One way to create a supportive and inclusive class environment in which students feel a sense of community and belonging is to use icebreakers. Successful icebreakers encourage student to engage and participate in class and enable them to get to know one another. They also give instructors an opportunity to learn about their students and better understand their perspectives. They should not, however, feel artificial or contrived. “Icebreakers are better if they have relevance to a specific class, are targeted to the appropriate group, and are varied. The best icebreakers simply are important, relevant activities that have as an additional feature an opportunity for the group to get acquainted.”  Society for the Teaching of Psychology

Many icebreakers have been described; they involve individual, pair, small group, and entire class activities. They are used most often during the first class session, but they can be used throughout the semester/term. Some are specifically related to the course, and others are more general and /or personal. Some are suitable for either online or on ground classes, and others are suitable for both. In fact, “Icebreakers are even more important in an online class, where students are less likely to initiate casual conversations with their peers. Offering students some structured ways to get to know each other is necessary for building class community. Be transparent with students about the purpose and value of icebreakers so they know why you’re taking class time for this.” University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Excellence in Teaching and Learning


Icebreakers may involve students doing the following:

  • Giving a simple self-introduction
  • Playing a game with their classmates
  • Responding to a funny and/or “getting to know you” prompt
  • Explaining why they are taking the course or the trepidations they have about the course
  • Sharing something meaningful related to the course or discipline (e.g., a recent headline, article, or other media content related to the course)
  • Creating something (e.g., drawings, video, songs, poems, etc.)

The Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation proposed the following considerations for using icebreakers:

  • What do you want to achieve with an icebreaker? Do you want to set the tone for the learning community or lead into course content in engaging ways?
  • Think of your population in choosing or designing an activity. This includes group size, demographics, levels of knowledge, extent to which they know each other, reasons for being in your class, and more.
  • Think through the activity ahead of time and adapt it accordingly.
  • Icebreakers do not always go exactly as planned. Flexibility and willingness to learn are part of building a positive and open learning community.

These tips, also from the Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation, can help with the logistics of running an icebreaker activity in class.

  • Introduce the activity to the group and explain your justification for using it
  • Establish a symbol for when the activity is over, such as ringing a bell, clapping, or turning off the lights
  • Help students find a partner. It may be easier to count off students
  • Indicate who will start first (e.g., the student with the longest hair, the student whose birthday is closest to today’s date, etc.)
  • Announce when the activity is halfway finished; that way if only one student has spoken so far, the other will have a chance to participate as well
  • Debrief by asking a few pairs to share with the group what they learned about their partner, or one thing they discovered that they have in common with each other

Examples of instructions for icebreakers whose purpose is to get acquainted and build community include the following:

  • Introduce yourself and tell about your personal/professional interests, goals for the course, and professional plans.
  • Use eight nouns to describe yourself.
  • Tell what is your favorite: food, pizza topping, movie, music genre, book, current television show, sports to watch, sports to participate in, author, singer, etc.?
  • Show and tell: Share something you have with you at that moment that tells something about you.
  • Introduce yourself and tell what you know about why you have your name.
  • Submit a song the instructor can play at the beginning of class (before official start time) and/or create a class playlist.
  • Tell what is the strangest food you have ever eaten or experience you’ve ever had?
  • Tell where you would like to travel
  • Choose what is better: ice cream or pizza? Which you prefer: cats or dogs?
  • Choose: If you were marooned on a deserted island, what five things would you want to bring with you?
  • Share three statements about yourself —two that are true and one that is a lie. Other students must identify the lie.
  • Choose whether you would rather eat in a great restaurant every night for the rest of your life or never have to do laundry again (or other difficult choices)?
  • Share 1-3 “burning questions” you have about the course.
  • Share 1-3 concerns about the course or semester.
  • Tell what your favorite way to study is.
  • Tell what you think will be most challenging for you in this course? What will be easy?
  • Conduct an interview with another student and then introduce one another.
  • In a small group, find one thing you all have in common and one thing none of you have in common.

After instructors have finished an icebreaker, they should debrief the icebreaker activity; that is, they can talk with students about why they spent class doing the activity and ask for their opinions on the exercise and the process. Additionally, they can ask them what they learned and what they would do differently. To prolong the effects of the exercise, instructors can emphasize that fellow students can be valuable resources in the course and encourage them to get to know one another better. Instructors can then reinforce this idea throughout the course as well as look for opportunities to connect course content with the interests and experiences students shared. It is important to remember, however, that not student should be pressured into revealing information they are not comfortable disclosing.


University of Florida
Classroom Icebreakers

University of Indiana/Bloomington Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
Using Icebreakers for More than Introductions

Texas Tech University Teaching Resources
Building (and Maintaining) Rapport in the Classroom

University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching Blog
Breaking Ice with Your Students

Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis Center for Teaching and Learning
Using Icebreakers

DePaul University Teaching Commons
The First Day of Class

Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation

Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation
Getting Started with Icebreakers

Additional Resources

Society for the Teaching of Psychology
Building Community in the Classroom

Temple University
Icebreakers and Name Games

Polls Everywhere
50 Fresh and Fun Icebreakers

Top Hat
20 Classroom Icebreakers


Icebreakers for Online Courses

The University of Michigan LSA Technology Services provided these examples of icebreakers specifically for online courses. Building Community in Online Classes with Icebreakers

  • Think of one word that best describes you or your life. Then start an initial discussion post by stating this word in bold and describe why you chose that word. Post your initial response by Monday May 11 at 11:59pm. Then review peers’ posts and find someone whose word resonates with you. Reply to the post and explain your personal connection to the word. Try to find two other nouns that you both have in common. Reply to your classmate’s post by Wednesday May 13 at 11:59 pm.
  • Take a picture to post and share with the class.
    • Select one of the options below
      • Something in your room or on your desk
      • A pet
      • The view from your room or yard
      • Your shoes or socks
      • Yourself
    • Share a little about your picture and/or ask your classmates some questions such as “what breed of dog is Scooter?” Everyone’s initial post is due this Friday by 11:59pm. Respond to two of your classmates’ posts by Monday at 11:59pm.
  • What have you recently discovered that has become one of your new favorite things? Cold brew coffee, yoga, a new television series? Post a picture of your new favorite thing and explain to your classmates what makes it so great. Don’t have a new favorite? Then go ahead and post about an old favorite. Everyone’s initial post is due this Friday by 11:59pm. Respond to two of your classmates’ posts by Monday at 11:59pm.


Additional Resources for Online Courses

University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
Icebreakers for Online Classes

University of Waterloo Center for Teaching Excellence
Icebreakers for Online Classes

University of Washington/Bothell
Icebreakers for Students Learning Online

University of Wisconsin Extended Campus

Georgetown University Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship
Icebreakers in Remote Teaching