Icebreakers for Remote Learning Environments

Class icebreakers
Students are anxious about starting this new school year; here are some icebreaker tips to help students ease back into academic life with online classes.

Breaking the ice. It’s an important first step in any group setting to get past the awkwardness and to make everyone feel just a bit more comfortable and welcomed. In particular, online icebreakers are a great tool to help students get to know their peers on a personal level and calm down some of those first week nerves. However, with many classes continuing to be online this upcoming term, it is important to find new ways to break the (virtual) ice.

Icebreakers for remote learning environments

Here are some virtual icebreakers that you can use in your classes to help students feel more welcomed in remote learning environments:

1. Where are we?

A simple icebreaker that works for in-person face to face classes, but is even more fun in a virtual setting. Post-secondary students come from all walks of life and it is important not only to recognize this, but appreciate it as well. To open up your first online lecture, ask some icebreaker questions like “Where are we?”. Have each of your students share with the class their name and program, where they are currently located for the school term, and what their favorite thing to do is at this location. This is a great icebreaker as it not only lets students introduce themselves to their classmates, but also provides them with a better scope of how global their classmates are. It can be pretty eye-opening when you realize that there are students from all around the world on that little computer screen in front of you..

2. Virtual background fun

If you’re using Zoom for your lectures, take advantage of its features! During your first few lectures, or even throughout the term, let your students enjoy the fun icebreaker ideas like setting their virtual backgrounds to something fun. For instance, for your first lecture, you can ask your students to set their backgrounds to be somewhere in their favorite movie,  fictional world or a favorite place and then have them explain what the background is of and why they chose it; perhaps it's a scene from a Batman movie, or a backdrop of Hogwarts for those Harry Potter fans. Other examples of what they could set their background to include:

  • Anywhere in the world they wish they could be right now
  • Their favorite meme
  • A picture that best represents their personality

You can even ask your students for ideas! Let them learn in a fun way

3. Group breakouts

Conducting group breakouts early on in the term is probably one of the best strategies you can implement to help your students feel more comfortable with their remote environments. While virtual meetings are different, where the small groups can be divided in Zoom's Breakout rooms, where the students gets to know each other and complete their activities. Depending on the size of your class, you can group students accordingly, such as in pairs or in larger groups of 4-6. Here are some prompts you can give your students to discuss while in their teams:

  • In 2 minutes, try to find as many things as possible that you have in common with your group in an online team meeting. This can be hobbies that you share, sports that you all like, or places you’ve all been to. Be creative with what you come up with, but remember, it has to be something  everyone has in common. Once time runs out, have one member from each group share with the class everything that you came up with.
  • In 2 minutes, have each member of the group share their biggest success story of 2020. This can be things like learning to bake for the first time, getting a co-op placement, or starting to work out. Together, try to find a commonality between each of your stories and come up with a motto that you will each carry with you throughout the school term. For instance, if everyone overcame adversity this year, your motto can be something like “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors”. Once time is up, have one representative share this motto and what inspired it with the rest of the class.

These are just a couple of potential prompts that you could use for your class, but there are plenty of others out there. Just remember to have fun with it!

4. Icebreaker games

Icebreaker games are a great way to break down barriers between virtual team members. Consider the icebreaker assembly warm-up, a work out you wish to dodge awkward spasms (conversations) throughout a meeting and build team rapport. It adds a fun element and interactivity to team meetings and brainstorming sessions. Reduces the feelings of isolation and loneliness between the team members.

Virtual team builders are used to form remote teams that will be able to participate in different fun activities performed through video conferencing. Some easily played virtual games include:

  • Virtual team games; trivia, impersonations
  • Online quiz icebreaker
  • Solve a murder; where students specifically will get involved in teamwork.
  • Quick 'Would you rather' questions
  • Two truths and a lie
  • Personality quiz

Fun activities have been a charm of real time classes, where all that was needed were the presence of students. Virtual activities where students can only interact in a video call, to make this fun for the students, to get them to know each other and develop team bonding among them, these team building activities go a long way.

5. Introductory discussion posts

If you don’t plan on conducting live lectures for your online class, another great way to break the ice for your students is to implement introductory discussion posts. Kritik’s discussion feature delivers a social aspect to courses that has been severely lacking since the transition to online learning. Through these discussion boards, students can share stories, ask questions, and even run polls. For an introductory discussion post, some general information you can ask your students include their name, what year they are in, and their program. However, to make these posts a little more fun and engaging, ask questions that bring out more of your students’ personalities. Some potential questions could be:

  • What new hobbies have you picked up since quarantine?
  • If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
  • What does your ideal career look like?

These discussion posts aren’t limited to the beginning of the term either. You can conduct fun polling questions throughout the term like “is a hotdog a sandwich?” or “is water wet?” and have your class choose sides and discuss! Regardless of what you come up with, your students will feel much more at ease about remote learning if they actually get the chance to interact with their peers.

Philip Tran
Education Researcher