What insect would you ride?: The value of icebreakers in the virtual classroom

Very quickly it became clear that the virtual classroom operated a bit more clunkily than an in-person class. Classes were missing the chatter or just the noises of people inhabiting a room together that precede in-person classes.

I love starting each semester with a silly icebreaker, and this fall was no different. I asked students if they shrunk down to the size of AntMan, what insect would they want to ride and why? Answers ranged from terrifying bugs to scare off predators to riding monarchs to see the world during their migration. In both my undergrad and grad classes, students shared the serious and the silly, and it became clear that this was a way to get people talking at the beginning of the class.

Regularly, this academic year, I’ve led off classes with an icebreaker – sometimes I’ve googled at the last minute and grabbed the first one I found, sometimes students have contributed icebreaker ideas. Whatever we’ve chosen, it’s gotten everyone talking and engaged at the beginning of class.

Here are a couple favorites:

  • Basic questions that include a “why”: What’s your favorite color and why?
  • Scenario-based questions: if a giant hand came down from the sky and removed one random person from the earth each day, would you work together to try to stop it or ignore it and continue on?
  • Personal check-ins: If you had to describe how you’re feeling right now as a weather pattern, what’s your forecast?
  • Imagination questions: If you did not have to sleep, how would you spend the extra 8 hours?

In my in-person grad classes, I’ve often started with a content-related class starter (share an interesting point from the readings, for example). However, this experience has provided an opportunity to explore class community-building outside of the class content, and this is a trick I’m likely to keep in my toolbox after we return.

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