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Ice Breakers in the Virtual Classroom

Photo by Christian Regg on Unsplash

It's that time of year again...back to school. Except this year, everything is new and different. For many, there are no happy faces walking into the classroom; instead, they're popping up in individual boxes on a Zoom call (or a Google Hangout or a Microsoft Teams Call...every district has their platform of choice).

This is my second year teaching for Constellation Learning, a group of educators that provide online learning opportunities to schools across the country. My class meets in a live meeting once a week and all other work is done asynchronously. These students come from different school across the country, and many have never taken an online class before.

The level of awkwardness in the first class is not to be believed. These are high school students meeting other students for the first time virtually.

One of my biggest success this year (thanks to Cult of Pedagogy) was my virtual ice breaker activities. These are activities that we could easily do in the classroom but worked just as well in an online format. I started by sharing my Google Slides Presentation with my students and giving them editing access. Each student chose a pre-made square, put their name in it, and chose a color for it.

Then came the activities:

Activity 1: Line up by/Gather with...

Here's the screen where we created all of our names in boxes (Mrs. Hayes is me -- I use my married name for this class). This worked well because it was a small class but I'm sure it would work just as well with a large group. I then gave them a prompt and asked them to organize their squares. The first one was easy: Line up in alphabetical order by your first names. This question required no talking from students and ensured all the tech pieces of this worked.

Then came the other questions. These required students to actually talk to each other. I stayed out of it as much as possible.

When they lined up by birthdays, it looked like this:

Questions I've used for this activity that worked:

  • Line up in alphabetical order by your last names.

  • Gather with people who have the same eye color as you.

  • Gather with people who get to school in the same way as you (car, bus, walk).

  • Line up in order of your birthdays, from January 1 through December 31.

  • Line up in order of how many languages you speak.

  • Gather with people who have the same favorite season as you.

  • Gather into 3 blobs: Those who have LOTS of chores at home, those who have A FEW chores at home, and those who have NO chores at home.

Gather with questions simply asked them to clump in groups. They had to talk and figure out how to do this.

Activity 2: Would you rather...

I created a slide that had two corners: this or that. Then, I'd read them a would you rather question and ask them to move their block to this (the first option of the question) or that (the second option).

Here are the questions I've used:

  • Would you rather live in the country or the city?

  • Should all students be required to learn a second language - yes or no?

  • Which is worse: bad breath or body odor?

  • Would you rather be indoors or outdoors?

  • Which is better: Playing sports or watching sports?

  • Would you rather travel every single day or never leave home?

  • Would you rather travel 100 years back in history or 100 years into the future?

  • Would you rather live in the desert or in the Arctic?

  • Would you rather live forever or be remembered forever?

There are many more options out there for ice breakers, especially in an online environment. Comment with some that you've used!


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