What are ice breakers? They are a way of breaking the ice in new situations so that people can get to know each other a little. This is helpful in all situations where people do not know each other at all. Hence you will see icebreakers being used at parties, conferences, training sessions, college classes, and online classes. Once people begin to learn about others in their class, they will be more comfortable participating on discussion boards, in group work that is assigned, in contacting the instructor or others in the class to ask/answer questions. This helps the class to work together as a community and to learn more from each other, thereby increasing their overall learning in the course.
Instructors are often wondering what kinds of icebreakers will work well in distance learning classes. The following are some ideas that work well in online classes. Choose the ones that best meet your goals for the activity.
1. Many instructors have students post a mini biography with some information about themselves. This is better than no introduction. However, it can be both more interesting and more helpful to both you as an instructor and to the other students, if you ask them to include some specific information. An example is to ask them to include what their expectations are for the course so that you find out if their expectations are realistic and can give feedback about them when necessary. Another idea for these introductions is to ask students to give 3 (or however many you like) nouns that describe them and why they chose those nouns. This helps the students get to know a little more about the personality and skills of other students and perhaps find some things they have in common. Other ideas are to have the students give specific information about where they live, or to post a picture that they feel represents them and tell why.
2. Games are another type of icebreaker which are often used as tools for introductions or for introducing a topic during the course. One game is to have students make an acrostic using their name. It can be fun and helps the students and the instructor get to know each other. Another game that is used is to have the students post the URL’s for 3 websites that describe their job or their interest. The other students have to try to figure out what the job or interest is for each of the other students. This would be an especially good activity if there are any older adults in the class who do not have very much experience using the internet as it would give them extra practice.
3. Questions are another type of icebreaker used online. These can be fun type questions such as, “If you could be any flavor of ice cream, what flavor would you be and why?” “ “Would you rather” questions are a lot of fun and are easy for the students to think up after the instructor starts off with the first. “What is your favorite quotation” is another good question because it can be fun and interesting.
4. Discussions about the course subject such as, “Why is the subject of (English, French, Mathematics, Psychology etc.) important to you?”, can be a way of getting to know people and a good introduction to the course subject.
5. Another icebreaker that can be useful especially for general arts courses and business courses is to have the students take a free online personality test. Find your learning style is also an interesting test for students to take to learn about themselves and to discuss with others in the class.
All of these icebreakers can be great fun in a new class and help the students get to know each other and feel more at ease in the class. This will be important if you are going to have the students work in groups for a project. If instructors use only the idea of getting the students to introduce themselves, the students will get bored with the activity after a few times. It is therefore a good idea to change the type of icebreaker that you use. You can be very creative and change it to suit your tastes, or you can change it so that it relates more to your course. You want it to help the students be more motivated to study and learn in your course, not less motivated. This is slightly more difficult in distance learning online courses but it is not impossible. Try something different in your next course. If it does not work, scratch it off your list and move to another idea the next time. It will keep you and your students more interested.