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Icebreakers For Online Teaching

Written by Millennial In debt on September 7, 2020

It is no shock that this new school year, much like the end of the last one will be drastically different to what we were accustomed to. Once I knew where we were heading my first struggle was to find icebreakers for online teaching that my students would find effective and be engaged.  

We are going through unprecedented scary times, but teachers are superheroes. And I'm not just saying that because I'm a teacher, I'm saying that because when the world needed us most... we did not vanish. (And if you don't watch Avatar The Last Airbender to catch that reference... I'm judging you)

We stood in solidarity, and made sure our students had everything they needed to successfully finish out the school year. Despite the political nightmare surrounding opening schools up for the 2020-2021 school year, teachers are gearing up to do what they do best: show up and show out for the next generation. 


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I won't be returning to the classroom this Fall, and instead will be teaching full-time at least until January 2021. Because I have known this for a few weeks I've been updating many of my lessons to be more suitable for remote teaching. And trust me... it hasn't been easy. Things are still very much set up to do the typical traditional teaching style we are so accustomed to. So I decided to cultivate this list of 15 first day of school ice breakers for online teaching, so if you are in the same boat as me you will at least have a few resources in one spot at your disposal. 

Icebreakers For Online Teaching

15 First Day Of School Icebreakers For Online Teaching

1. Two Truths // 1 Lie

Let's start with the basics: 2 truths 1 lie. This icebreaker has been one that I have done in conjunction with others and it doesn't take much time, nor does it require any resources besides crafty students. The basis of this activity is for students (and yourself if you are comfortable jumping in) to come up with 3 statements. Two of those statements must be facts, and the third must be believable but fiction.

As you go around the room you have the kids share their 2 truths and one lie, while the other students try and identify the false statement. Sometimes I'll have students explain their truths if they are really unique or hard to believe. This is a great way for me to get to know the kids, and for the students to build community with each other as well. 

2. Table Topics

Table Topics is an idea I ran into over the summer when looking at cool games to play for game nights with my friends. Table Topics packs can be purchased from Amazon or you can make your own if you'd like. There are a wide variety of topics that can be discussed, and you can do it in both large and small group discussions. 

If you'd like to do breakout rooms using Zoom or Google Classroom you can have each room talking about a different topic or the same topic. There are so many different things you can do, and it doesn't only have to be a beginning of the year icebreaker. You can also choose to do table topics once a week, once a quarter...etc. 

3. Digital Bingo

Regular bingo has been one of my go to's for the last 6 years of my educational career. It is super easy, and I made the boards myself using Microsoft Word. Each square has a different topic/ statement and I had students walk around and ask each other to sign their bingo card if they matched the statement in one of their boxes.

Doing it digitally takes a bit more ingenuity and know how, but it is still very much possible and engaging remotely. You will need to use breakout rooms, and have the cards digitally available for the students before hand. Once you've done that you can have a little fun with it by adding in a timer, and having the kids rotate from room to room in order to fill in their BINGO cards while getting to know their peers. 

4. Three Words

I like this particular icebreaker for online teaching a lot because it can also be adapted to use in creative writing or brainstorming lessons/ activities as well. If you do end up using it as a first day icebreaker, now the kids are familiar with the process and can do it easier through the year. 

When doing he three word icebreaker you must agree on a topic. That topic can be as specific or as general as possible, but making it more general will lead to better responses in a shorter time. Once you've agreed on the topic you then have people add to a story. They can only add 3 words to that story and it must continue to align with the agreed upon topic. You can do this using Google Docs as a shared document with the students so they can continue the story together in one spot. 

If you have access to an online white board app/program like Padlet or Lino you can also have them share their word contributions there.

5. Lottery Win

This is another community team building icebreaker for online teaching that works well to improve creativity too. All this activity needs is a timer. You tell your students they have just won a large amount of money, and then give them a limited amount of time (5 minutes should be good enough) to come up with a list of what they would buy/ things they would do with that money. 

You can also do this activity in breakout rooms, or on the electric whiteboard board apps I've previously mentioned. Either way it is an easy way to get the kids talking and learn about their thought process/ what they may be interested in. 

6. Storytelling

Similar to three words, this icebreaker for online learning is all about creating a creative space for your students to share through their screens. This works/ aligns best in an humanities course like ELA and History, but with a bit of tweaking you can make it fit for just about any subject. 

I've done this activity many times in class, when I want to do a pre-reading activity with my students. You grab some images (can be random or can be aligned with a unit you're about to start). You can do this activity two different ways. You can create breakout rooms and give your students four-five different images. Then the students should be given a finite amount of time to come up with a narrative for the images. 

Once you re-group into a "whole class" setting, the students can share their narrative. You can also give each breakout room a different set of images instead of giving them all the same ones. You can also choose to give each break out room one image to build their narrative. I find that giving four images is enough to get a great story from them. 

7. Interview: Introduce One Another

This is another activity that I have used along the years that works well for team building. Pair off your students (or you can do groups of 3-4) and provide them with a set of 5 interview questions. Have them interview each other, and introduce one another once their interviews are over. This doesn't just help them get to know one another, it also tests their listening and communication skills. 

8. Hopes and Fears: Dreams & Nightmares 

I've done a few variations of this activity. The one I've loved the most is when I've turned it into a Candy Conference (which you can grab the free resources for that here). In this activity you set up questions and parameters that will allow the students to share their hopes and dreams for various things. It can be their hopes and dreams in general, their fears for the school year...etc. 

To keep track of these hopes and fears you should use Google Docs as a shared document with all of the students so they can add their hopes and fears, or you can use a digital white board app that allows for "sticky" post-it type visuals. 

9. Take A picture of something 

I work in an art school, so I am constantly trying to make sure I incorporate art into my lessons. This particular icebreaker will highlight the strengths of many of my students, while also piquing their interest. Have your students take a picture of anything they want to (of course remind them that the photos must be appropriate- I work in high school so friendly reminders are IMPORTANT). 

You can also guide the types of photos you get, but providing them with a theme to help their vision come to fruition. The students would share their picture (it can be on a visual board or it can be simply by them sharing their screen on Zoom or Google Classroom). Then you can start the discussion from there. Have students explain their picture, or if you're doing a Google shared document, you can have students comment on each other's photos. 

10. Meme/ Gif Me

I'm a millennial teacher, so that means that I am going to use Gifs and Memes consistently throughout the year, and yes... it will probably be cheesy sometimes. But... I don't care. You can have your students choose/ pick their favorite GIF or Meme to describe certain topics/ themes. 

I've done this using Google Chat because it is similar to iMessage. In doing so you can also have the kids directly respond to one another, like each other's comments ...etc. It's a great way to boost morale in commenting on things throughout the year as well, while incorporating creativity and humor into your lesson. 

11. One Word // One Image

This is another simple yet effective icebreaker for online teaching that doesn't require many resources on your end. Simply have the students use one word or one image to describe themselves. This can be a written assignment you have students comment on virtually (using Google docs) or you can do it live action on Google Meet and Zoom. 

12. Random Object

Out of all the icebreakers for online teaching I've mentioned in this post, this one is probably one of the easiest and can turn out to be one of the most fun. You have your students pick out a random object in their room/ home. Then you play a series of "21 questions" essentially to see if anyone can figure out or guess the random object.

What you want to remind your students when picking an object is not to make it too weird/unique but also not to make it too easy. All the questions the other students ask should also be "yes" or "no" questions. 

13. Achievements // Accomplished Goals

At some point in the beginning of the school year I always discuss the student's achievements or accomplished goals. An icebreaker you can try while online teaching is to have students share their achievement or accomplished goal that they are most proud of. To make it more interesting you can put a time frame on the achievement/ accomplished goal they choose to share. 

It is a positive icebreaker that allows the students to share things they are proud of while having others indirectly learn more about them. This is especially crucial when teaching Freshmen, which I'll be doing this year (I've actually been teaching Freshmen for the last 4 years). 

14. Describe yourself in a Tweet

This can be done in a few ways. The easiest way is to give your students a character/ word limit and have them share the "tweet" about themselves on a shared Google doc. To make it more collaborative you can also have students comment on each other's tweet description of themselves.

Another more complex way you can do this, is to actually have them create Twitter accounts and tweet the description themselves. This allows you to retweet their tweets on a classroom Twitter account. 

15. Time Machine

Last but certainly not least is the time machine icebreaker that lets your students choose a time they would like to exist in and why. It can be past, present, or future as long as they follow up their response with an explanation that allow for conversation with the class. 

I'm hoping that all of my educators out there found this post extremely helpful. First day of school (and I image it'll be the first few days) are scary, and setting the right tone will help get your year off to the right start. These icebreakers for online teaching are not only good for the first day, but also as we move thorough the year as a united front. If you found this post helpful don't be afraid to share this with your friends, family and nosey neighbors. You can also join the fam here and get notified of exclusive exciting news, and money saving challenges.

Until next time,

Hey there! I'm Melissa, co-founder of Trials n Tresses, natural hair and beauty lover, binge tv watcher and lover of life. When I am not creating content for TNT, I'm busy teaching the future of society.
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