Classhacks: Ice Capades

We’re continuing our weekly Classhacks posts highlighting specific teaching tips and strategies for community college classrooms. We know you have some fabulous ideas, so share them with the rest of us.

ice breaker1Classes begin next week at our college, and many of us will ask our students to participate in an ice breaker activity. Some of us will avoid this activity, perhaps because of a perceived lack of time, a conviction that ice breakers aren’t of much value, or, most likely, because we have ourselves been victims of one too many awkward getting-to-know-yous at our own teaching conferences.

Lansing Community College’s website features a convincing list of six potential advantages of using ice breakers, as well as thirty-two different activities appropriate for community college students.

I’ve tested several different strategies in my own classes, but I was particularly pleased with the latest take. Because most of my students plan careers in healthcare, they need to practice working quickly in a group. And, as I remind them, “we don’t usually get to pick our group!” I made a list of topics, and I asked each small group to make a list of 5 items for a topic.  I set the timer for 2 minutes…no dawdling. At the end of the 2 minutes, each team shared its list. After each topic, I had one team member rotate to another group, changing the dynamic and maximizing interaction.largeicebreakersbest

Here are the topics that I used:

  1. Tastiest foods
  2. Least appealing foods to be found in a regular local grocery
  3. Best movies ever
  4. Best song ever
  5. Worst type of person to work with

studentgroupThe results are interesting and revealing. Who knew that so many young people harbor such intense dislike for cottage cheese? Why did one class’s best movie list consist of films like Fast & Furious and Iron Man while a comparable-looking class liked Shrek and The Notebook? It came as no surprise that the list of most-loathed personalities included “know-it-all,” “loudmouth,” and “rude,” but getting that right out in the open gave notice that such behaviors were taboo in our class. As I observed students compiling their lists, I formed initial impressions of which students would be outspoken leaders and which students might need deliberate encouragement to speak up in class.

We’d love to hear your favorite ice breaker tips and experiences. Please share.




2 comments on “Classhacks: Ice Capades

  1. kencasey99 says:

    I play the Why game as an old standard icebreaker. I model it first with a volunteer in class and then have students play in groups of two or three. The why game begins with the question why did you come to class today–followed up by consistent whys. Why do you want THAT?–in the best childlike tradition of “why mommy why?” The game ends when we get to a basic motivational “bottom line” for that person.

    • And there we have, in a nutshell, the difference between the Liberal Arts and Social Sciences and the Math/Science divisions. We Math/Science nerds make lists; you cultural types ask the profound questions like “Why?”
      If I asked my students why they are in my class, the majority would say, “It’s a prerequisite for _______ school or program.” I suspect the ultimate why would be “I want to help people.” Which gives me my first chance to point out…as I will many times…”it does no good to have a heart to help if you aren’t going to put in the work to have a head to go with it.”

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