Icebreakers and Name Games

When instructors and students learn one another’s names and a bit about one another’s lives outside the classroom, everyone feels more comfortable. This often means that students are more willing to ask questions, to take risks during class discussion, and to feel accountable for what happens in class.

Here are a few simple tricks for learning student names and for teaching students their classmates’ names . Names can take a few days to learn; it’s a good idea to play a “name game” once during each of the first three or four class meetings.

Learning Students’ Names

1. Provide index cards and markers so that students can make nametags. Collect them at the end of class so that you can redistribute them and use them for the first week or so.

2. Have students say their names each time before they speak, and continue the discussion by calling on another student by name.

3. Use students' names as often as possible.

4. Ask students to photocopy their ID cards (or print the photos off of Toolkit’s class roster). Use the photos to make “flashcards” to practice learning their names.

5. Have students prepare a "Passport" for your class. Students glue a snapshot on a note card for the instructor. Instructors may want to encourage students to use photos which showcase other personal items of the student (i.e. a picture of the student with his/her pet). Additional subjects in the photos help make the person memorable. Ask students to write in information about background, hobbies, goals, etc.

6. Use visualization techniques. For example, if a student is named Ray, picture the student with sunrays beaming out of his head; for a student named Bill, imagine a duck bill instead of a mouth. (Really, this works for some people.)

Name Games and Ice Breakers

1. Picnic: (An elementary school classic; it’s best to acknowledge at the beginning that it’s a little hokey.) Tell students you are going on an imaginary picnic. Ask the students to go around the room introducing themselves by saying their names and a food to bring that begins with the first letter of the name. (I’m Greg and I’m bringing grapes.) The next person must give the names and foods of everyone who came before, then his/her own name (That’s Greg and he’s bringing grapes; I’m Alice and I’m bringing applesauce.) Instructors usually go last, so that they have to repeat everyone’s name.
Variation: Have students bring objects more closely related to the class content: for a literature class, students might bring famous authors; for a class on animal rights, they might bring animals.

2. Ask students to introduce themselves, giving their names and one unusual bit of information. Choose a common theme: ask students to reveal what food from home they won’t miss, the kind of animal they would like to be reincarnated as, or their favorite movie. Again, you might want to have students give information related to the content of the class.

3. Ask students to introduce themselves by saying their names and revealing what one (visible) article of clothing reveals about them. (For example, I’m Robin and these sneakers reveal how boring I am because I wear them every single day, or I’m Max and this shirt reveals how organized I am because I knew I would be wearing it four days ago.

4. Ask students to introduce themselves by telling everyone some part of the story of their names: Were they named after someone? Does their name mean something special? Do they think their name suits them? Is it hard to pronounce? Do they have a nickname, and if so, how did they get it? Do they wish they were called something else?

5. Secret Talents: Give each student an index card. Ask everyone to write down on the card something not immediately apparent about themselves: a secret talent or obsession—I know how to juggle, or when I was ten I demanded that everyone call me “The Fonz,” or I know all the words to “The Sound of Music.” Students should not write their names on the cards. Then, collect the cards and redistribute them; ask students to check to make sure they don’t receive their own back again (if they do, just give them a different one). Next, students should find the person whose card they received (this means everyone will have to get up and move around). They will need to introduce that person to the group, giving just the name and talent. When everyone has had time to find the person whose card they have and to talk a bit, select one person to begin the introductions. Then, the person just introduced will introduce the person whose card she received, and so on.

6. Personal Ads: Give each student an index card. Ask them to write a personal ad about themselves, not including any details about personal appearance, just likes/dislikes/hobbies. (You may want to warn them that the cards should be G-rated, something they wouldn’t be embarrassed to let your grandmother read.) Then, redistribute the index cards and ask people to find the person whose card they received (this means everyone will have to get up and move around). They will need to introduce that person to the group, giving just the name and talent. When everyone has had time to find the person whose card they have and to talk a bit, select one person to begin the introductions. Then, the person just introduced will introduce the person whose card she received, and so on.

7. Dopey Questions: Ask everyone to stand up. Tell them you will be asking them to get information about three different classmates, and that for each question, they should try to find someone whose name they don’t know or with whom they haven’t spoken much. First, they should find someone and ask what three things are always in his/her refrigerator. (Allow a few minutes for conversation, then get everyone’s attention.) Next, everyone should find a new partner and ask the name of the band that played at the first concert he/she ever attended. (Allow a few more minutes.) Finally, everyone should find another partner and ask for a description of his/her most spectacular childhood injury. (Again, you might want to include a question related to course content.) At the end of class, see if they can remember the names, faces, and answers of the three people they met.

8. Have students pair up and introduce themselves. After a fair amount of time, the partners are asked to introduce each other to the class. Special points to address in the interview could be: the partner's name, major, background, future goals, etc. After 1/3 of the people have been introduced, ask the class to do a quick recap of the people who have been introduced and then continue with introductions.
Variation: Each student introduces his/her partner by giving the partner's name and one piece of unusual information (such as those in #2 and 6).

9. Students interview each other using questions such as unique traits, unusual hobbies, proudest moment, most prized possession, most unusual accomplishment, etc. Students then introduce their partner to the class. After everyone has been introduced, hold a memory test. The instructor begins by stating his/her name as he/she holds on to the end of a string from a ball of yarn. The instructor tosses the ball to someone and says something like, "I'm tossing the ball to Greg because I remember that Greg wrestles alligators in his spare time." The pattern continues until everyone in the class is connected. The class members then do the same thing in reverse as they untangle themselves and talk about the person immediately before them.
(Option: While all class members are connected, the instructor may want to use the connected students as a model to explain how the class will grow from a collection of individuals to a network of educated students over the course of the semester.)

10. Scavenger Hunt: Make up a sheet of traits with blank lines beside them. Some of the traits might be quite general (“Likes to wake up before 7 a.m.” or “Has never seen “The Brady Bunch.” ) others might relate to the course content (“Read Wuthering Heights in High School” or “Can define ‘pi’”. Pass out the sheets, and ask students to wander around the room, finding a classmate to fit each trait and writing down his/her name. The one rule is that a student can use a person only once to complete his/her sheet.

11. Put students in groups of four. Then challenge the group to come up with five things they all have in common. Five is a nice odd number that will require some discussion to achieve (if you require four things in common, each member may just choose one and present it on behalf of the group). The one restriction is that the students can't use school- or work-related items. Personal items such as favorite music, books they've read, where they've traveled to, etc. work best.

12. Ask students to get into groups of 2 or more. Each student must find something in his/her wallet that would help the group understand who they are. Although pictures are a satisfactory option, encourage the students to search for the most creative things they can find.

13. M&Ms (you can be crazy and substitute any small candy): Pass around a bowl of M&Ms, encouraging people to take as many as they want. Tell them they can't eat them yet. One or two will always take a big handful. Once everyone has some in front of them, tell them that for every M&M they took, they have to volunteer one interesting fact about themselves.

14. Deck of Cards: Pass around a deck of cards and have everyone pick a card. According to their suit, they have to reveal different pieces of information about themselves.

15. Koosh ball/juggling ball: Koosh ball game, juggling ball game : Everyone gets in a circle after names have been given. Teacher starts: "I'm Andrea and I'm throwing the ball to Sally." Sally then throws it to someone else, mentioning them by name, and so on until everyone has had the ball. If the ball drops, start over. Play a couple of rounds (people must throw to different partners each time) until everyone is well and tired; then, for the last round, begin and then once it's going introduce 3 more balls into the mix. The game starts moving very quickly; chaos and hilarity ensue. . . Note: This game is probably best played after a couple of classes have gone by and students know at least a couple of other people’s names.

(Some techniques and games from the Teaching & Learning Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln)