Icebreakers, Team-Building and Cooperative Learning

Icebreakers are an effective way to help students feel more comfortable in your classroom and to get to know one another better. They are fun and interactive sessions that are held at the beginning of the semester.

Icebreakers create a more relaxed environment and allow students to share ideas and participate more fully in the course.  Students become more engaged in the classroom and so contribute more effectively towards a successful outcome.

Icebreakers also:

  • Help establish rapport with students and encourage a more productive learning environment
  • Help create a positive group atmosphere
  • Energize and motivate

When choosing activities consider what you want to achieve with an icebreaker.  Will you set the tone for your students or lead into course content in engaging ways?  Icebreakers do not always go as planned.  Flexibility and willingness to learn is part of building a positive and open learning community.

Introductory Ice Breakers are used to introduce participants to each other and to facilitate conversation amongst the participants.

  • The Little Known Fact: Ask participants to share their name and one little known fact about themselves. This “little known fact” becomes a humanizing element that can help break down differences such as status in future interaction.
  • True or False: Ask your participants to introduce themselves and make three or four statements about themselves, one of which is false. Now get the rest of the group to vote on which fact is false.
  • Connecting Stories- finding common experiences or themes between people.


Teambuilding can help students start working together more cohesively towards shared goals.

  • Connects and engages students.
  • A ‘student-centered approach’ encourages team- work and cooperation among students.
  • Encourages collaborative work with peers

Team Building Icebreakers

These icebreakers help to start interaction within the group.

  • Interviews: Ask participants to get into twos. Each person then interviews his or her partner for a set time while paired up. When the group reconvenes, each person introduces their interviewee to the rest of the group.
  • Problem Solvers: Ask participants to work in small groups. Create a simple problem scenario for them to work on in a short time. Once the group have analyzed the problem and prepared their feedback, ask each group in turn to present their analysis and solutions to the wider group.
  • The Human Web:  The facilitator begins with a ball of yarn. Keeping one end, pass the ball to one of the participants, and the person to introduce him- or her-self and their role in the organization. Once this person has made their introduction, ask him or her to pass the ball of yarn on to another person in the group. The person handing over the ball must describe how he/she relates (or expects to relate) to the other person. The process continues until everyone is introduced.  To emphasis the interdependencies amongst the team, the facilitator then pulls on the starting thread and everyone’s hand should move.
  • Ball Challenge: This exercise creates a simple, timed challenge for the team to help focus on shared goals, and also encourages people to include other people. The facilitator arranges the group in a circle and asks each person to throw the ball across the circle, first announcing his or her own name, and then announcing the name of the person to whom they are throwing the ball (the first few times, each person throws the ball to someone whose name they already know.) When every person in the group has thrown the ball at least once, it’s time to set the challenge – to pass the ball around all group members as quickly as possible. Time the process, then ask the group to beat that timing. As the challenge progresses, the team will improve their process, for example by standing closer together. And so the group will learn to work as a team.
  • Hope, Fears and Expectations: Best done when participants already have a good understanding of their challenge as a team. Group people into 2s or 3s, and ask people to discuss their expectations for the event or work ahead, then what they fears and their hopes. Gather the group’s response by collating 3-4 hopes, fears and expectation from pairing or threesome.

For more information on this strategy:

Cooperative learning

“Cooperative learning is the intentional use of student groups to facilitate learning. There are five elements considered necessary for successful cooperative learning. They are:

  • Positive interdependence (each individual depends on and is accountable to the others)
  • Individual accountability (each person in the group learns the material)
  • Promotive interaction (group members help one another)
  • Social skills (leadership, communication)
  • Group processing (assessing how effectively they are working with one another)

For more on cooperative learning, including guides to using it in the college classroom and research on its effectiveness, see the Cooperative Learning Institute web site:”


Chlup, Dominique T. and Collins, Tracy E. “Breaking the ice: Using icebreakers and re-energizers with Adult Learners,” Adult Learning 21, (3-4), 34-39.

Eggleston, T. & Smith, G. Building community in the classroom through ice-breakers and parting ways. Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology Online.

West, E. (1999). The Big Book of Icebreakers: Quick, Fun Activities for Energizing Meetings and Workshops.  New York:  McGraw-Hill.

L.K. Michaelsen in Davis, 2009. p.215