Ice Breakers – Starting the Online Discussion

Teaching and learning in an online learning environment may be new to many. When joining in on an online discussion, students may feel they are taking a risk – they may be unsure that what they are posting is what is expected—even if you have encouraged them to share their ideas freely. Some may be most comfortable learning “silently” (Nordic Council of Ministers, 2017). Research has shown that addressing social presence and building a sense of belonging can encourage those who are less certain to join in (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007). 

One technique to encourage students to engage in a discussion is to create a Starter Activity or Ice Breaker. This activity can take place in its own place or folder and can be the first activity for students before tackling more in-depth discussions related to readings, video lecturers or other content.  

A simple activity that doesn’t necessarily involve deep thinking is more likely to be taken up by students early in a discussion cycle. Activities where students share something about themselves or a personal preference can facilitate trust and the building of social presence within the student group. 

Some examples of ice breaker activities are

Educational Inspirational 

a)  Provide a YouTube video, a meme (if you want to make your own, follow the instruction on, a quote, an article, or any other materials that inspire you as an educator;

b)  Explain your choice in 1 or 2 sentences;

c)  Like and/or comment positively on your colleagues’ posts (optional).

Favourite Foods

There’s a saying that food brings people together. What are some foods you love or find interesting?

Please post a picture and share what you like best about it.

Favourite Season

Share a picture, poem or link to a song that describes your favourite season and why you choose this item.

Some examples of what students might share are:

Discussion Leaders can also be asked to create a Starter Activity. In my courses, the student-created starter activities have been really fun and engaging. 

Student confidence and sense of belonging can be increased through well designed Starter Activities. I would love to learn about your ideas. As one of my students shared:

Garrison, D. R & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet and

Higher Education, 10, 157-172. Nordplus (2017). Nordic Council of Ministers. Silent learners—a guide. Available at

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