A ‘Common Ground’ project post.
What is it?
Icebreakers and re-energisers are short activities designed to ‘break the ice’ between participants by building connections or breaking down barriers.
Why do it?
Research indicates that improving rapport between and among educators and students will have a positive impact on student engagement, success and well-being (1). Interventions that improve relationships between students and teachers have been shown to have the greatest impact on disadvantaged students (2). Educators have found that icebreakers are a useful way to build rapport by fostering a warm learning environment, humanising the teacher, bringing humour into the classroom, helping to learn students’ names and reinforcing content learning (3).
How is it set up?
Icebreakers are used at the start of a class to encourage participation by all and develop a sense of connection and shared focus. Re-energisers can be used mid-session or as a transition to ‘clear the mind’ and revitalise students (4). Here are a selection of popular activities suitable for a university setting, alongside different options for structuring them. There are links to further resources at the bottom of the page.
Two Truths and a Lie – Participants reveal three things about themselves, one of which is a lie.
Stop, Start, Go – Everyone lists one thing they want to stop doing, one thing they would like to start doing, and one thing they want to go on doing.
Dinner Party – Give students a limited choice of leading figures in your subject or field and ask them to decide which one (or more) they would like to meet for dinner and why.
Uniquely You – Participants think of one thing about themselves they believe no one else in the group has in common. If someone else has the same characteristic, they must find another example.
The Name Game – Each student is given a post-it with the name of a famous figure to put on their forehead. They then have to ask each other questions to discover who they are. This activity works best if students are able to move round the room.
Class/Groups/Pairs – Depending on the size and composition of your cohort, you can either ask students to speak to the whole class or put them into smaller groups or pairs.
Moving around – Some activities can be more energising if conducted standing up or moving around. For example, if students are being asked to choose something, you could write the various options in different parts of the room so they have to move to find their choice. You could even take inspiration from the old TV show, Runaround, and give them the chance to change their minds and ‘runaround’ to another option before you complete the activity.
Draw/Write/Text – Many activities can be adapted to involve drawing, writing or using online text resources as an alternative to speaking out loud.
- The key aim is to build rapport, by getting to know your students and helping them get to know each other, so it is worth minimising the social risk of involvement, especially with a new class.
- An icebreaker that involves sharing personal information with the whole class could be awkward or uncomfortable for some students and might be more suitable as a small group activity.
- As you and your students get to know each other better, you may be able to introduce more adventurous, whole-class activities.
Examples and Resources
(1) Frisby, B.N. and Martin, M.M., 2010. Instructor–student and student–student rapport in the classroom. Communication Education, 59(2), pp.146-164.
(2) Gehlbach, H., et al., 2016. Creating birds of similar feathers: Leveraging similarity to improve teacher–student relationships and academic achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(3), p.342.
(3) Chlup, D.T. and Collins, T.E., 2010. Breaking the ice: using ice-breakers and re-energizers with adult learners. Adult Learning, 21(3-4), pp.34-39.
(4) Boatman, S.A., 1991. Icebreakers and Group Builders for the Classroom. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Central States Communication Association (Chicago, IL, April 11-14, 1991).