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Table of Contents

147 Practical Tips for Using Icebreakers with College Students
by Robert Magnan

Why Icebreakers?  
Expand your comfort zone.  
Know what you want the icebreaker to do.  
Donít expect negative reactions, but anticipate the possibilities.  
Two Big Questions and a Tough Decision  

CATEGORY: General Tips
PURPOSE: to help your students feel comfortable

1. Understand the anxiety that some students feel.
2. Let them know your intentions.
3. Balance fun and function.
4. Think about tone.
5. Keep your icebreakers short.
6. Keep your icebreakers simple and easy to understand.
7. Give directions, provide guidelines, and express your expectations ó in advance.
8. Set a length.
9. Donít gamble with games.
10. Donít try too hard to be different.
11. Break some ice on your own.
12. Make it unique.
13. Involve subject matter or skills relevant to the course ó if appropriate.
14. Showcase the ďreal-lifeĒ knowledge of your students.
15. Allow an out if students feel uncomfortable.
16. Avoid getting too ďup close and personal.Ē
17. Answer every question yourself ó at least a dozen ways.
18. Be careful with creativity.
19. Always be sensitive to your students.
20. Check this list before choosing an icebreaker.
21. Be honest ... and be human.

PURPOSE: to introduce yourself to your students

Meet and Greet

22. Greet and meet at the door.

Just One of Them

23. Foil their expectations only to create a teachable moment.

What I Want to Know

24. Keep the Q&A light and bright.

25. Be honest.

26. Have the students stand and deliver.

27. Pass into anonymity.

No Jeopardy

28. Turn the activity over to the students.

CATEGORY: Who Are You?
PURPOSE: to get a sense of your students in general


29. Get relevant with caution.

Survey by Suggestions

30. Keep track of the results.

High Five ..., Four ..., Three ..., Two ..., One ..., Zero

Best Courses and Best Instructors

31. Do a 180 with this activity.

How Do You Learn?

PURPOSE: to make it easier for your students to get to know each other

Order Without Words

32. Conduct an anonymous discussion.

Nuts and Bolts

33. Go beyond the basic nuts and bolts.

String Thing

34. Add something of interest.

Who Am I?

35. Make it relevant.

Simple Introduction

36. Involve your students more fully.

37. Encourage your students to pay attention.

Name Game

38. Share the burden through collaboration.

39. Lessen the pressure by working in groups.

40. Reverse the order to better focus the activity.

41. Create labels to make the names more memorable.

42. Split your head and wear two hats.

43. Do the activity now and again.


44. Be careful about involving body parts.

45. Do the activity digitally.

Liar, Liar!

46. Show the students how to lie.

47. Group the students to grill and guess.

Who Here ...?

48. Find out more through follow-up questions.

Pick a Card, Any Card

49. Share the wisdom with the whole class.

50. Encourage contributions as collaboration.

51. Think of your students in future courses.

52. Get involved more personally.

53. Continue building on the activity throughout the term.

A Penny for Your Memories

54. Keep it real for your students and relevant.

CATEGORY: Getting More Personal
PURPOSE: to encourage your students to share and explore their differences

Playing Favorites

55. Follow up on the favorites.

56. Mix rather than match your students.

57. Select subjects with sensitivity.

Dream Vacation

58. Start with volunteers.

Guessing Game

59. Let the students grade you.

60. Let the students guess about you.

More Like This or Like That?

61. Take it to the people to bring it all together.

62. Get physical and mix it up.

We All Need Heroes

63. Make it a meeting.

What I Like About Me

64. Ease into the ego thing.

Three Wishes

Whatís in a Name?

65. Give students a chance to shine, if possible ó but just donít expect it.


66. Put a spin on it.

67. Choose icebreakers that can be scaled up or down easily.

68. Focus on your goals, not the rules.

69. Do it yourself.

Someone Similar in Two Ways

70. Try it with opposites.

71. Talk about words.

72. Decrease the complexity in order to increase interactions.

Happy Birthday to Us

73. Share the pairs with the other students.

Scavenger Hunt

74. Make the items relevant to college life and/or the subject matter.

75. Make the items connect students personally.

76. Share the connections ... and the gaps.


77. Be aware of too much of a good thing.


78. Consider adding rules to ensure more mingling.

79. Avoid items that might be too personal.

80. Ease up a little to shorten the time required for an icebreaker.

81. Adjust to your environment.

82. Remember that some students may have mobility problems.

83. Make it relevant to the course.

Making Changes

84. Be attentive to discomfort.


85. Keep it short and interesting.

86. Try another perspective.

Card a Classmate

87. Select the items to be included.

Three Special People

88. Make it theatrical.

Tough Questions!

89. Reverse roles to share responsibilities.

CATEGORY: Going Collaborative
PURPOSE: to establish an active, participatory environment by getting the students working together, in pairs or small groups


90. Imagine the results ó and check against your purposes.

91. Anticipate personal and cultural sensitivities.

92. Form groups yourself; donít leave it to the students.

93. Scramble your students.

Brain Strain

94. Keep it nice and light and easy.


95. Make it more difficult with a little variation.

Group Project

96. Start on the first assignment.

97. Study the syllabus.

The Truth Is Out There

98. Push for the truth.

99. Learn from comparative collaboration.

CATEGORY: Dealing with Feelings
PURPOSE: to bring out feelings about the subject and the course, to lead students into the course, to generate interest

Iím in This Class Because ....

100. Establish common ground.

Great Expectations

101. Eliminate the impossible.

102. Treat each expectation seriously, but honestly.

103. Get your students to walk the talk.

Expectations and Assumptions

104. Keep the results for future classes.

Difficulties and Issues

105. Focus on issues, not individuals.

106. Put the activity on paper.

107. Build on positive feelings.

How Are You Feeling?

108. Encourage and support ó donít pressure.

109. Bridge from feelings to responsibilities.

110. Take advantage of anonymity.

111. Add a little distance for greater comfort.

By the End of This Course

112. Seek similarities.

113. Conserve the contributions for closure at the end of the term.

Think Small

114. Build a bridge to your course.

Teacher and Student

115. Go from understanding to managing.

CATEGORY: No Student Is an Island
PURPOSE: to encourage students to be interested in each other, to share information and resources, and to identify their individual needs and goals

Learning from Life

116. Leave the role of instructor.

What Iíve Done Thatís Unique Here

117. Avoid competition.

118. Expand the activity to share experiences.

119. Twist the activity to focus on the future.

Why Am I Here?

120. Get them up standing.

121. Broaden the scope of interest.

CATEGORY: Distance Learning
PURPOSE: to foster comfort and confidence in a virtual community

Movie Star

122. Accentuate and facilitate contact.

Read and Reply

123. Establish terms of address.

124. Explain the technology.

125. Communicate your expectations and any rules.

126. Encourage your students to visit your Web site.

127. Include inquiries.

128. Build on the beginning.

129. Comment specifically and productively.

130. Keep it short.

131. Make your words work smarter.

132. Be careful whenever you write.


133. Use photos.

134. Put it in quotes.

135. Encourage your students to provide resources.

136. Encourage personality.


137. Drop in for a visit from time to time.

Personal Pages

138. Create a page for yourself.

139. Go back in time ó if you dare.

140. Assign a ďstudent search.Ē

141. Adapt ďas usual.Ē

CATEGORY: Miscellaneous
PURPOSE: to make your icebreakers more effective

142. Give prizes.

143. Donít lose your balance.

144. Start small if the class is large.

145. Keep the activity going to keep breaking the ice.

146. Be honest and be real.

147. Recognize when the ice is sufficiently broken.


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