Introductory activities in both face-to-face and online courses are not just fun, they set the stage for the coming weeks. Activities like icebreaker discussions for online classes are especially important. Here is some guidance to help you create a fun, engaging activity.
Purposes of Student Introductory Activities
- They create a sense of community – by encouraging students to interact with each other and you, everyone grows more comfortable communicating.
- They establish your classroom tone/climate – A varied, interactive, or unexpected introductory activity will get students’ attention, and set the tone for other fun in the course.
- They introduce course subjects or themes – Designing introduction activities to include themes or concepts you’ll explore over the term activates prior knowledge and prepares students for new learning.
- They function as a legitimate academic activity for LDA—Federal LDA rules require evidence of ongoing “academic engagement” the first week of class. An easy way to meet this is to create an introductory activity that requires a bit of time, more thought and has some teeth.
Tips for Good Icebreakers
- Structure them like other course activities – Designing the introduction similar to forthcoming activities such as pairing or other collaborative configurations familiarizes students with course activities.
- Provide specific criteria for introduction posts and reply requirements. Vague activities set students up for a frustrating experience.
- Focus on students. If ever there was an activity that was student-centered, the icebreaker or introduction has to be it. This is you inviting your students to join the class as a member of a community. Invite their unique perspectives and experiences into the conversation!
- Connect to the course… if you can. While it is not as important as focusing on students, it is often possible to create an icebreaker that also pays attention to the course subject.
- Encourage students to include media (images or videos) in their discussion posts. Or you may even use a tool like Flipgrid to conduct a video-based icebreaker.
Examples of Icebreakers
You can find dozens of possible icebreakers by searching the Internet. And most can be customized to work for your students. Here are a few examples:
Two truths and a lie: Ask students to post a list of three statements about themselves. Two of these would be true and one would be a lie. Peers can reply to figure out which are true and not.
Five pictures: Ask students to post five pictures that create a collage of who they are. These could be pictures they find on the Internet, and not necessarily pictures of themselves. You can also require that some of the pictures illustrate why students are taking the course or what their college goals are. Peers can reply by asking about some of the pictures or commenting on things they see in common with themselves.
Your resume in five years: Ask students to create a few lines for their own resume (please do not focus on the formatting of a real resume!) from five years in the future. This is a creative way to find out what goals people have. They might indicate where they will be working, what position they will have, what awards they have won, and so on. Keep it creative!
Links to More Icebreaker Topics
- Icebreaker Activities from the University of Wisconsin
- A few ideas from the University of Hawaii
- Topics from the University of Washington
- Some Creative Ideas out of Northern Arizona University