Collaborative Learning/Substantive Learning with some Icebreaker Acitivities


I recently attended a substantive conversation workshop.  We used some “oldie but goodie”  collaborative learning and conversation starter tools to get the people moving and talking.  For each of these activities you may want to use an online stopwatch ( I listed the conversation starters and resources/handouts here, perhaps you would like to try some of them in your classroom or professional development activities:

1.  Star Buddiesicebreakerstar2

Resource: Here is a document with six stars that you can print and use during the workshop: IceBreakerSixStarsPDF

Each participant got a star with six coloured points when they entered the room.  Participants are asked to put our names in the centre of the  star.  Next, participants were asked to go in search of six people in the room, one for each point of their star.  However, if you put someone’s name on your ‘yellow’ starpoint, that person had to put your name on their yellow starpoint as well.  If you put another person’s name on your red starpoint, that person had to put your name on the red starpoint on their star. Whenever you want people to have a quick chat about something, ask them to go and find their “yellow point” partner (or red point partner, etc.)  Great activity to get people to get to know each other, moving around and talking.

There is another variation on this activity on this web page

2.  Photo Chat

Each participant gets a photo about a topic that all participants may find interesting (see an example of a handout with four ‘photos’ of classrooms Photos or pictures should relate to the content of the professional development or lesson.)  Give participants conversation starters (e.g. “For your photo, what do you think the Teacher would be saying if he/she was asking the student open ended questions to find out what the student understands/have learnt during this lesson?”)  The participants need to use one of their starpoints (see activity in number 1 above)  to find a buddy and talk about their photo to their buddy, using the conversation starter given.  Give the participants about a minute to talk to their buddies before moving on to the next buddy (another colour on their star).

3.  Fish Bowl Slide1

Participants are told about a topic that some participants may know a lot about.  Participants are asked to ‘volunteer’ to be fish and talk about this topic in front of the rest of the participants.  The two (or three) ‘fish’ volunteers stand in the middle of the room, while the rest of the participants form a circle around them.  The ‘fish’ in the middle of the circle each gets a chance to tell their story about the topic given at the start, while the rest of the participants are quietly listening and taking notes/writing down comments/writing down their questions.  (Here is a tool to use for this activity.  It is a KWL chart. ) After all the ‘fish’ had an opportunity to tell their story, the rest of the participants are given the opportunity to ask questions, contribute their comments or tell snippets of similar experiences, all the while the participants that are not talking, need to respectfully listen to the person talking.fishbowls

If you want to view a video of Fishbowl in action with students, click this link:

4.  Jig Saw   jigsaw_pieces1

Jigsaw activities – where, like a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of information fit together to make one picture in the end – are great to start collaborative learning and communication.  This activity asks participants to make groups of two, three, four,  or five (as instructed by the facilitator).  Each member of the group gets a section of a topic to learn about.  The group members need to become an ‘expert’ in the section they have to learn about.  They may also choose to go and learn their section with other people that have to learn about the same section of the topic.  This takes about five minutes.  Now the initial group comes together.  Each member of the group now teaches the other group members about the section he/she had to learn about.  The idea is that all the group members will now know something of every part of the topic, as they had to learn one section themselves, and learnt about the other sections from the other group members.  jigsaw_diagram

For more information on JigSaw in Classrooms please see these websites,, and

5.  Cocktail Partysticky1-300x299

Variation 1:

The facilitator can either pick headings and place these headings around the wall, or just open a general discussion.  Participants are asked to write one or two dot points on a sticky note for each heading (or for the general discussion), and place these sticky notes on the walls around the room, either under the headings, or just anywhere on the walls.  If there are no headings given, the participants need to try and ‘group’ the sticky notes together under similar themes.   Now tell participants to form pairs.  Each one of the pair needs to pick to be either the number one of the number two.  Now ask all the number ‘ones’ to go and stand with one of their sticky notes on the wall.  For the next fifteen minutes, all the number ‘twos’ have the opportunity to move around the room and ask the number ‘ones’ to tell them about their sticky note comments or dot points (Please don’t just stay with your own partner, move around and ask as many people as you can to tell you about their sticky notes).  Now all the number ‘twos’ have to go and stand with one of their sticky notes, while the number ‘ones’ have the opportunity to move around the room and ask the number ‘twos’ about what they wrote on their sticky note.   stickynotes pinksticky_notes

Variation 2

Another variation on this idea is to ask participants to draw a picture about something you discuss.  They have to try and convey as much information as they can in just that one picture or symbol.  Use these sticky notes to stick around the room for the ‘cocktail party’ as described above. stickynotes

Sticky Notes Cocktail Party Web 2.0 applications

You can open up digital walls with for sticky note contributions using applications like:

  • Wallwisher ( You can include music, images etc. with this application.  + 17 Interesting Ways to Use Wallwisher in classrooms
  • Free Technology for Teachers: Nine Tools for Collaboratively Creating Mind Maps
  • Brainstorming: Powerful tool to get ideas on digital “sticky notes” and stick them onto the board.  You can also add pictures and documents, as well as online videos:
  • Wiziq (Pronounced Wiz-IQ) : Free online collaboration in a room, upload and share notes, documents, powerpoints, etc., participants can type questions in the chat box, or participate using pens/emoticons/text boxes on the whiteboard side (similar to WebEx or Elluminate)
  • Dim Dim: Similar to Wiziq in dot point just above:
  • Brainstorming fun tool:
  • Online Collaboration in Real Time: With Thinkature, you can create a collaborative workspace and invite coworkers, friends, and colleagues to join you in just seconds. Once inside your workspace, you can communicate by chatting, drawing, creating cards, and adding content from around the Internet. It’s all synchronous, too – no need to hit reload or get an editing lock.
  • Almost Meet:
  • Online sticky notes
  • Online notice board:

Online collaboration/meeting spaces (whiteboards to write on, etc.)

6. Half Cards Slide1

Resource: Download these playing cards ( or  or   buy a cheap deck of cards to cut in half.

6.1 Variation 1: Forming pairs to talk

Each participant gets half a card (some participants gets the bottom half, some participants get the top half) to pin to his/her collar.  Each participant needs to find the other ‘half’  to form a pair and talk about something the facilitator/teacher asks.

6.2 Variation 2 Being a ‘volunteer’

The participants get half a card, while the presenter/teacher keeps the other halfs.  During the lesson/professional development session, regularly pull out half a card out of a hat when you need a ‘volunteer’ to come and share their thoughts.  Make sure you discard the cards you used already if you want to share the ‘volunteering’ around.

ICT Application: Random Name Selector:  Click on this link to open the uploaded Excel Random Name Selector, go to File, Download As, Choose Excel.  Download to your computer, open from your computer after you have downloaded the file, and enter the names of the participants into Column B.  Every time you press F9, a random name from the list will be displayed at the top of the page.

7.  Funny/Famous Faces  googy

Resource:  Here is a document with some famous Disney Characters for such an activity.

Variation 1 Guess my photo:

Give each participant a picture of a famous person.  Tell them to keep these faces hidden from all other participants.  As a lesson starter, participants need to find a partner.  The partner may only ask twenty ‘yes or no’ questions to find out who the face on the partner’s photo is.  After the twenty questions you HAVE to guess the name of the famous person.  Now switch around and ask twenty questions to see if you can identify your partner’s face.

Variation 2 Who am I? (Photo pinned to your back):

A variation on this activity is to pin a face onto the back of participants.  They have to ask questions of their partners to try and find out who is pinned to their backs!

Web2.0 variations:

  • Have someone sit with their back to an IWB.  Show the picture of a famous person on the IWB for the rest of the participants to see.  The person that can’t see the IWB can ask twenty questions from the audience to try and guess the face of the person shown on the IWB.
  • Show some concept or part of the lesson (e.g. show a fruit if you are doing “Healthy eating”, a chemical for a chemistry lesson, or a character from a novel the students are studying, or a place from the country the students are studying for LOTE, etc.) on the IWB and follow the same process as mentioned in first dot point just above this one.

8.  Toilet Troubles…toiletpaper_carton

Bring a roll of toilet paper, and tell people you’ve run out and this is the last roll. Everyone, please take as much as you think you’ll need for the day.

Hold out the roll so people roll off the sheets. You can use your thumbs as guides and “accidentally” break the paper if people take too much.

When everyone has taken paper, reveal the real reason: please tell one fact about yourself for every sheet of paper you took. Now share with your table team.

9.  Red Herring  red-herring_color

Variation 1:

Each participant needs to share three things about themselves with a partner.  Two out of the three things must be true, the third is a “red herring” and not true at all.  The partner must guess which is the “red herring”.

Variation 2:

Each participant writes something about themselves that is true but hard to believe.  They must write their names on the back of the piece of paper.  The facilitator/presenter collects these notes and puts all of them in a hat.  Throughout the day the facilitator/presenter draws out a note out of the hat, reads the statement to the audience, and asks them to guess who this relates to. Prizes for guessing correctly.

Variation 3

Put three to five statements (OF WHICH ONE IS UNTRUE BUT PERHAPS A COMMON MISCONCEPTION) about the lesson or professional development content on an interactive whiteboard.  Ask the audience to “vote” for the statement they think is untrue.   (Hands up for each statement, count the hands, write the number next to the statement).  Reveal the correct answer after giving some of the participants the opportunity to “defend” why they chose a certain statement.   (You could also ask pairs to discuss their choice with a partner. )

You could also give the participants the option to change their vote after the discussions took place, before revealing the “red herring”.

WEB 2.0 applicatons:

10.  Zoom

Resource: Packs of cards for each table: ZoomSequence

A group tries to create a unified story from a set of sequential pictures.  The pictures are randomly ordered and handed out.  Each person has a picture but cannot show it to others. Requires patience, communication, and trying to understand from another’s point of view in order to recreate the story’s sequence.

Some resources:

Page 1 with random picturesPage 2 with random pictures, Page 3 with random pictures, Page 4 with random pictures.

11.  Many more activities here

and   Fabulous activities listed here for Team Challenges

More info on collaborative learning including activities, here: and here

More Resources

39 Responses to “Icebreakers”

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