Tip Sheet: Icebreakers in Remote Teaching

It’s always important to build a sense of community in a class, because belonging is a predictor of students’ personal and academic thriving—but it’s all the more urgent, and also more challenging, in a virtual classroom. This tipsheet is here to help you intentionally create opportunities for students to get to know each other and become invested in one another and the course. They also build relationships between you and the students. In this way, you can prevent the “distance” in distance learning from becoming not just physical but emotional and intellectual as well.

What Are Icebreakers For?

As our Teaching Commons page on Starting the Semester suggests, getting to know one another is one of the first steps to building community. In a presentation on the subject, Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching & Service names these potential benefits of icebreakers:

  • Icebreakers give instructors an idea of the identity of each student
  • Icebreakers can create cohesion, act as a reflection tool, and create trust 
  • They allow students to “share” what they want and need others to know

Ideas for Icebreakers

That same CSJ presentation lists several great ideas for exercises. More broadly, as we suggest on our Teaching Commons, icebreakers can be simple: 

  • Have students introduce themselves to one another in breakout rooms
  • Ask students to share: 
    • basic information (e.g., year in school, where they’re from, academic major, etc.) 
    • course-relevant information (e.g., why they’re taking the class, how this course connects to other ones they’ve taken, what they’re most excited/nervous about, etc.)
    • or less typical information (e.g., students’ unusual skills, the furthest place from DC they’ve ever been, a common food they’ve never tried, etc.). 

Icebreakers can also be more complex: 

  • Games and activities that build relationships (e.g., “two truths and a lie”)
  • Reflections on the learning process (e.g., What’s the best academic experience you ever had, and what did you, the teacher, and your fellow students do to make that happen?)
  • Engagements with the course material (e.g., working together to solve a relevant thought problem).” 

Whatever exercises you’re considering using, you’ll need to think through how your idea will work in the online space, and it’s important to remember that breaking the ice only sounds like something you’ll have to do once; in order to build and sustain community, you’ll want to give students a number of different kinds of opportunities to get to know each other.

Additional Resources

Resources created for in-person teaching but with ideas that can be applied to remote classes:

Resources specifically designed for online teaching: