Icebreakers to Reduce Stress and Build Connection

No matter what format your course will occur in this fall, we have some icebreaker suggestions provided by current students to get your class talking, connecting and feeling more open from the first day onward. 

These icebreaker suggestions work well in an in-person class session, live on Zoom and even in a CarmenCanvas discussion board. 


This open-ended icebreaker allows students to choose how much they’d like to share with the class and allows the class to learn more about each other personally and academically.  

How it works:

To get started, explain the acronym and then allow students to popcorn around the room. In smaller groups, have everyone go through this if time allows. Larger groups could be limited to only those who feel comfortable sharing. 

  • Ourself - Name, pronouns, where you are from
  • How I am feeling - can be interpreted in any way
  • Interest of mine - can be interpreted in any way
  • Objective - Why are you taking this class (if a class)? What is a goal you have for your time at Ohio State? 

Dream Study Space

This is a fun way to get people talking and feeling more relaxed – it’s best suited for a smaller course. 

How it works:

Encourage your students to take some time to find an image or come up with a description of their ideal study space. It can be anywhere: on the moon, at a beach, in an undersea cavern, in the library of their favorite fantasy series, anywhere! 

Start the discussion by explaining to the class what your dream space is and why you would rather work there. Then, go around the room and have each person share with the class the reasoning behind their dream study space.

If your course is being held over Zoom, have students set their virtual background to a photo of their dream study space. This will get them familiar with the feature and give the rest of class a fun flair.

18 & Under

Students get to know more about each other’s passions and accomplishments prior to college. 

How it works:

Students each share an accomplishment or point of pride that occurred before they turned 18. This can be done live or on a Carmen discussion board. 

Raise Your Hand

Great for larger classrooms, this icebreaker helps illustrate how much students have in common and can highlight the variety of experiences in your classroom.

How it works:

Ask 3-5 (or more) questions that involve being new to campus or activities done in quarantine. Students then raise their hand if they answer "Yes" to the question. Encourage people to look around and see how similar their feelings are to others. These questions could also be tied to introductory course content. 

If your course occurs over zoom, suggest that students use the raise hand or reaction features.

Questions might include: 

  • I have baked some form of bread/unique baked good during quarantine. 
  • I felt unsure of how a college class would be run before today. 
  • I binged a new Netflix series during quarantine (maybe ask if anyone wants to share). 
  • I am excited to begin my time at Ohio State. 
  • I am viewing this Zoom session from outside of Columbus. 
  • I am not originally from Ohio. 

Virtual Show and Tell 

Best for a synchronous online class, this lighthearted icebreaker allows students to share a bit about their current environment.

How it works:

Each student should select an item near them and come up with a story about it. This story can be made-up or real, funny or serious, and is typically 30 seconds or less in length. You can start the activity by sharing a story for an item in your environment and then calling on another member of class to share theirs. Larger groups could be limited to only those that feel comfortable sharing. This can also be done on Carmen in a discussion board format or by uploading and sharing a video about their object.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Adaptable for many course types and formats, this is a fun way for students to share about their lives outside of class and practice using the discussion board feature in Carmen.

How it works:

Before class, create a Carmen discussion post that is labeled something along the lines of "Summer/Quarantine Memory." During class, encourage students to visit the Carmen discussion and post a picture of themselves or something they did from the last few months. This is a great way to ensure your students have practiced using the discussion board feature in Carmen if you plan to use it later in the course. 

If doing this in-person, you could scroll through the Carmen discussion (with a projector so everyone can see what you’re viewing) and encourage students who have unique pictures to introduce themselves and give a brief explanation. If you have a small enough class, have everyone introduce themselves and describe their picture. 

If doing this through a Zoom session, encourage students to follow the same steps as above. You could then share your screen on Zoom and scroll through the pictures to follow the same process above. If doing this in a Carmen discussion, you could simply have the students post the picture and then provide a brief introduction of themselves and some context to their photo!

Personal Journey

Whether done in person, over Zoom or on a discussion board, this icebreaker encourages your students to consider the variety of experiences present in the classroom.

How it works:

The goal of this icebreaker is to encourage your students to answer the question “how did you get here?”.

For major courses, that could mean explaining why they chose their major. For a GE course, that could mean explaining why they chose your class. For a class with mostly first-year students, that could mean explaining how they ended up at Ohio State. For nontraditional undergraduate students, that could be explaining why they decided to start taking classes. 

Encourage your students to tell a story and avoid simply saying “because I want to be a teacher” or “because I needed a GE credit.”

This icebreaker works well in smaller courses or in a larger course divided into discussion groups. Over Zoom, students should be encouraged to turn on their cameras when they talk to the class. This could also be a Carmen discussion board.