Icebreaker exercises online: some thoughts about use and value

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Anthony Buono, (2019) as part of the ‘Preparing for High Impact Organizational Change’ book looks at the use of icebreaker exercises as a way of initially engaging participants, opening them up and setting the stage for learning, reflection, and sharing. An underlying problem, however, is that many, if not most, exercises of this nature typically make people feel ill at ease; instead of engaging them, they make participants feel awkward and uncomfortable. It is not that such exercises do not work or should not be used – as he suggests, “they can and they should” – but they need to be clearly related to and focused on the topic under study. 

Two recommendations – COMPULSORY reading for us online educators! 

  1. really really really recommend this blog called simpliteach.comrun by award winning online educator Dr Liz Hardy. Sign up for the blog updates and you can download a free copy ‘The smartest way to get brilliant student feedback’  
    I follow her on twitter @SimplTeach  

And have used these techniques in the past to great effect: 

  1. The other is the latest research about the pivot to online: 

Nordmann, E., Horlin, C., Hutchison, J., Murray, J.-A., Robson, L., Seery, M., and MacKay, J. R. D. D., (2020). 10 simple rules for supporting a temporary online pivot in higher education [online]. Available from: is a powerpoint ‘step through’ 10 simple steps: the evidence 

summary guide by Anne Quinney from FLIE – 10 simple rules 


Here are some single powerpoint icebreakers that staff learning about teaching online shared:

Griffith in Australia have a large online cohort – lots of links and ideas for here: 

University of Wisconsin have a suggested icebeakers for the first week of their online programmes:

And  Futurelearn have free courses on how to teach online, ranging from a few hours a week to a full MOOC:

send any examples and i am happy to add and credit you/ your institution

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