As educators, we know that building connections and community is a crucial part of creating a positive learning environment. However, this can be a challenging task, especially when working with a diverse group of students. One effective way to build connections and community is through icebreaker activities. In this article, we will explore the power of icebreakers and provide some activities that you can use to build connections and community in your classroom.
Icebreakers play a vital role in higher education by promoting engagement, reducing social anxiety, and creating an inclusive environment. Numerous studies have demonstrated their positive impact on student engagement, social connections, and reduced feelings of isolation.
According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan, students who feel a sense of belonging in their classroom are more likely to engage in their learning and achieve academic success. Icebreakers can help create this sense of belonging by fostering a positive and inclusive environment where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas.
Here are some icebreaker activities that you can use to build connections and community in your classroom:
Divide the class into small groups and have them sit in a circle. Each participant will take turns sharing three statements about themselves. Two of the statements will be true, while one will be a lie. The other students in the group must work together to guess which statement is the lie. This interactive icebreaker activity serves multiple purposes. It can be used on the first day of class to help students introduce themselves and alleviate any first-day jitters. Additionally, it encourages students to share fun facts about themselves, promoting a friendly and engaging environment.
In this activity, students are given a bingo card with different traits or experiences (e.g. "has traveled to another country," "plays a musical instrument," "has a pet"). They then have to go around the room and find someone who fits each description and have them sign their card. The first person to get a bingo wins. This is a good icebreaker to help your students warm up to one another at the start of the school year—especially those who are meeting one another for the first time.
Consider implementing "Speed Friending," a variation of speed dating, to foster quick connections among students. Pair them up for brief 2-3 minute conversations, followed by rotating to meet new partners. This activity allows students to swiftly get to know multiple peers, promoting a welcoming classroom atmosphere.
Prior to the class, create a set of word pairs, such as "salt and pepper" or "ketchup and mustard," written on separate pieces of paper. Instruct each student to randomly select one piece of paper from the pile without revealing the word to anyone else. Encourage students to walk around the room and engage their peers by asking yes or no questions to determine the word written on their paper. This activity not only helps them discover their own word but also allows them to connect with more individuals in the class. Once a student identifies their word, they should continue asking questions to find their perfect match, if they haven't already done so.
Engage students in a decision-making activity called "Tea or That." Offer light-hearted choices like dogs or cats, or relate it to course material. Students physically move to the side of the room that aligns with their preference. After a few minutes, prompt one or two members from each group to justify their choice to a new group. Repeat this process for multiple rounds to expose students to diverse viewpoints. This activity, akin to "Would You Rather," encourages conversations and connections, making it suitable for both small and large groups.
To promote team building and foster a sense of community, introduce the "Longest Line" activity to your students. Provide specific criteria, such as organizing themselves alphabetically by first name or arranging themselves from shortest to tallest. Alternatively, for larger classes, encourage students to gather in groups based on commonalities like birthday months. The objective is to encourage clear and open communication within medium-sized groups to achieve the fastest line-up possible. This icebreaker not only fosters a sense of community but also serves as an excellent way to kick off the school year or establish connections on the first day.
Arrange students into small groups and prompt them to share three facts: one personal, one professional, and one peculiar. The peculiar fact can be an intriguing hobby or an interesting habit. This versatile icebreaker works well in both in-person and virtual settings. This approach will give students a broader range of personal facts from which to draw without having to worry about whether or not that fact qualifies as ''fun.''
Invite students to summarize their perceptions of your discipline using a single word, such as 'dynamic,' 'thought-provoking,' or 'challenging.' Create a collaborative environment where students can take turns sharing their past experiences in the field, utilizing only one word. You can organize this activity by going around the class or following the order of participants on your Zoom screen. By engaging in this activity, students gain a greater understanding of their peers' perspectives and develop a sense of connection with others who are navigating the same subject matter.
Before class, prepare a set of statements that reflect different viewpoints within your discipline. For instance, in an environmental science class, a statement could be "Human activity is the primary cause of climate change." As the facilitator, read out each statement, and students position themselves along the scale based on their agreement level. Hang the scale on the wall with '1' representing 'strongly disagree' and '5' representing 'strongly agree.' Encourage open discussions where students can express their thoughts on the topic. This activity not only allows students to understand their own perspectives but also promotes empathy and appreciation for the diverse viewpoints within the class.
Divide your students into groups based on your preferred criteria. Inform them that you have purposefully grouped them together because they share a common characteristic. Their task is to identify and uncover that shared attribute. Once each group has discovered what unites its members, they will have the opportunity to present it to the entire class.
Here's the intriguing part: even if the groups were formed randomly, your students will still uncover something in common among themselves. This icebreaker activity not only encourages communication and collaboration but also highlights the sense of unity within the class. It serves as a great choice to initiate conversations among students and foster a cohesive classroom environment.
Icebreakers are like the secret sauce of higher education classrooms, holding tremendous potential for building connections and fostering a strong sense of community among students. By incorporating these activities, university educators can unlock a world of benefits, from increased student engagement to a reduction in social anxiety, all while cultivating a supportive and inclusive learning environment.
So, let's break the ice and embrace the power of icebreakers in our classrooms. By dedicating time to these activities, we create a space where students can forge meaningful connections, engage with their peers, and grow both personally and academically. Together, as educators, let's cultivate an environment where every student feels seen, heard, and valued, because that's when true learning and community flourish.