Virtual Icebreakers for Distance Learning

Creating a positive classroom culture is more important now than ever before, as many schools are starting the year virtually. This year, virtual icebreakers are beneficial for both teachers and students in fostering community, helping everyone get to know each other, and exposing students to new perspectives. While your usual icebreakers might translate well to an online space, here are some activity suggestions you can do virtually to connect with students and learn about their interests—just in case.

  • Virtual Background: Invite students to change their virtual background to a classroom-appropriate image of their choice. This is a great way for them to share a meaningful photograph or their favorite sports team!
  • Guess Who: Have students submit three to four facts about themselves to you in advance. After you present one student’s set to the class, their classmates will try to guess who it is. To make this more visual, ask students to send you a photo with their facts. You can create a slideshow to make it easy to collect and share the facts—plus, when you reveal each student using this method, the class can see their photo and name.
  • Common Ground: Using breakout rooms, assign students to groups of four or five, and ask them to find at least one thing they all have in common (besides being in the same class). Invite each group to share their commonality with the rest of the class.
  • Show and Tell: Ask students to pick one object that’s important to them and share it with their peers, explaining why it’s important to them. You can also divide students into groups with breakout rooms if you have limited time. Don’t we all love a little show and tell?
  • Where in the World: Have students choose one place they want to go on vacation and find an image of it. Using breakout rooms, divide the students into groups to share their chosen location and why they want to visit there. To make this more challenging, encourage students to come up with two to three clues about their chosen destination and turn it into a guessing game for the rest of the group!
  • Question of the Day: Start the day with a question posed on a discussion board or class chat, and instruct students to write their response. Some fun questions to ask are:
    • If you could be any character in a movie, who would you be?
    • If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you’d do?
    • If you could go on vacation with any famous person, who would it be and why?
    • If you could win an Olympic gold medal in any sport, what would you play?
    • If you had a signature sandwich, what would it be?
    • How would the world be different if animals could talk?
    • What is the best gift you’ve ever given?
  • Interviews: Assign students a partner and provide three to five questions for them to use in a mini-interview. Students can either record a video of their interviews or take turns completing live interviews virtually, with their classmates as the audience. This allows everyone to learn more about each other.
  • 60-Second Dance Party: Sitting at our computers the whole day is hard for everyone, so a great way to get the class energy-level back up is with a quick dance party! Ask students to submit appropriate songs they like to dance to in advance, and when your class needs a boost, play one of the songs! Once the dance break is over, you can share which student chose the song or have students guess who the guest DJ was for that dance session.

Hopefully, this list gives you fun and engaging icebreakers or sparks some ideas of your own. Getting to know your students might take some extra work this year, but finding ways to promote a positive classroom culture will last the entire school year. What are some of your favorite virtual icebreakers?

Erin Koster Blair is on the Curriculum and Academics Team at WorldStrides. She holds a MA in History and a BA in History and American Studies. Her professional interests include career exploration opportunities for students and social-emotional learning. Before joining WorldStrides, Erin was a high school social studies teacher. She also previously worked in museum education and at summer camps.