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Melting Ice

Activity Showcase: Icebreakers

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With the first day of class approaching, there's one type of activity that many of us may be pondering: the ubiquitous icebreaker.  Although it can be designed in many different ways, the icebreaker serves an important function for any class or meeting, fostering and strengthening connections between individuals, often relying on a playful or exploratory framework to lay the groundwork for deeper or unexpected conversations. 

As a Septembrist, this is the time of year that community-building activities like these are particularly on my mind. Some of you might remember our 2020 icebreaker bingo activity, inspired by Harriett Jernigan's COVID Bingo, where we distributed a partially-filled bingo board about online teaching and then invited lecturers in small groups to fill in the rest of the space.  Since we were on Zoom, we didn't have the opportunity to actual "play" with these boards (as we did in 2017 or 2018, inspired -- I believe -- by Meg Formato's RBA Bingo activity), but the activity nevertheless opened up a moment for people to share (and complain and laugh about) some typical Zoom University moments. (Below: September Sessions partially filled card; one group's completed card)

Online Teaching Bingo Card
Bingo Card

As we move toward fall, you might be thinking about expanding on your own menu of icebreaker options.  As you do, be sure you identify the goals for this low stakes activity, such as (possibly):

  • Helping your class community get to know each other
  • Opening up energetic and/or fun opportunities for students to wrestle with themes or questions that are foundational to that day's discussion or the class theme
  • Setting up a model of the classroom as an active, dialogic space
  • Encouraging students to start to feel comfortable participating in peer-to-peer and whole group discussions
  • Creating a relaxed and energized classroom space

As you know, these sorts of activities work well not just on the first day, or the first week, but throughout the quarter, whether to help facilitate strong relationships between working group members or to serve as a touchstone for connecting the classroom community across the weeks of the class.

Here are some starting points for freshening up your list of potential icebreakers for the fall:

Feel free to send in your own icebreaker activity ideas to inspire your colleagues and grow our communal archive of activities.