student-student and faculty-student discussions/interactions.
  • Conveys the message that the instructor cares about getting to know the students.
  • Creates an environment where the student is expected to participate and the instructor willing to listen.
  • Makes it easier for students to form relationships with other students early in the semester to encourage working together both in and outside of class. 
      Numerous types of icebreaker activities are available to use and some are more useful in face-to-face classrooms as opposed to online classrooms. Furthermore, there are icebreaker activities that are more successful in smaller classes and some more successful in larger classes. A few sample icebreaker activities will be explored below.

      An icebreaker activity that works well with a smaller class is called “Two truths and a Lie”. Follow these directions for this activity:

1. Hand out an index card to each student.
2. Have each student write down three facts about themselves on the card. Two of the facts will be true and one is to be false.
3. Instruct each student to take turns reading their facts to the rest of the class. When one student is reading, the rest of the class will try to determine which fact is false.

       This is a great way for students to get to know each other and it often results in several laughs as well! Students also appreciate it when the instructor participates in the activity as well and makes his or her own index card of facts.

      Another small class activity that is more relevant to the content of class is simply “Self Introductions”. Have each student introduce themselves by providing the following information (or something similar):

1. Name
2. Hometown
3. Major
4. Why they are taking the class
5. One or two things they would like to learn in the class

      By including the above information in the introductions, students can establish other students to relate to, based on their hometown or major. Furthermore, the learning goals gives the instructor a view of what students expect in this class. Finally, by the professor asking the students one thing they would like to learn, students feel the sense of dignity and have the belief the instructor cares about their learning experience.

      Often, in larger classes, it can be difficult to utilize an icebreaker activity without losing focus or creating chaos. With a large class size, icebreaker activities are still very beneficial, but it is important to keep them short. Additionally, the activity can be more controlled and organized if it is completed in small groups instead of using the entire class. A small group activity will still encourage student interaction without using everybody at once.

      An example of an icebreaker for a larger class is to play the “Would You Rather” game in small groups. Instruct students to gather together in groups of 4-5. It may be easiest for them to just group together with those around them. Have each student come up with a “Would you rather?” question and ask the rest of the group. Each group member will give their answer and a short reasoning behind it. This is a great way for students to get to know one another and it creates some interesting discussions. After everyone has finished, the instructor can ask a couple of individuals to ask their question to the instructor. The instructor will then answer, giving students a chance to learn a little more about the instructor’s beliefs and thoughts. Some example questions are: “Would you rather live in the 1920s or today?” “Would you rather be President of the U.S. for one year or be in prison for one year?” “Would you rather be a teacher or a student if you had to be in school for the rest of your life?”

      The self-introduction activity can also be used in a larger classroom by utilizing the small group strategy. After introductions are finished, the instructor may want to ask all individuals from on section of the state/country to sit on one end of the room. Furthermore, the instructor could seat students together based on their major, which surrounds them with those who have similar career goals.

      Online class icebreaker activities can be somewhat more difficult, but beneficial nonetheless. If the online class has a discussion feature, it is advantageous to utilize it. In the discussion section, instructors can ask students to introduce themselves. Students are then able to read everyone else’s introductions and get to know their classmates a little better. Furthermore, the instructor has the option of asking a probing question on the discussion board. The question could be related to life in general, academics, or something funny and unrelated. The students will respond in their discussion and have an opportunity to read other responses. This is an excellent way for students to understand the personality type of their classmates and instructor. Finally, the Two Truths and a Lie game can also be utilized with online classes using the discussion feature.

       If the online class does not have a discussion feature, another option would be to utilize Google Docs. Google Docs allows a document to be created by the instructor and shared with the class. Students can then type into the document and also see what others have added to the document. This would be useful if multiple icebreaker activities were used at once, on the same document.

      Any opportunity for the students to interact with not only other students, but also the instructor is a good icebreaker activity. When facilitating any icebreaker, keep the following tips in mind:
  • Keep the activity short, around 10 minutes.
  • Try not to use an activity or question that is geared toward a younger audience. College students will become uninterested in a grade school level activity.
  • As an instructor, actively participate in the activity. Participation will convey dedication to the students.
  • Make the activity somewhat fun. Laughter always puts everyone at ease!
      Icebreaker activities are very beneficial in the collegiate setting to reduce anxiety levels and create a foundation for the remainder of the semester. There are several icebreaker activities that instructors can use in face-to-face and online classroom settings. It is important to make the most of an icebreaker by keeping it interesting, but yet short. Instructors must always remember that any icebreaker activity can be altered and tailored to their preference of the needs of the class. Instructors may have to experiment and ask for student feedback to find what works best!


  1. Dave Ferreira. (2013). College Faculty Insider’s Guide to the First Day of Class [Website]. Retrieved from
  2. Lansing Community College. (2013). Icebreaker Activities [Website]. Retrieved from
  3. Icebreaker Activities. (2013). [Website]. Retrieved from

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