Icebreakers and energisers
Why is using icebreakers important?
Students appreciate teachers who take the time to become acquainted with their backgrounds, interests and skill levels. To get to know your students’ names, ask for photo class lists and try to use students’ names when you address them. Encourage the class to use students’ names and to ask one another if they forget a name.
‘One of my first-year students mentioned how impressed she was that I had managed to learn class names so quickly—a combination of using icebreakers and having access to photo lists of my students! She said it made her feel that she belonged at uni. Tutors checking in with students to find out how they are travelling also made her feel welcomed. It was interesting to me that such simple strategies made such a difference’.
Dr Kathryn Keeble, Faculty of Arts and Education
Suitable icebreakers are a fun and useful way to help you and your students get to know one another. Icebreakers are also useful in encouraging collaboration between students and in creating a relaxed atmosphere.
How to facilitate a successful icebreaker
Simplicity is the key factor to a successful icebreaker. Have a clear purpose in mind when designing your icebreakers and what you want to achieve. Be conscious of the diversity of your students, and ensure that the activities are inclusive of differing abilities and sociocultural backgrounds. The aim is to make your students feel at ease, not uncomfortable, be equitable, and create a collaborative classroom climate. Reflect on the potential outcome of the activities and ask yourself if your session will meet these aims.
Introductory icebreaker ideas
Before starting, establish a safe and comfortable learning environment. Make clear that participation is voluntary. If you are aware of any student who has a Learning Access Plan, tailor your session accordingly without drawing attention to them. The following suggestions can be adapted to suit to your class.
- Name plates: Give students pre-folded paper ‘name plates’ and ask them to write their preferred name and something else about themselves, such as their favourite food, favourite film or favourite holiday destination. This is a good icebreaker for students who lack confidence addressing the class.
- Superpower: Tutor introduces themself and describes their ‘superpower’. This could be anything from participating in a sport, enjoying cooking, travelling, to being able to wiggle their ears. Students then introduce themselves briefly and describe their super power. This makes a good ice-breaker for online classes as well.
- Partners: Within a set time limit, students introduce themselves to a partner. Their partner then introduces the student to the class. This is also a good strategy to include students who are shy about addressing the class themselves. It is often easier to introduce a partner than to introduce yourself.
- Memory: Starting with one student saying their name to the class, each following student repeats the previous students’ names and adds their own to the growing list. Fellow students may help each other to alleviate any anxiety.
- Alphabet race: Divide class into two groups. Each group of students organises themselves alphabetically and tries to say their names in alphabetical order before the other group.
- Bingo: Devise a bingo handout with each grid square containing a descriptor (for example, a person who: catches public transport to uni; has a pet; lives with their parents; has children). Students walk around the classroom asking others these questions and allocate a name to a square. The first person to fill all squares shouts 'Bingo'.
- Speed dating: Students have a set limited time with one student to find out their name and something else about them. When the time is up, students must move on to the next student. Students are then asked to recall three of the students they spoke to and what they found out about them.
- Human Scavenger Hunt for online students:
- Ask students to post an introduction about themselves in a designated discussion thread post, such as what they are studying, their ideal career, family background etc.
- Students read the posts and complete the Human Scavenger Hunt Worksheet google doc.
- Students then post their worksheet responses (via a link to the google doc), with some reflections about the activity and what they learnt.
- Have you ever? Suitable for online students. Create a list of 10 – 20 questions prefaced by 'Have you ever…?' For example: Have you ever: been to London, eaten raw fish, parachuted from a plane, ridden a horse etc. Be creative and diverse, but be culturally sensitive. Ask students to copy and paste the questions into a post and then answer 'yes' or 'no' to each question.
(Adapted from: Northwestern University 2017; TILT (DOCX 414KB) n.d.)
‘I teach in the Associate Degree (pathway program) and the students often look very intimidated when attending their first seminar. Associate Degree students come from a range of equity backgrounds and are enrolled in this degree in order to gain the academic study skills that many lack. I invented the Superpower icebreaker as a fun way to provide some light relief in the first seminar. One of the students commented that 'our tutor could wiggle her ears and demonstrated this to us. Everyone could think of something no matter how lame! It was fun and it really broke the ice.’
Dr Kathryn Keeble, Faculty of Arts and Education
Encourage diverse groups of students to collaborate using energisers
By including energisers in their teaching, teachers can facilitate interaction between their students by providing opportunities and encouragement to students to communicate and collaborate with their peers. Energisers can also provide students with a social group and an academic support network. Encouraging students to collaborate is particularly helpful for students from diverse groups such as first in family to attend university, international students and those students who lack confidence making new friends.
- Brainstorm: brainstorming is an effective way to energise student discussion. A brainstorming activity should be rapid-fire and can be run with the whole class or in groups/pairs. This helps foster creativity and 'wake-up' the class if energies are starting to wane.
- Word association: ask students for words that relate to the seminar content. This provides opportunity to explore key concepts and delve more broadly into the subject matter.
- Burning questions: offer students the opportunity to ask questions ('there is no such thing as a silly question'), which can open up avenues to discuss key questions. Ask the class to try and answer these questions first to cultivate peer support and collaboration. Summarise questions and responses at the end of your teaching session.
(Adapted from MindTools 2017)
Teaching and Learning at Deakin (Sessional Staff) in CloudDeakin has a range of games for energising students and helping to organise diverse teams, to ascertain what students know about a topic and encouraging active listening and watching. You will need to self-register on the CloudDeakin home page to access instructions: click on More > Self Registration.
- The Deakin Graduate Learning Outcome Game This game promotes student group diversity through learning attributes rather than gender, language and ethnicity.
- The Disc Game (PDF 44.8KB) This game is inclusive of all, regardless of difference, and makes explicit the notion that teamwork needs a range of diverse skills.
- The What do you know? Game This game helps students focus on the key concept for the seminar by linking it to what they already know. You can use the outcome to gauge the level of prior knowledge and skills of your students.
- The DictaGloss This is a game that uses vision as well as spoken word to assist with constructing meaning. It is an active learning technique to assist with listening and watching content material.
Watch this energising seminar activity from Deakin's Dr Rick Evans
Dr Rick Evans, Senior Lecturer in Criminology (Faculty of Arts and Education), demonstrates and discusses an engaging seminar activity called 'Significance'. This activity is an excellent example of inclusive learning as it allows students from different backgrounds to bring their own perspectives to the class discussion.
A video transcript may be downloaded here: Seminar activity 'Significance' (DOCX 13KB)
Large and small groups
- Icebreakers, Team Building Activities, and Energizers (PDF 155KB)
- Eight Group Icebreakers (PDF 4.83MB)
- Icebreaker questions to get to know each other
- Learning about each other, icebreakers and warm-ups (DOC 197KB)
MindTools 2017, Icebreakers: Easing Group Contribution, retrieved 20 May 2017.
Northwestern University 2017, The importance of icebreakers in online classes, retrieved 19 May 2017.
Tasmanian Institute of Teaching and Learning (TILT) n.d., Guide to Tutorials (DOCX 414KB), retrieved 19 May 2017.