Breaking the Ice: Classroom Introductions

Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy breaking lake ice.
USCG Icebreaker Healy

Whether you are teaching adults a college course lasting several weeks, workers about a new process in a half-day training, or conducting on off-site seminar lasting a few days, breaking the ice establishing norms, and identifying expectations is a critical first step. Setting the stage is an often overlooked learning activity by inexperienced trainers. New trainers believe the time available to puke out their information is too valuable to waste getting to know each other, what comes next in class, or how student performance will be evaluated. However, adults learn better when they know something about the others in class, understand class expectations, and know how their learning will be evaluated. Using these suggested activities will help you create a climate to prepare your adult students to learn at their best. Tailor introductory activities to meet your time frames.


Introductions are important. It is easy to stand at the front of the class and brag about your background, then go around the room asking each student to share their name and something about themselves. That really does little to help students connect to each other. There are dozens of ice breaker ideas. Here are two.

Ask students to break out into groups of three to six. Have them select a recorder. Each student reports one thing that makes them unique, what they do in their current work position, any special resources they bring to the class, and a question or concern they have about the class (i). Give the groups 15 to 20 minutes to work on the exercise and then report back to the class. This activity allows a small group to meet with others, and the whole class to develop an understanding about the class members as a whole.

Group of people putting their hands in the center of the group.
Student introduction exercises are more effective when students actually talk to each other.

A second introduction activity is a mixer. During this activity, students form two lines facing each other. For two minutes the pairs discuss whatever they want. At the end of the two minutes, everyone moves to their right or left, those on the end spin around facing the opposite direction. Repeat as many times as desired (ii). This activity allows each student to meet several students and know something about the others.

Setting Expectations

Stephen Covey talks about seeking first to understand. You can do this in your class by finding out what your students expect during class. Ask the class what they expect to take from the class. You may choose to record these expectations on a flip chart or whiteboard. Completing this exercise allows you to understand what students think about the topic of the class. You may find that some of their expectations are not in line with your learning objectives. This provides you an opportunity to adjust your training to meet student expectations, or explain why the training is not set up to meet those expectations.

Now that you understand their expectations, you share yours. Your list may include expectations about breaks, class participation, note taking, or any other expectation you want to share. This activity allows students to understand how best to interact with each other, the material, and you during the training or educational event.

Tell Students about the Class

In this part of the introduction, tell the students how you conduct your class. Letting students know you ask lots of questions helps them prepare answers. Likewise if they know you are going to present some material, ask some checks on learning questions, and follow up with a group activity for each learning step, they can mentally prepare and know what comes next. Tell them if you are planning on doing individual worksheets, small group exercises, videos, and what to expect in the way of slide decks.

Introduce your learning goals. Depending on the course of instruction, you may have one or several terminal learning goals. Each terminal learning goal may be supported by one or more enabling learning goals. Develop one or more task steps or learning activities to support each enabling learning goal. During the initial introduction, provide only the terminal and enabling learning goals. Introduce the supporting task steps and learning activities at the being of the block of instruction for that learning goal.

A group of students sitting around a computer working on a group learning exercise.
Students need a variety of activities to remain engaged. Telling them what learning activities happen in class prepares them to participate well.

Tell students how they will be evaluated. No one likes a pop test at the end of training. Let them know if there will be a test. Will it be a written, hands-on, or a little of both. If written, how is the test constructed; short answer, multiple choice, fill in the blank, etc. Adult students need to know how they will be evaluated so they can participate in ways that maximize their individual learning styles.

Tell Them about You

Before you talk about yourself, talk about the facility. Where are the bathrooms and emergency exits? Are there any safety issues they need to know? What is they wifi password? These are simple things that reduce stress.

Now introduce yourself. Bragging turns off people. Tell a story that is relevant to what students will be learning. Tell students why your story is important to help them learn. Share why you made choices you made, and how those choices affected your learning. Be modest. Let students know you made a mistake or two on your journey. Your mistakes communicate you are still learning and it is okay for them to make mistakes in class. The whole point of your introduction is to establish, in a personable way, why students should listen to what you say.

Explain your teaching and leadership style. Let them know if you prefer to be contacted at a certain time of the day. Provide contact information so they can reach you with questions after class.

A quality introduction sets the stage and establishes the climate for your training or educational event. Students develop a better understanding of others in the class with brief introductions establishing trust. They know your expectations, those of other students, and have an opportunity to share their expectations with you. Introducing learning objectives ensures students understand the topics they will learn. Discussing how learning will be evaluated allows students to prepare for the evaluation. Letting students know something about you establishes reasons they should trust you as a teacher and instructor. Tailoring introduction activities to the time allowed for the training ensures students are prepared to learn. This learning step is easy to skip, but reduces the effectiveness of training. Experienced professionals use introductions to create a positive learning environment for their students.

————- Photo Credits ————–

By U.S. Coast Guard/DoD – DoDMedia, Public Domain,

All hands in by from Pexels

Huddled around computer by Fox from Pexels

———- References ———-

iKnowles, Malcolm S. Designs for adult learning. (2009) American Society for Training and Development. Alexandia , VA.

iiPeterson, Deb. Adult ice breaker games for classrooms, meetings, and conferences. (2018). ThoughtCo. Retreived from lassroom-ice-breaker-31410 1/20/19.