What a better way to start off a blog post than with a discussion of icebreakers? I work as an Academic Success Coach, which basically means I’m a study skills mentor, and into the first weeks of school, I am constantly using icebreakers. Typically seen as cheesy and repetitive, icebreakers are the general annoyance of college students in the first couple weeks of classes. Generally, a professor/teacher/mentor/etc. will ask students to give their name, year, major, and some interesting fact about themselves. I think this method is fairly ineffective as most students are probably too busy coming up with their “interesting” fact to pay attention to anyone else.
To change this boring routine, leaders need to find gripping icebreakers that allow students to pay attention. One of my favorite icebreakers includes a mini soccer ball with different prompts written on each. The idea is that you throw the ball to different people, and whichever their, say, right thumb lands on is the question they answer (also ask them to give their name, year, major…). Buy it here or make your own!
If you have a smaller group of people (or can’t get your hands on a soccer ball), you could prepare a list of questions or prompts and ask each student to answer one. I’ve also seen where someone will take a bouncy ball and write prompts on there.
I would say the best way to keep students engaged in who they’ll be spending the next semester with is to keep it spontaneous. When you list one question (“tell us about an embarrassing time in your childhood”), you’re telling your students to ignore everyone else while they think of an acceptable embarrassing story. The point of icebreakers is to allow your students a chance to speak up in front of a new group of people and to start to learn each other’s names. Give students a chance to process whatever question you ask them. Icebreakers don’t have to move at lightning speed.
If you do ask students the same question, make it fun and quick to come up with the answer so they have more time to focus on each other. I have had two really good icebreakers that asked the same question: What is your biggest pet peeve? and Pick an item on your person or photo on your cell phone that represents who you are (or one part of who you are). the main reason these two were so successful was that the leader gave us time to think of our answer before having us answer.
- Stay away from intimidating questions
- Stay away from the same boring routine
- Be spontaneous with your questions
- Give them time