Cult of Pedagogy Search

Icebreakers that Rock

Close

Can't find what you are looking for? Contact Us

Icebreakers-Pin

 

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:

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:

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:

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:

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!

 

89 Comments

  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!

    • That’s a great name, and it perfectly captures what students are doing. Thanks for sharing that!

      • Kim Beatty says:

        I do this but for a reading assignment and call it round Robbin reading because a round Robbin is a team roping event where all headers rope with all heelers. The kids love it and they have to work with usually 15 other students in the room.

  2. Madeleine girardin schuback says:

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

  3. Kris Boydstun says:

    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. Jeff Napior says:

    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!

    • Karen Peterson says:

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

    • Ryan says:

      The name game can be won by anyone willing to cheat by picking up a dictionary in advance of playing. Go to the letter of your name and start reading until you find something that you like. And if it’s obscure so people don’t know what it means, all the better. So knowing you’ll one day probably play this game, go now and pick your word. Since every time you play will probably be in a different situation with different people, you can reuse that one great word you pick.

  5. always looking for creative ice breakers…….

  6. Kristin Bleamaster says:

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

  7. Tammy Graves says:

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

  8. OMG, I love these. I hated the ice breakers I did last year for just the reasons you mentioned. Love it.

  9. Maeike says:

    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)

  10. Elisabeth says:

    I look forward to your suggestions! Thank you for sharing!

  11. toni says:

    Good article!

  12. Yvonne says:

    Thanks for these great ideas, I will certainly be using them.

  13. Beulah says:

    Great ideas. I plan to try all three.

  14. April says:

    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! 🙂

  15. Nancy James says:

    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

  16. Alla says:

    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!

  17. Shannon Hill says:

    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 ????.

    • Thanks, Shannon! I hope the icebreakers went well!

      • Steven says:

        Hi Jennifer,

        Can you please help me create some good icebreaker games for new class?.. I am kind of new to this work and my job is to organise some creative icebreakers for new class monthly. I could really use your help, I’ll be looking forward to hear from you soon.

        Thank you.

        • Debbie Sachs says:

          Hey, Steven! I’m a Customer Experience Manager with Cult of Pedagogy. If you haven’t already, I suggest scrolling down to the bottom of the Icebreakers that Rock post. There you’ll find a selection of some ready-made games created by Jenn; just click on any or all that interest you. This is the best that we’ve got — I hope it helps!

  18. Rubana Parveen says:

    Great activities

  19. Amber says:

    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!

  20. cferris2 says:

    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!

  21. Jeannie kinn says:

    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!!

  22. Laurie Magee says:

    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.

  23. Loved your writing video! Simplified the writing process.

  24. Moszie Morales says:

    Thanks for sharing.

  25. Leslie says:

    Great ideas!

  26. Danica Le Fleur says:

    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!! ♡♡

  27. Claudia says:

    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.

  28. 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.

  29. Pamela says:

    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!

  30. Alesia says:

    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.

  31. Mal says:

    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!

  32. WilliamVupt says:

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

  33. rosalia says:

    I love this kind of innovation.surely ice breakers sometimes sucks!!!

  34. Sheryl says:

    I’m so glad I found your page! The school year is over, but my school is getting ready for Summer Bridge, so these ice breakers are awesome! We played the Name Game last year, and I remember thinking just what you said, so I’m glad I wasn’t the only one! I look forward to stalking your blog page!!! 🙂

  35. Jennifer says:

    Tons of good stuff here! 🙂 I’m not a teacher myself, I just found out about your site from a friend.

    I do appreciate your caring about not embarrassing the students! The trouble with asking “Do you consider yourself shy or outgoing? Why?” is that the reason can *be* embarrassing. 🙁

    For example, someone who was bullied a ton earlier (like I was for my body) may have given up and decided to try to be invisible and *that* is why she’s now shy instead of outgoing. 🙁 And, if a teacher asked me that in class then I might have had to say that *in front of the bullies.* 🙁

  36. Vinny says:

    I love these posts! One of my favorite low risk ice breakers is called connections. One person starts by sharing facts about themselves. When another student hears something they have in common they link arms and then the next person shares. When all the students are linked the last person shares until they find something in common with the first person. I love that it creates a circle/community feel, and that it helps students connect — even it’s on something as simple as loving a sport, or wearing glasses, or having a similar number of siblings.

  37. Melissa says:

    Thanks for these!! One ice breaker I really love that helps you get to know one another and isn’t terribly embarassing or risky is Over the Mountain.
    You form a circle with marked spots (chairs, colored dots on the floor, each player removes one shoe, etc.) and one person starts in the middle without a spot (one less spot than players, musical chairs style). The person in the middle says “Over the mountain if….” and shares something which is true about themselves and may be true about others in the group. Anyone else for whom that statement is also true would then enter the circle and try to find a new spot (including the person in the middle). You cannot go back to your spot or the spot directly next to yours. Whoever is left without a spot is then in the middle and shares a new statement.
    This game is great because it gets kids moving too! I usually do it with middle/high school students, but I know variations can work with younger students.

    • helena fifer says:

      I play that game but I call it fruit bowl, and the first thing I do is choose 3 types of fruit, and assign each person in the circle a fruit. The person in the center calls out “Apples” or “bananas” or “pears,” for example, and those people switch places. The person in the middle also finds a seat. It’s very low stakes at first. The person can also call out “Fruit bowl” and then everyone has to move and find a different seat. After playing a few rounds, I ask the person in the middle to come up with his or her own category, and at first they tend to say things like “Anyone who is wearing socks,” or something safe like that to get people to move. The more you play it, the more willing the group is to start sharing more interesting/personal information.

  38. Debbie Cooley says:

    I’m always looking for new and better ways to teach!! Thank you for some great ideas!

  39. Veronica Gard says:

    As an English and Drama teacher in the UK I liked ice-breakers that got students moving so a circle of naming someone and moving to their place is a good one. The named person has to call out someone else and be moving before the first person gets to their place or the person still in his/her place is out or the circle. another is “My name is Jack and I like to eat Jelly” can work especially with 8-12 year-olds. Everyone can repeat or not but it can help the teacher as well as the pupils to remember people -“Oh yes, she likes lollipops…Lily”

  40. Gayle Copeland says:

    Loved these
    I’m a drama music teacher
    Pre k through 6th

  41. Kyndra says:

    These are great for the Teacher that hates those ice breakers that force me to step out before I’m ready! Once I’ve met the students and parents all is well, but I’m not one of those outgoing, easy-to-talk-to-anyone kind of teachers. Thank you for providing games that I can introduce and play with the students to get everyone cozy with each other!

    • Kyndra says:

      Also – you’ve saved me time by providing those documents… You Rock!

  42. April Joy knight says:

    Love your wonderful ideas!!!

  43. Love these games that get kids moving, talking and connecting. Can I post a link to them from my website?
    http://www.classroomtuneup.com

  44. Edison says:

    I’ve never made a comment on someone’s article before but this is seriously great. I’m a Resident Assistant at my school and my incoming freshmen are gonna love this. Perfect way to get to know people.

  45. Cathy Briggs says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I am preparing for the beginning of the year and am looking forward to using the ice breakers with my students. My account history shows I bought the $10.00 package on July 10th, but I am unable to find them in my email or saved on any of my devices. Is it possible to resend them to me so I don’t have to invent my own PPT or do I have to pay again?

    • Hi Cathy! If you go to TPT and look under the “MY TPT” tab, then select “My Purchases,” you should see it there. Alternately, you should be able to go right to the product page, and if you purchased it, the “BUY NOW” button should say “Download” for you. If neither of these options work, let me know and I’ll see what I can do from the back end. Thanks!

  46. Alicia says:

    Thank you so much for this. I’m teaching seventh graders for the first time this year and when I was looking up ice breakers I kept finding ones I found so humiliating or tacky when I was their age. These are so much better.

  47. Tracey Quigley says:

    I didn’t see where to leave a rating on this site but I would give your This or That activity a 5 out of 5 stars. Having the slides makes it simple and will hold their attention easily for a quick get to know you intro.

  48. Laurie says:

    Thank you so much for looking out for the shy, introverted, quiet middle-schoolers like my daughter. Her literal hell is having to get in a circle and “share feelings” with strangers. I’m an extrovert that finds this game super fun! But my ADD would like to jump in and comment on every answer… You seriously don’t want either of us in your class, but chances are there are 35% of her and 11% of me already in there. Thanks for better choices!

  49. Marta says:

    I am a new teacher in Australia and I am desperately seeking good resources for our start of the year Thank you for these ice breakers; they sound absolutely fantastic.

  50. Amanda says:

    I love these!! I will be teaching 4th and 5th grade this year and am so excited to try these games!! I couldn’t add myself to your email list but I will be following you to get more 💡!! Thanks

  51. Maggie Jardine says:

    These are just like some of the Kagan strategies. They can also be used for review or team/class building anytime throughout the year. Concentric Circles aka Inside Out, can be used for review using the strategy, Quiz-Quiz-trade, wher each student has a question. They paid up, asks each other their question and coach each other if they don’t know the answer. When the teacher says time to rotate, the pair swaps questions and moves on and repeat the cycle. Blobs and Lines has a name as well, but it is escaping my mind (summer brain). Another post suggested for student to do it without talking. You can have them use them white board or notebooks. Thanks for sharing these great idea.

  52. Anh Ton says:

    Thank you so much! I just can’t agree with you more on what you think about normally used ice-breakers, and your 3 games I think is very down-to-earth and would provide so much fun and meaning to students! Thanks again! 😀

  53. Yumi Primo says:

    First time in my career life that i want to start school right away to apply all of these

  54. Michele says:

    I agree with the first part of your post that most icebreakers are terrible; for some people, that is. Extroverts love them! Introverts hate them. We aren’t necessarily “shy,” which describes someone who is afraid of interacting. Being an introvert means that because there is so much thinking going on in my head, it takes an incredible amount of energy for me to interact with people, even people I love. I certainly don’t want to spend that precious energy on people with whom the only thing of consequence I have in common is that we’re taking the same class at the same time. I’m glad that the games you propose here don’t require the players to volunteer personal information, but they require the sharing of pointless information, which is just as tiring to an introvert as sharing personal information. Why in the world would I care when a classmate’s birthday is? If I later become friends with that person, that information becomes more relevant, but it’s useless until then. Line up alphabetically by first or last name? Who cares?! This is wasted time! Get to the teaching that we’re there for! Why even “break” the ice at all? Why not just let it melt naturally and let people get to know each other as needed in the course of time? I have plenty of true friends and just because someone is in the same classroom as I am at the same time doesn’t mean I need to be “friends” with that person.

    • Debbie Sachs says:

      Hey, Michele! I’m a Customer Experience Manager with Cult of Pedagogy, and wanted to thank you for sharing your perspective. As a self-proclaimed introvert, who’s always in my head, thinking and reflecting, I too once found myself questioning ice breakers —- a lot! These activities more or less forced me to interact with strangers, definitely taking me out of my comfort zone. But I also found myself making really great connections with people I may not otherwise have made on my own. I would agree that it’s not necessary to be friends with everyone in the class, or know everyone’s birthday —- but I’m not sure ice breakers are intended for that. What I came to realize is that I started developing an appreciation for the way they created an immediate sense of belonging. Ice breakers seem to lay the necessary groundwork for building the trust, connections and relationships that are required for future higher stakes collaboration. I’m sure there are other ways teachers can do this; I just think day one is the day to start community building, and ice breakers are one means of doing that.

  55. Jennifer says:

    I love these ice breakers. I usually hate them myself. With the blobs and lines one, I did not understand how it encourages familiarity. I think I missed something.

    • Hey Jennifer! It just quickly helps students to see what simple things they have in common. Students tend to form cliques that can be tough to break up over time; something like Blobs and Lines crosses all kinds of boundaries and helps students see each other a bit differently. It also gets them moving and talking on easy topics.

  56. Carol Armstrong says:

    I’d love to be on your list. Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Debbie Sachs says:

      Hi! I’m one of the Customer Experience Managers with Cult of Pedagogy. We’d love for you to join us. Click here to find out more.

  57. Y Gonzales says:

    Hi there! I really appreciate your take on icebreakers as I am always looking for effective ones each year. I am GUILTY of using The Name Game year after year–I love it! It helps me remember 60 names by the third day of school. Since a positive adjective was required, it is lovely to hear the 5th graders call each other throughout the year like, “Sweet Serena, Jolly John Jr., Dynamic David, etc.” I STILL remember some of my classmates’ names from when I was in 6th grade and I’m 40 years old! I had to be “Youthful” because of my name, which was silly because hello, I’m a child, of course, I’m young. Haha.
    BUT I am teaching 7th and 8th grade for the first time this year and thanks to your post, I am kissing The Name Game goodbye! I understand what you’re saying about the social risks and I have to adjust my personality to respect that, truly! I am glad I ran across your post today.

  58. Anne Williams says:

    Thanks for the great ideas.

  59. Lisa says:

    Thanks so much. My class loved them, and wanted more the next day. They were really engaged the entire time.

  60. Lisa says:

    My favorite ice breaker is “two truths and a lie”. I used it myself when I was a substitute – I wrote three facts about myself on the board before the class arrived. Most of them read them when they got to class. When I told them that one of them wasn’t true, their eyes got big as saucers and there were gasps (5th grade). I then had the class vote which one they thought was the one that wasn’t true. It was a great way to break the ice with the class.

    I have thought of using this at the beginning of the school year by having the students write their three facts on index cards, then share in a small group and see who can guess the one that’s not true. Then I would have the students circle the one that’s not true and hand them in, so that I can learn a few things about them too.

    Yes, this is sharing things about yourself – but they don’t have to be overly personal for the icebreaker to work. Some of the best things are the simplest, “I have 3 brothers”, “My middle name is John”, “math is my favorite subject”.

  61. joan cullinane says:

    Just a warning, blobbing people by eye color is very close to blobbing by skin color. Also check out drama therapy websites for other exciting games. We invent them everyday

  62. Scott Ponzani says:

    Used these with my three high school music groups (one game each). The students *loved* them. We had time for only half of the prompts. I’ll use the other half and the other games on Fridays or days the doldrums have set in and they need energizing. Thanks heaps!

  63. helena fifer says:

    Thanks for these ideas! I am a little confused about “This or That.” How does the informal debate part work? Does everyone go up in front of the group and state his or her position before going to one side of the room or the other?

    • Debbie Sachs says:

      Hi Helena, I’m a Customer Experience Manager with Cult of Pedagogy. After reading a statement, students first choose a position, move to the side of the room that matches it, and then they take turns from either side talking about why they chose their position. If you haven’t already seen it, in the Icebreakers that Rock post, there’s a small section which briefly describes “This or That.” Also, if you scroll down to Step 2 in A Step-by-Step Plan for Teaching Argumentative Writing, you’ll find another example of what this might look like. Hope this helps and have fun!

  64. stephanie keating says:

    Just wanted to say this was a very enlightening post about not making things more awkward for this age group. I tried out “this and that” and “blobs and lines” in a group of about 10 6th graders the other day and they were both very successful. I heard lots of dialogue going on- esp in the Blob about chores 🙂 Thanks for gathering and sharing these and your helpful tips!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.