Build Community and Foster Belonging Using Icebreakers

Using ice breakers and other activities throughout the semester allows students to get to know one another and to begin to see and care about each other as individuals, building and maintaining community. Icebreakers allow students to see connections with other students, fostering belonging.

Sample Icebreakers for Cultivating Community

Sample social icebreakers from Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning:

  • Put students in pairs.
  • Create and distribute a handout with a few questions as a conversation starter: What is your name? What is your academic major? Why did you choose your major? Why are you taking this class?
  • Ask students to alternate interviewing each other.

(Barkley et al., 2014, p. 59)

  • Put students in different groups of 3-4. In their groups, students list as many things as they can that they all have in common.
  • Each group reports back to the rest of the class after the small group discussion.

(Barkley et al., 2014, p. 60)

Soundtrack of your life
  • Have students share a) a set of 5-10 songs that represent the soundtrack of their lives or b) a set of 6 songs with 2 representing their past, 2 representing their present, and 2 representing their future.
  • Then ask students to explain why they included each song.

(Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2010, p. 62)

Where are you from?
  • On a shared map (e.g., interactive response map on PollEverywhere), ask students to add their name, location, and introduce themselves, and identify one interesting fact about their location.

(McGrath et al., 2014)

Your favorite quote
  • On a virtual whiteboard (e.g., Zoom whiteboard, Google Jamboard) or other online platforms (e.g., discussion boards on CourseWorks, Google slides or documents), ask students to post their favorite quote and explain why.
  • Then have students respond to posts of other students’ that resonate with them. They could either leave a comment or “like” others’ posts.

(Chlup & Collins, 2010)

Icebreaker Grab Bag curated by the Inclusive Teaching at University of Michigan (loads as PDF)

Icebreakers related to course content or academics

  • Invite students to look through the syllabus and share what topic they find most appealing. Have them share in groups of 3-4, and discuss similar and different choices.
  • In groups, share how you learn best: What kind of learning environment, teaching styles and activities enable you to learn deeply and thoroughly? 
  • Put students into groups of five and give them 10 minutes to come up with an idea for a new movie or product that is related to a text or topic related to your course. After ten minutes of preparation, have groups  share their pitch with the rest of the class; when everyone has shared, have everyone vote on which pitch deserves “funding.”
  • Create your own “RiceBreaker” (Spry, 2022)–an icebreaker that connects to course content and demonstrates the value of different perspectives. In a class on Identity Politics, for example, Spry asks students: “How does your family or culture cook rice?”

Icebreakers for asynchronous classes

These can easily be done through a discussion board. Here are some sample activities:

  • Virtual Name Tags. Create a discussion board that provides a “name tag” template:

Hello, my name is:

My major is:

In my spare time, I like to:

My favorite food is:

Ask students to complete and post their name tags as a reply to your thread. Then have them look for others they have something in common with and reply to their posts.

  • Useless Talent Show. What is one thing you can do that is a “useless” skill or talent? Have students vote on the best “useless” talent or ones they would like to learn.


Resources and References

Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Community Building in the Classroom. Retrieved January 11, 2023 from

Spry, Amber B. (2022)..The #RiceBreaker: Facilitating Intercultural Dialogues in the Classroom by Engaging Shared Experiences, Journal of Political Science Education, DOI: 10.1080/15512169.2022.2116711


CK 01.11.23

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