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Icebreaker Activities for College Students

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Today’s post will be a quick read, since I’ve already described in detail seven different icebreaker activities that I’ve used in my classrooms in the workbook that accompanies this five-part series. [For anyone who’s just joining us, we’ve already covered the syllabus and the course schedule elements of the first week of class.] Rather than go over the same icebreaker descriptions again, I thought I’d share a few personal experiences I’ve had with icebreakers instead. I’m also sharing a few additional icebreaker games that can be used with larger student numbers (75+). Let’s go break some ice!

I consider these the three most important elements to consider when designing or choosing which icebreaker activities to use. #teaching Click To Tweet

Part 1: Important Icebreaker Elements

Here are three things to keep in mind when deciding on your icebreaker activities. There’s plenty more that can be considered, but I consider these the three most important elements to consider when designing or choosing which activities to use.

First: Remember to Keep Your Icebreakers Inclusive

It’s not just about using fun or informative icebreakers. You also have to make sure your icebreakers can work well with students who might need special accommodations. Some students might let you know before the semester begins that they’ll be bringing a notetaker to class or that they need to sit in the front of the classroom because they have hearing issues. But, you might not know about your students’ needs until you all show up on day one. [And maybe not even then.] So, have back-up plans ready-to-go in case your favorite icebreaker isn’t a good match for your student demographics.

I talk about this element of icebreakers in this short video. I suggest watching it first before continuing on to the rest of the post. It’s only a couple minutes long. [Here’s a video about my top 3 icebreakers, if you’re not interested in downloading the workbook right now.]

Second: Remember to Focus on Learning Student Names

How can you show your students you care about them as individuals? Make it a priority to learn their names. Your classes might be too large to make this feasible for every student, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to learn as many as you can. So, having students say their names constantly during icebreaker activities is a good way to start learning. I love “Name Snake” for this task. If you don’t have access to the workbook, I describe this icebreaker and my other favorite icebreaker in this post about teaching tips.

But, really, any icebreaker can include students saying their names. Are you having them answer a question aloud? Require them to say their name first before providing their answer. Having them speak to other students to complete a task? Require them to introduce themselves by name and walk around the room listening in.

An example of how I do this?

When using “Two Truths and a Lie,” I have students say their name before saying their three things about themselves. Then, when I repeat those three things so students can raise their hands and vote for the one they think is a lie, I repeat that student’s name again 1-4 times.

For example, I’ll say: “Which do you think is the lie? That Leslie has never left the country? That Leslie has five pets? Or, that Leslie creates mosaics in her hometown?” Then, once everyone has voted, I’d say, “Ok, Leslie. Which is the lie?”

Repetitive? Yes. But that’s the point. You can also use pronouns, of course, but I try not to assume those until students complete their first homework assignment (which includes asking what their preferred pronouns are).

Third: Remember that Icebreakers Can Actually Relate Back to Your Course Topic

Icebreaker activities don’t have to just be random games you play with your students, like in my example of Two Truths and a Lie. You can also design icebreakers to help you get to know your students’ interests in your class topics or their knowledge of certain class concepts or skills.

For example, I use “Children’s Literature Bingo” to get to know my ENG 170 students’ interests in children’s literature and media, but also their likes and dislikes when it comes to reading and writing. Here’s the list of prompts I project on the screen when my students play this game (this icebreaker is also described in this blog post about teaching tips).

Bingo Icebreaker for College Students
Find this free digital notebook here

With this game, I try to save time at the end so we can start comparing notes on our various likes and dislikes when it comes to children’s literary texts and related topics. My students tend to get very passionate about their Disney preferences, and I’m always happy to see them get invested in an icebreaker that actually relates to our class subject.

You can also design icebreakers to help you get to know your students' interests in your class topics or their knowledge of certain class concepts or skills. #highered Click To Tweet

Part 2: Icebreakers for Large Groups

The following icebreaker activities can work for a variety of class sizes, including classes with hundreds of students.

Design a Kahoot Survey

Kahoot is a great website to use for icebreakers for large class sizes, since students just need a mobile device to use it. With wifi available on college campuses, they shouldn’t even need to use their data to play. You’ll need to do the prep work of creating survey questions to ask them, but that shouldn’t take long. The questions are also limited by character and by number of answers (4), so keep that in mind.

I talk about using Kahoot in regular class activities in this post about class discussion designs. But you can also use it to create your own icebreaker for a really large class, since it tallies up for you how many respondents picked each answer. So, for example, let’s say you ask a question like, “Which of these movie genres is your favorite? A. Horror. B. Science Fiction. C. Comedy. D. Drama.” Rather than having to count raised hands, students just tap their answer on their phones and those answers are then tallied by Kahoot and projected on the classroom projection screen or your computer.

Small Group Activities

If you have 100+ students in your class, you can’t exactly ask each individual student to answer a question aloud without running out of time very quickly. But, you can break up the class into small groups and have them complete the task in groups. Then, a representative of that group can share the group’s answer aloud to the class as a whole. In my experience, students tend to stick to the same seat or near to it after the first day of class. So, the students that surround them are the best ones to get to know first. Small group icebreaker activities can help with this community growing experience.

For example, let’s say you have 200 students in your lecture hall. Split them up into 20 groups of 10 people. [Doesn’t have to be exact, you can just have them break themselves up into groups or 8-12.] Ask them a question like, “Do you play a musical instrument? If so, which one(s)?” Have one student from each group write down their group members’ answers to that question. Then, that student can represent their group by sharing the group’s information with the whole class. Not into a lot of detail, as that would really limit how many questions you can ask. But, for example, “Only four of us know how to play an instrument. The guitar is the most popular one. One of us, Jessi, plays three instruments and sings in a band.”

Students can start to get to know one another and bond in small groups, while the class as a whole can see just how many similarities and differences there are between students, as well.

Part 3: Even More Icebreaker Ideas!

There are plenty of icebreaker games out there that I’ve never thought about or used, so I did some digging to wrap up this post.

Outsourced Ideas:

I asked around for more icebreaker ideas in a couple Facebook groups that I’m in. Here are two ideas that I received in response:

Toyin Alli: “I like to create an about me worksheet and have them fill it out on the first day during class. Then I have them go around the room to introduce themselves to the other people in the class, including me. And when they meet someone they have something in common with, I have them write that person’s name down. We do this for like 5-7 minutes. Then I ask if anyone met anyone they have something in common with. They all raise their hands. Then I ask if they had something in common with 5 people. And I keep going until I find the person who has written the most names and give them a price which is usually a bonus point on the first quiz.”

Hali Ipaye: “One question I ask them to tell the class when they introduce themselves is who their favorite person to follow on social media is and why, and then what TV show or book do they like recently. It usually gets them talking with each other and others often chime in to talk to that person about it or they agree with the person. We like people who like what we like so I think it helps.”

Some Additional Icebreaker Resources:

First, here’s my blog post on icebreakers for online classes.

Next, google “icebreaker activities” and you’ll get plenty of results. Here are three lists I think are great to check out after this post.

Cult of Pedagogy – 3 Icebreakers that Rock

EveryDayKnow – 30+ Icebreakers for Adults

FunAttic – 5 Large Group Icebreakers

Coming Up Next, on “Successful Start”…

Next week, we move on to discussing major class assignments and their assignment sheets. In the workbook, I go over some standard and nonstandard elements to include in your assignment sheets. In my next blog post, I’ll write more about different assignment types that I use in my classrooms, in case you’re still looking for assignments to include in your courses. My YouTube video next week goes over my students’ responses to my major assignment designs as well as their thoughts on my approach to going over the assignment sheets during the first week of class.

Comment Below: What is your favorite icebreaker activity?

Looking for icebreaker ideas that are both fun for students, but productive, too? Here are a few ideas to get you started. Learn student names and interests in fast and fun ways.
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  1. Marta - Imperfect Life Balance

    These are great icebreakers! We actually used of them in at my work recently 😁

    • Erika Romero

      Thanks! Which one did you use?

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