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First Day Ice Breakers

Often, the first day of class determines how learners will perceive subject matter and participate throughout the semester; having a great first day of class will lay the foundation to build a meaningful relationship with learners as the class progresses. We could prepare for our first day by doing things such as checking out our classroom and its technology ahead of time and making conscientious wardrobe choices. Kirk (2018) explained that one of the most important aspects of a good first day is maintaining composure and dispelling any nervousness. Developing a routine before starting the first day of class can increase our confidence in front of our learners and, as a result, increase our credibility and learners’ trust in our abilities.

There are many strategies within each of Lang’s (2019) principles that educators could implement to engage learners and build rapport on that first day. However, many learners do not like icebreakers, as they require learners to take social risks without facilitating familiarity. Done well, icebreaker activities introduce learners to their peers without making learners uncomfortable. Icebreaker activities from The Ohio State University’s University Center for the Advancement of Teaching (n.d.), Gonzalez (2015), Boldt (2014), and Lansing Community College (n.d.) include:

  • Anonymous Classroom Survey – Write two to three open-ended questions related to the subject and have learners answer them anonymously to gain a sense of learners' starting points.
  • This or That – Ask a series of debatable, dualistic questions—such as “Which breakfast food is better: Pancakes or waffles?” or “Would you rather read a book or watch a movie?”—and allow learners to choose a position by physically moving to one or the other side of the room. Have each group of learners form a debate for their side.
  • Learning from Experience – Share with learners one thing you learned the “hard way” about the subject you are teaching. Have learners share experiences likewise. Add these experiences to a chart that can be referred to throughout the class.
  • Pop Culture – Ask learners to identify one or two pop culture elements that they are currently interested in, such as a movie, book, or television show, on a notecard. Try to incorporate references to these interests to make the course seem more relatable.
  • Something You Want to Learn – Create a form for learners to fill out, with questions such as “what is something you already know about this subject?”, “What is something you want to learn in this class?”, and “what can I do to help your learning?” Collect learners’ answers and adjust teaching practices to fit learners’ needs as much as possible.
  • Collective Knowledge – Group learners into teams of four to five. Have each group identify three ground rules that they would like to see implemented in the class before sharing with the class. Record learners’ rules and identify, as a whole class, realistic rules that can be adopted.
  • My Slogan – Ask each learner to develop a personal “slogan,” giving examples such as “I’m Lovin It” for McDonald’s or “Just Do It” for Nike, for them to share with the class.
  • The Best Team – Encourage learners to share the characteristics of the best team they have been on with a group of four to five. Have each group share the best-listed characteristics and record them on a chart, which can be referred to whenever groupwork is implemented in the course.
  • Whiteboard Feedback – Divide the whiteboard into two sections: “the best class I have ever had did this” and “the worst class I have ever had did this.” Encourage learners to share what they liked and disliked about past courses.
  • M&M Questions – Give each learner an M&M as they come through the door. Have learners introduce themselves and ask each learner a pre-developed question based on the color of their M&M.

Implementing these icebreakers shows learners we care about who they are. It also makes them more comfortable with each other, which could increase participation throughout the semester. Icebreakers should be a meaningful way for learners to connect with one another.


Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning. (n.d.). What to do on the first day of class. Retrieved from

Boldt, J. (2014, August 21). What do you do on the first day of class? [weblog post]. Retrieved from

Denial, C. (2016, August 3). Making the first-day matter [weblog post]. Retrieved from

Gonzalez, J. (2015, July 23). Icebreakers that rock [weblog post]. Retrieved from

Kirk, D. J. (2018). Ten tips for dealing with nervousness on the first day of class. Retrieved from

Lang, J. M. (2019) How to teach a good first day of class. Retrieved from

Lansing Community College. (n.d.). Icebreaker activities. Retrieved from

Weimer, M. (2015) The first day of class: A once-a-semester opportunity. Retrieved from