Icebreakers that Rock



We’re coming up fast on the beginning of another school year. That means a new batch of students to get to know, students who need to be made comfortable in your classroom, and who need to get to know each other. It’s essential to start building relationships with your students right from the start.

And how to accomplish this? Icebreakers.

The Trouble with Most Icebreakers

I planned to create a nice big post with dozens of icebreaker ideas you could choose from. I would scour the Internet for the very best activities and games and store links to them here for your reference. The problem is that so many of the ones I’ve found are problematic for one of these reasons:

  • They require students to take massive social risks with people they barely know. So many of the icebreakers I found asked students to publicly share some kind of personal information. For the icebreaker to actually work, students would need to share something interesting and different about themselves, something that makes them stand out. But to most kids—especially once they get into the middle and high school range—being different is the worst thing you can be. So what many students ultimately do is share something safe and boring, something like “I like soccer,” just so the game moves on to the next person. The result? No one really gets to know anyone.
  • They don’t actually facilitate familiarity. Too many icebreakers consist of questions like this: “If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?” Unless you have a ridiculously deep and creative kid who is going to say something like, “I would be a mongoose, because a mongoose can kill venomous snakes, and I have a way of standing up to bullies even though I’m small,” you’re mostly going to get a lot of cat-cat-dog-dog-fish, et cetera. Unless of course you force creativity on them by insisting that no animals can be repeated, thereby making the poor kids try to come up with some stinking animal that somehow represents the least embarrassing aspect of their personality and isn’t a repeat of anyone else’s animal. I’m annoyed just writing about it, and I repeat: No one really gets to know anyone.
  • They are cheesy. The icebreaker I have been subjected to most often is the “Name Game,” where you have to add a word to your name that starts with the same letter as your name AND tells something about you. Guh. Because my name starts with a J, I have always hated this game, because jazzy doesn’t have anything to do with me. Neither does jelly or jalopy or joyful. Once you’ve chosen your word, people have to go around the circle repeating the newly enhanced names of the classmates who came before them in line. This means having to listen to Jammin’ Jenn over and over, my eyes rolling, my grimace deepening. One year I just rebelled and picked a different letter; I think I called myself something like Indoor Jenn, due to my aversion to the outdoors. That felt better.

So I have scrapped my plan to curate good icebreakers from the Internet. Instead, I’m going to share my three favorites with you.

Three Icebreakers that Don’t Suck

In my own classrooms, with middle school, high school, and college students, I have played all three of these games with great success. What I like about all of them is that they get students talking, but require very little social risk. Each activity supplies students with real topics to talk about, topics that actually help students get to know each other, without forcing anyone to reveal anything too personal.

Each of these will likely sound familiar to you, although the names may not be exactly what you’ve known them as. I should add that I take no credit for inventing these games. I have no idea where I picked them up, but they are not original to me.

Blobs and Lines

How to Play
In this icebreaker, students are prompted to either line up in some particular order (by birthday, for example) or gather in “blobs” based on something they have in common (similar shoes, for example). What’s great about this game is that it helps students quickly discover things they have in common. It’s also ridiculously easy: Students don’t have to come up with anything clever, and they can respond to every question without thinking too hard about it. This game keeps students moving and talking, and it builds a sense of belonging and community in your classroom.

Here are some sample prompts you can use for this game:

  • Line up in alphabetical order by your first names.
  • Line up in alphabetical order by your last names.
  • Gather with people who have the same eye color as you.
  • Gather with people who get to school in the same way as you (car, bus, walk).
  • Line up in order of your birthdays, from January 1 through December 31.
  • Line up in order of how many languages you speak.
  • Gather into 3 blobs: Those who have LOTS of chores at home, those who have A FEW chores at home, and those who have NO chores at home.
  • Gather with people who have the same favorite season as you.

Concentric Circles

How to Play
This icebreaker has students arrange themselves in an inside circle and an outside circle, the inside facing out, forming pairs. Pairs discuss their answers to a getting-to-know-you question, then rotate for the next question, forming a new partnership. This game gives students the chance to have lots of one-on-one conversations with many of their classmates and helps them quickly feel more at home in your class.

The possibilities for questions in this kind of configuration are endless; be sure to use more open-ended questions that can get students talking, rather than those that simply ask for a yes or no answer. Here are some sample questions:

  • Do you play any sports? If so, which ones?
  • Do you consider yourself shy or outgoing? Why?
  • What was the last movie you saw? Did you like it?
  • Describe your perfect dinner.
  • What would you do with a million dollars?
  • What is one thing you’re good at?

This or That

How to Play
This icebreaker has students informally debate on light topics such as “Which animal makes a better pet…dog or cat?” Students have to choose a position, then physically move to the side of the room that most closely represents their opinion—one side means dogs, the other side means cats—and then talk about why they chose that spot. This game has always been a HUGE hit with any group I’ve ever taught: It builds student confidence with talking in front of their peers, it helps students quickly find kindred spirits, and it’s also just a lot of fun.

Sample questions for This or That:

  • Would you rather live in the country or the city?
  • Should all students be required to learn a second language?
  • Which is worse: bad breath or body odor?
  • Would you rather be indoors or outdoors?
  • Which is better: Playing sports or watching sports?
  • Would you rather travel every single day or never leave home?

Want These Games Ready-Made?

I have created beautiful, animated PowerPoint versions of each of these games, plus a bundle of all three. The files work on Windows and OS X platforms, and they are all editable, so you can add or change questions anytime you like.



Don’t leave empty-handed!
Join my mailing list and get weekly tips, tools, and inspiration — in quick, bite-sized packages — all geared toward making your teaching more effective and fun. To thank you, I’ll send you a free copy of my new e-booklet, 20 Ways to Cut Your Grading Time in Half. I look forward to getting to know you better!



Share on Facebook10.5kTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest72.9kShare on LinkedIn60Share on Google+54Email this to someone

Jennifer Gonzalez

Editor-in-Chief at Cult of Pedagogy
Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.

Jennifer Gonzalez

Former middle-school language arts teacher and college-level teacher of teachers. NBCT. Mother of 3. All of these experiences have brought me to where I am now: Devoted full-time to helping teachers do their work better.


  1. My daughter’s Spanish teacher played what you call “concentric circles” with them at the beginning of this year – but when my daughter told me about it she referred to it as “speed dating”. She did enjoy it though!

  2. Thank you. I can always use great ideas! You are very inspiring.

  3. Thanks for acknowledging that most ice breakers suck! I was cheering when I read this! I love the three you chose–and I use This or That when I teach argumentative writing, too. I call it Vote with Your Feet. Thanks for the good ideas!

  4. As a fellow J-person, I have also felt frustrated with the Name Game. I once used Jocular Jeff, which worked pretty well. 🙂 Thanks for these great ideas. The This or That game sounds like a winner. Can’t wait to try it!

    • I’m a ‘K’ person. The Name Game was terrible! I’m limited to…what? Kind? Keen? Ugh… Wretched game.

  5. I teach 4th graders and look forward to more tips for my toolbox

  6. Great ice breaker ideas! I have used a few of them before, but you have inspired new ideas! Thanks!

  7. Great thanks a lot! I already do one of them but the other two are def worth a try. For teachers with a lot of students: instead of inner Outer circle you could do speed dating (kids sit behind desks in rows. You need an even number of rows so you can pair them up. Whenever teachers says switch the kids in designated rows move one Seat forward – works Great)

  8. These are terrific…I wonder if I can adapt any of your games to my elementary music classes? We do ice-breaker games that, of course, have a rhythmic or musical slant. Can’t waste my precious 45-minutes a week! 🙂

  9. Ideas sound good will try all 3. I wasn’t able to sign up though because site wouldn’t accept either of my email accounts

  10. Thank you for these. It’s just what I needed to start my school year. I wanted something new. Your explanations were so clear that I got the game right away. Using them Tuesday!

  11. A million “thank you”‘s for sharing!! I’m really excited to try these next Tuesday. Your intro to this post truly resonated with me. I love the approach and understanding you have with middle schoolers ????.

  12. A way to add a little excitement to the Lines & Blobs game is to have participants line up or get in blobs without talking. You could also have them speak any language besides English. It’s also always fun to split the group in two and make it a race!

  13. As a student who has played many, many cheesy icebreakers in class, I really appreciate this list of icebreakers that actually accomplish what they’re trying to do. I especially like the third icebreaker you mentioned, “This or That.” I think it would be a great way to start off the year in a classroom, allowing students to energetically “debate” with each other about lighthearted topics. Thanks for the ideas!

    • You are so welcome! Students absolutely love that game, and teachers who have played it with their students since this publication have said the kids beg to play it as a brain break or game during reward time!

  14. Just love these. I’m actually a preschool teacher and I can adapt these to my kids but I am also sending this to my daughters counselor to use in their social groups. Really smart!!

  15. I love blobs and lines. I use it for my Girl Scout troops when we start the year with new girls and other times as well. I call it Sort Yourself. It also helps show me whose a leader and who’s a follower.

  16. Hi! This is brilliant! Im involved with a girls mentorship programme and constantly having to deal with new ways of breaking the ice between the girls when we have events! Definitely going to be trying these games 🙂 would love to be added to mailing list!! ♡♡

  17. As an alternative to standard introductions in groups of adults or college students, I’ve found it successful to pair people off and have them introduce themselves to each other (answering a specific set of questions mixing factual info with more interesting opinion or personal history questions), then go around the circle/room having each person introduce their partner. Everybody ends up interacting closely with at least one other person, and the process, with the inevitable small mix-ups and name reminders, creates a sense of levity and permission to make mistakes. I’d like to think more about whether it can be further developed to have people interact with more than just one person–perhaps through the snowball discussion model, or doing a few different rounds with increasingly meaningful questions with different partners each time.

  18. I need this, and will use the concentric circles today! I teach “credit deficient Seniors” at an alternative school. Their fears of revealing themselves is so powerful. I used to be so shy and insecure that I try to take it slow, and not assume they are outgoing like I now am! Thanks so much.

  19. I work as an instructional coach, teacher of teachers. I’m always looking for “non-cheesy” ice breakers when delivering PD. These are great! Concentric Circles is similar to the AVID Philosophical Chairs.

    • Hey Pamela! I’m so glad you like these. You know, one thing I’m consistently reminded of is that for every strategy I “discover,” there’s an almost identical one I wasn’t aware of, with a different name. AVID strategies are fantastic!

  20. Hi. I like your ideas and the reasons behind why many icebreakers fail. I plan to use some of your suggestions at the start of the 2016-2017 school year. I can see students having a lot of fun with these, especially the one about bad breath vs body odor.

  21. Hi! I am a big fan of your blog and frequent it often ! As a community educator, I get invited into the high schools a couple times each year to teach their family life courses. I only have 2-3 days with each class, but I don’t want to sacrifice building rapport with my students on the first day together. I want them to be comfortable enough to openly ask questions and have conversations about their sexual health. In the past we have done the “Toilet Paper” Game, each student has to tear off as much TP as they “need” and then once they have all torn off some they are told that they now have to share as many things about themselves as the number of paper squares they tore off. The first two squares are always Name & Age.

    It works very well as an icebreaker between myself and the students, but I do worry about embarrassing students in front of their peers and it is fairly time consuming. Do you have any suggestions for how a guest educator could break the ice with students that we only teach for a short period of time? The students at this point have already spent almost a whole year with one another, but I am the new person!

  22. Great, thanks for sharing this article post.Thanks Again. Really Great.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *