5 Fun and Easy Icebreaker Activities for Students

Encouraging students to actively participate in a lesson can be a challenge in the classroom, one that every teacher wants to meet head-on as they begin a new school year. Take a look at these recommended classroom strategies for equitable participation to welcome back students for the first day of school and beyond.

Fun icebreakers

Picture an ideal classroom. You ask a question, and every hand shoots up. High school, middle school, and elementary school kids alike are dying to participate and are unafraid to make mistakes because they know that they are safe to be wrong. Conversations are rich and related to the content. You are an active facilitator of learning and not on a deserted island. Obviously, as teachers, we know that this is a rare occurrence; but there are many strategies that can be implemented to create a culture of equitable participation inside classrooms. 

There are so many familiar icebreaker games that have a proven track record of growing a classroom community and encouraging participation. Two Truths and a Lie, Beach Ball, Pictionary and Snowball Fight to name a few. You can access them and more at our Icebreaker Hub. While I would consider all of these engaging classroom icebreakers, I thought I would share some of my favorite strategies to encourage teamwork and ensure equitable participation for all learners.

"Not all students read, write, or participate in the same way."

Differentiation and Partnerships

One of the best ways to ensure that all students can participate is to make sure that work is differentiated for students at various levels. Not all students read, write, or participate in the same way, and sometimes it may feel like you’re on an educational scavenger hunt to uncover their strengths and weaknesses. But when you do, you can effectively group students in order to maximize participation. I typically like to group similar reading levels together in order to target skills and strategies with a group or partnership. However, sometimes, in small groups (more than a partnership of two students), I will have two pairs of kids; each pair is comprised of one higher academic level and one lower to promote conversation. Partner work and collaboration are so important in all subjects, especially for the students who struggle. A fun icebreaker might be a good way to introduce these partnerships.

Relates article: Three Strategies That Make Differentiation Possible

Turn and Talk/Think, Pair, Share

Not all children think at the same speed, and many need processing time to talk out their ideas in a small partnership before feeling comfortable sharing with the entire class. Try to switch up the way you ask for responses by taking time to elicit a turn and talk, think, pair, and share with the class. During these times, students will pause for a moment to think, turn to either the person next to them, a designated partner, or a small group, and talk through a response using the first person in a more intimate setting before returning to the whole class to share. For students who are exceptionally shy or withdrawn, you can encourage them to brainstorm first on a piece of paper or index card. This type of participation typically leads to much greater conversation and allows students who may need a minute to think or hear another peer’s thoughts the time to think through their responses. It also is a method that translates well to online platforms like Zoom or Google Meet. It is my favorite thing to witness students’ confidence grow by using this great activity.

"One of the best ways to ensure that all students can participate is to make sure that work is differentiated for students at various levels."


A jigsaw is a tried and true method of ensuring equitable participation, particularly among high school students. The premise of a jigsaw is that within small groups, each student is assigned to read a different text on any topic, from famous people to environmental issues. After reading on their own, the group then comes back together to hear each person share out about his or her text. Because only one student in each group is responsible for each text, it instils accountability, which makes for an equitable learning environment. Jigsaws can sometimes make kids feel stressed, however. A great way to alleviate this and turn it into a team-building activity is to allow for all members of the class who read the same article to come together to discuss the article prior to going back and teaching what they learned to their groups. They could even collectively brainstorm the key points on a sheet of paper. This is also an effective back-to-school activity to build conversation and community within the classroom.

Chalk Talk

A chalk talk is a fun way to get kids participating, especially those who don’t typically participate verbally or who need to warm up to participation. A chalk talk does not have to involve literal chalk but is an exercise in which students respond to prompts on the whiteboard, chalkboard, or chart papers by responding silently. The kids are not allowed to speak at all but can converse through written words, symbols, and punctuation. For example, a student may respond to a prompt with words, and another student may put a checkmark next to those words or even a sticky note if he or she agrees. Then, as the rest of the class rotates through the classroom, responding to different prompts, the “conversations” come alive and can be revisited at the end! It’sIt’s such an engaging icebreaker that can even be used at the beginning of the year. Students often feel validated when they see arrows, stars, checkmarks, question marks, and responses to what they have written, which is a beneficial confidence boost and a great way to ensure all kids participate. 

Popsicle Sticks

My favorite and easiest way to shake up classroom partnerships and conversations is to use popsicle sticks. I use popsicle sticks with the students’ names every day in my classroom, from assigning groups to partners to choosing people to run errands. Sometimes, we unintentionally group the same kids, which can lead to dynamics of conversation we don’t necessarily intend upon. We want to make sure all kids have an opportunity to interact with each other, and the randomization of popsicle stick picking lets us do that. You can also use popsicle sticks as an icebreaker. Write either a question or simply one word on a popsicle stick and have the students take turns pulling one. They either have to answer the question or provide an association with the word on the stick.

"Partner work and collaboration are so important in all subjects, especially for the students who struggle."

Ice Breaker Bingo

Another great way to break in the start of a new year is with Icebreaker Bingo. Provide Bingo cards to every student upon entry that has examples of character traits in each square. Explain that the class has 30 minutes to mingle, introduce themselves, and find people who match the traits on the card. They must have the person who fits the trait sign the appropriate square. The first person to fill five boxes across or down yells, “Bingo!” wins!

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to great icebreakers. What works for one age group ( favorite foods, the name game, and guess who are all great elementary and middle school activities) may not land with others. Pay attention to how each class responds each time you try one. Do they groan every time you suggest a rousing game of, “Would you rather?” When you ask for volunteers to write down some icebreaker ideas or icebreaker questions, do they all point to the next person? As instructors, you want to increase student confidence and actively build an equitable classroom community. Sometimes, icebreakers are the best way to begin.

Useful resource: Icebreakers and Getting to Know Your Students Classroom Kit

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