Ice-breakers that teach something

If you’ve been a reader of this teaching blog, you know that I think the first day of class is one of the most important. On the first day you set the tone for your course and establish what kind of classroom experience you expect. You probably don’t want to spend that first session lecturing in a dark room or listing the litany of rules and regulations you have set forth in your syllabus.

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Here are some things I think that first day needs to do:

1. Introductions. Your students need to get to know you a little bit and you need to begin to get to know them a little bit. They also need to get to know each other a little bit. If your class is small enough, you might be able to sit in a circle and go around stating names and something interesting about each student. Here is a link to a previous post about ideas for the first day of class:

Next week, I plan to try this idea:

I plan to hand out index cards and have each student write his/her name, where their home is located and the dominant feature in the biodiversity of that location. We will go around and introduce ourselves and our regions. I’ll do an index card, too. As each student tells us about what’s on the card, they will mount the card to the board, grouped roughly geographically. Then, we can talk as a group about the different features and biodiversity issues raised. You could easily do something similar that uses a course-relevant topic organizer (like major political feature, or major social issue, or major historical aspect…..).

2. Get everyone talking. If you want to use active learning techniques, you need to get it started right away. One strategy I have used many times is to do a “speed-dating” exercise. Here is a link to a post where I describe this ice-breaker: ‎

You could also use the syllabus for this, having students extract information from the syllabus guided by a set of questions.

3.  Make the course topic front and center. The speed-dating problem set does this and also helps the students see where some of their background preparation might be a bit sketchy. If you use the index card idea, you could use a course topic as the focal point. Or, instead of the speed-dating, where only pairs of students interact for a couple of minutes, you could have a small group exercise where groups of 4 or 5 students work through questions or tasks related to the course content.

All of these strategies serve to get students talking to each other and you and set the tone and stage for an active and vivacious classroom experience.


One thought on “Ice-breakers that teach something

  1. Terrific idea for any group that’s new to each other & has a task to perform. Thanks, Kate!

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