DoingCL - Ice breakers





Ice breakers

Ice breakers encourage an air of openness and trust within the classroom setting, and help overcome the initial uncomfortable feeling some people have when first placed in a group. Here are a few suggestions:

Uncommon Commonalties and the Team Name
One ice breaker recommended by Kagan (1992) has team members list characteristics shared by group members in columns: one for those shared by 1 group member, another for items shared by 2 group members, 3 group members, etc. Once the lists have been generated, a team name based on the commonalties of the group members is chosen by consensus. Kagan also recommends the following guidelines be followed:

Brainstorming the Team Name
Group members are given five minutes to brainstorm followed by five minutes to reach consensus. Again, if tried, it is important that some guidelines be given to students on how to reach consensus.

Three-Step Interview
The Three-Step Interview first pairs two group members, preferably two who don't know each other. One student is assigned the role of interviewer while the other student is interviewed. Besides the cursory information such as name and major, the students are given a course-related open-ended question. After a specified time, the student roles are switched. After the second interview, the two pairs come together to form a group of four and each group member introduces the student they interviewed. If the number of students isn't divisible by four, one or two three-student half-groups can be formed. They can either work as a team of three or join with a two-member group to form a five-member group (Millis and Cottell, 1998; Robertson, et al., 1994).

Posing Questions
Finally, students can be give questions to discuss with their group. For example, "What three positive outcomes do you expect to have working in collaborative learning groups?" followed by "What three negative outcomes do you expect to have working in collaborative learning groups?" This can be followed by the instructor writing on the board the positive and negative experiences or concerns the students have. This techniques opens the doors to explaining why the instructor wishes to use collaborative learning groups and what concerns he/she may also have. (Click here to see what chemistry students in Cathy Middlecamp's class thought were the advantages and disadvantages of collaborative learning groups. These answers might help prepare an instructor to address some student concerns.)

A variation of the above technique is suggested by McKeachie (1994). He asks student to write down their feelings on the first day of class. After soliciting their responses, he then asks them to write down what they think their instructor is feeling. Again, in a collaborative learning setting, this would open the door to discuss the instructor's hopes and concerns using groups.

Kagan, S. (1992) Cooperative learning. San Juan Capistrano, CA: Resources for Teachers, Inc.

McKeachie, W. J. (1994). Teaching Tips, 9th edition, D. C. Heath and Company.

Millis, B. J., and Cottell, P. G., Jr. (1998). Cooperative learning for higher education faculty, American Council on Education, Series on Higher Education. The Oryx Press, Phoenix, AZ.

Robertson, L., Davidson, N., and Dees, R. L. (1994). "Cooperative learning to support thinking, reasoning, and communicating in mathematics". In Sharan, S. (Ed.), Handbook of cooperative learning methods.

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