Choosing Classroom Ice Breakers, Jan 2015

The first day of classes can be daunting for both students and faculty:  Students may be anxious about their professors, as well as about the work load of the course and other expectations; their instructors are likely to be anxious about establishing a positive first impression, conveying the syllabus and other information about the course, and generally setting the right tone for the next 14 weeks.

One way to ease that anxiety is to try an ice breaker, perhaps playing a name game or encouraging students to mingle as they complete a scavenger hunt aimed at learning about one another.  Marilyn Weimer offers the following advice in the “Teaching Professor Blog”:

  • Best and Worst Classes—On one section of the board, write “The best class I ever had,” and on another write, “The worst class I ever had.” Under each, write the subheadings, “What the students did” and “What the teacher did.”  Then ask students to add attributes to lists, being careful not to identify names of teachers or courses.  Afterward, discuss among the class how to capture the best attributes and avoid the worst this semester.
  • First Day Graffiti—On sections of the board or separate flip charts, write the beginning of a sentence; for example, “I learn best in classes where the teacher ___,” “Students in courses help me learn when they ___,” and “I am most likely to participate in classes when ___.” Have students walk around the room and finish the sentences, then discuss them and their significance to your course as a class.
  • Syllabus Speed dating—We hand out syllabi, but do students actually read them? This technique teams students up to search the syllabus and find answers to a series questions, such as “How will participation be graded?”  or “What citation style is required in this class? Why?”  This encourages interaction and collaboration while ensuring that your syllabus gets read.

See more about these techniques at this Faculty Focus article on First Day Class Activities.

For more information, contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at itl@uconn.edu.