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The First Week – Icebreakers Online

As Palloff and Pratt noted in their 2007 book Building Online Learning Communities that building a learning community begins in the first week of class.  One way to kick start this is to have a fun icebreaker online before diving in to the course content.  Just as in a face-to-face class, an icebreaker tends to establish the presence of each individual and open those critical lines of communication.

Icebreakers are a great way of establishing social presence – for both students and you as the professor.  Conrad and Donaldson, in Engaging the Online Learner (2003), suggested that online icebreakers should be fun, creative, expressive, and focused more on the personal life than the academic life.  For them, an effective icebreaker:

  • Is fun and non-threatening
  • Is person-focused and not content-focused
  • Requires learners to read and respond to each others’ entries
  • Requires learners to find commonalities with others in the class
  • Requires a learner to be imaginative or express genuine openness

Some examples of icebreakers:

  • Teaching With Technology Icebreaker Ideas
    This wiki contains a variety of icebreakers that can be used with online classes.  We have used the what superhero are you, three websites you visit, books your are reading, and find things in common between yourselves techniques.

  • Name that Movie
    If you were to write the musical score to your life, what two songs would you pick...and why?  For others, based on these two songs, what title would you give the movie made about this person's life?  Have fun with this!

  • Truth and Lies
    Enter two truthful statements and one falsehood about yourself into the discussion board.  Other students then try to distinguish the truths from the lie.  If you are as outrageous with your truths as your lies, this can be a fun exercise in which we learn a great deal about each other.

  • If I Were an Appliance
    Which kitchen appliance best describes you?  And why?  Then comment on the other appliances with which you would like to hang out.

  • Snowball
    Introduce yourself as faculty, including personal interest items.  The next person should not only enter basic information about her or himself, but should find one thing in common with the first entry.  This continues with each student entering an introduction and noting three people where they find they have something in common.  In turn, students should begin responding to others with whom they found they had something in common.

For additional ideas, see what Southern New Hampshire University faculty shared as icebreaker ideas

Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 09/22/2009
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