Introductory Activities

Walking into to your class on the first day can be extremely nerve racking.  Many feel that this is one of the most important day in the semester.  It is when you set the stage for the remainder of the course.  Consequently, you need to lay the groundwork, clarify course expectations, and ensure students feel comfortable, safe, and secure. But how do you do that in the online environment? The first step involves introductions – students getting to know you, you getting to know the students, and the students getting to know each other.  Because community building is an important starting place for many online course models, we will explore some the most common and effective introductory assignments or ‘virtual ice breakers’ that construct the building blocks of your learning community.


By the end of this session, you will be able to:


Varvel, V. E., Jr. (2002). Ice-breakers. Pointer and Clickers: ION's Technology Tip of the Month, 4(1). Retrieved February 1, 2007, from

Ice breakers are starting to seem like fonts--we never have enough.  The Illinois Online Network has a nice article on ice breakers, and a bibliography of resources for the introductory activities.  (Unfortunately, many are broken links, but might be retrieved through a search engine.) Hopefully, you can add a few to your "toolbox."

Author (unknown). Using Online Icebreakers to Promote Student/Teacher Interaction. Retrieved July 3, 2007, from

Introductory Discussion Ideas

Introduce Yourself from Your Pet's Perspective

In the 'Getting to Know Each Other' discussion topic, introduce yourself from your pet's perspective (your pet describing you) and then read all of your colleague's introductions and get to know each other. I use this introduction to get you to notice your voice in the text-based learning environment. Interestingly, 90% of communication is non-verbal. Students and your colleagues cannot see facial expressions, body cues, and vocal intonations. You will need to learn how to develop your online voice and tone of voice as well as recognize when you are overstepping your bounds 'textually' speaking (Blackboard Scholar, discussion).

Introduce Yourself

In contrast to the light-hearted and entertaining pet’s perspective introduction, you are going to compose a professional introduction with your ‘instructor’ tone of voice.  You could use this introduction when you teach your online course.  By combining the two activities, the pet introduction with the professional introduction, I hope you will recognize how you need to change your tone of voice for different audiences and contexts.  Professional introductions often consist of personal details such as your education and professional experience in addition to your hobbies, family life, and favorite pastimes.  You might also consider attaching a photograph of yourself.  The general tone should convey professionalism (Blackboard Scholar, discussion).

Characteristics of a quality facilitator introduction include:

Introduction Scavenger Hunt

Once you posted your introduction, read through all the posts of your fellow colleagues, find someone you have something in common with and find someone who intrigues you and reply to both their original posts explaining what you have in common and why you are intrigued (Blackboard Scholar, discussion).

Asking Students to Discuss Relevant Experiences in Their Personal Introductions

After you have students introduce themselves (or combine the introduction with this activity), have them answer a few questions that are relevant to the course. For example, in an archaeology class, you might ask them what archaeological sites they have visited. In a writing class, you might ask them what have they already written. In a literature course, you might ask them what genres they enjoy reading. In a history class, you could ask them to share a longheld family cultural tradition with the class. You might also ask the students to 'free associate' and write anything that comes to mind when they read the title of the course (Blackboard Scholar, blog).

Completing a Sentence

If you want to stimulate interaction with other students, you might start a sentence and have the students complete it. Other students love to see what others have written. You could write any sentence, but you might taylor the prompt to the course content (discussion, google docs, wiki).

Students Interview and Introduce Each Other

Ask students to interview each other, using questions that are relevant to the course subject matter, and then present the introduction about the interviewee (discussion, google docs, wiki).

Playing a Game

One way to capture the attention of your students is to start the course with a game. A game typically captures the imaginations of the students and sets the stage for an adventure. You could use the game to help teach a concept taught later in class. For example, you could play the game of the sinking ship.

Only one lifeboat is left, with a capacity of twelve passengers, yet there are twenty passengers left on the ship. You are the twentieth passanger. Read through the introductions of your fellow classmates (be sure early introductions include details such as age, gender, family status, income level, state of health) and decide who should be allowed on the lifeboat (discussion, Blackboard scholar).

Asking Students What They Hope to Learn from the Course

You can ask your students to name their own learning objectives, draw up a contract, and provide opportunities throughout the course for students to explore these subjects which go beyond the syllabus (individual research projects).

Asking Students to Write Short Descriptive Stories about Themselves

Have your students write down eight nouns that best describe themselves, and then have them write a short descriptive paragraph to elaborate on these nouns.




Journal Ideas

Reflect on the pet introduction, professional introduction, and scavenger hunt introductory activities. Why do you think these activities were effective? What didn't you like about them?

What introductory activities from the readings would you like to adopt for use in your own online course? Why do you think they would work with your students?

Further Reading

Bender, T. (2003). Discussion Based Online Teaching To Enhance Student Learning, Theory, Practice, and Assessment. Stylus Publishing, Sterling, Virginia.

Dover, K. H. (2001)., Icebreakers: (3 parts) begins on Taken from on July 3, 2007.

Gifford, M. (1999). Ice Breakers. Taken from on July 3, 2007.

Pilato, D. (2001)., 2001, Breaking the Ice. Taken from on July 3, 2007.