Deja Vu All Over Again: Breaking the Ice on a New Semester

The cyclical nature of the academic experience can produce an odd sense of deja vu; you spend a whole semester building an engaged and productive classroom community, and then the course ends, which means that at the beginning of the next semester you have to start that process all over again with a new group. On the first day, when you walk into the classroom, you might well be thinking: Who are these people and what have they done with the students I’ve been teaching?

It’s a good question. (Well, the first part is.) Luckily, you don’t have to wait a whole semester to start answering it—you can jump in on the first day. More than just a pro forma meeting to hand out a syllabus and talk about enrollments and wait lists, the first day is an opportunity to get right into building the learning community you want to see. You can set tone and expectations, set the stage for the course’s intellectual enterprise, and even get students working on questions relevant to the course—but the first step is probably going to be finding out who’s in the room, and helping students discover who’s in the room, too.

This is where icebreakers come in: activities to help people get to know each other and to create a sense of comfort and familiarity. There are lots of possibilities, including everything from brief introductions and the sharing of basic information (e.g., name, year in school, reasons for taking the class) to more involved activities (e.g., Two Truths and a Lie, Uncle Fred’s Suitcase, The Reception Line). Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of these icebreakers; to find out more and to discover a trove of other ideas, check out our recently-expanded Teaching Commons page on Starting the Semester. You’ll also find tips and suggestions on how to get ready for the semester, how to make the most of the first day, and how to keep the momentum going through the early weeks.

As always, if we can be any help along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at