User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

First Class Ice Breakers Using Mobile Devices

with 19 comments

I previously wrote about the importance of beginning a class focusing on the learners in the room as opposed to the content to be covered in Beginning the School Year: It’s About Connections Not Content.

Most classes, starting with about middle school, begin the school year with reviewing the content to be covered, expectations regarding grades, and other academic information provided by the teacher or instructor.  The human or social element is often disregarded.

What is interesting is that most learners enter the classroom wondering who is in the course.  They want to know about the teacher and the people in the class not what material is to be covered. What this says to me as an educator is that it all begins with a social connection – between the educator and the learners, and between the learners themselves.

All of my classes, regardless of student age or demographics – elementary gifted students or graduate students, begin with ice-breakers and team-building activities.  I recently developed a passion for using students’ mobile devices to do so as this devices have become natural and personalized extensions of students’ “selves.”

What follows are several of the mobile-driven ice-breakers I recently used in an undergraduate course on Interpersonal Relations.  I also include some student reactions to these activities.

Cell Sharing

  • Ask participants to locate a photo, song, or video from their mobile device that best represents them.
  • Each person then shares his or her media and the reason it was selected.
  • For photo or video sharing:  Pass the device around so all students can view the image or use a webcam to project the image onto a larger computer screen or whiteboard.
  • For sharing of music: Attach portable speakers to assist with the sharing of songs so others can hear them.

Student Reflections about Cell Sharing

Several students stated that this was their favorite activity of the class.

I thought it was awesome that you wanted everyone to show the class a picture or type of music that had meaning to us. By doing this we got to see and learn a little bit more of our peers.

We did a photo/audio thing which was my favorite activity because we got to learn a little bit of everyone’s lives

Question Selector

Texting Interviews

  • Randomly pair students (can be either face-to-face or virtually).
  • Ask them to develop questions that they would ask to help them get to know someone better.
  • The pairs text their questions and answers back and forth.
  • Interviewers summarize what they found out about their partners and posts their partners’ names and this information on a Sticky Note Board such as Wallwisher.

Student Reflection About the Texting Interviews

I enjoyed the texting exercise. It’s pretty cool when your teacher lets you use your phone for the activities especially since I got to learn more about my partner.

Student Reflections About the Ice Breaker Activities

I think that those games helped us get to know each other and were a very good ice breaker to help us know who our class mates are.

We played many activities and I believe that they all helped in breaking the ice between us all. We were able to get to know each other easier and faster than in a typical classroom environment.

I learned to communicate better instead of hanging back in a corner.

Although we all come from different backgrounds and cultures we all related quite well and by learning about each other we can start to establish friendships

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 8, 2012 at 5:20 pm

19 Responses

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  1. I love the picture/song idea. Will be doing tomorrow 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    Ramsey Musallam

    January 8, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    • Take some photos and let us know how it goes. I have done the Cell Sharing in three groups, so far, and they really like it!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      January 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm

    • I love this idea of a icebreaker for the beginning of school, Brilliant!! What a better way for students to share about themselves than sharing something they have on their phones. I will totally use this in September, thanks

      Emily Giacona

      March 19, 2016 at 2:17 am

  2. I concur with the importance of developing relationships with students at the start of a class – that really sets the stage for the rest of the class when done in an authentic manner. Your ideas to do via mobile devices are great! Thanks for sharing!

    Marie Coleman

    January 9, 2012 at 12:00 am

  3. Brilliant fun stuff.

    Nancy White

    January 11, 2012 at 4:42 am

  4. Great ideas here. You are so right: relationships trump most everything else, especially at the beginning of a term. Students love it when we pay attention to what matters to them. Using handheld devices is a way to get them engaged and let them know we care about their world outside the classroom. Not only that, we can get kids thinking and writing–practicing literacy skills–without them even realizing they are doing the things we need them to do to learn.

    Love this! Thanks for sharing.


    January 13, 2012 at 3:10 am

    • Thanks, Amy – and good point about practicing literacy skills!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      January 13, 2012 at 3:12 am

  5. […] can certainly include the teacher. This is the conceptual infrastructure, presented in educator Jackie Gerstein’s User-Generated Education blog, for using tech in the classroom. How does it play out? More emphasis on learners and learning, […]

  6. Oh, one of the challenges to teaching – the smart phone! Locating this article is timely as I prepare for my new school year. I would love to find out other effective ideas for using smart phones during teaching. One idea I am working on is to have students create a short story in small groups using their smart phones…the story is forwarded from small group to small group until complete then emailed to (me) the teacher for use on the Smart Board. Yes, I am lucky (or not) enough to have a SB in my class for the first time.



    July 30, 2012 at 8:28 pm

  7. These are fantastic! I recently posted about 21st century icebreakers for the classroom myself, and these are in the same vein a wonderful way to update and refresh age-old icebreakers for the mobile generation.

    Aditi Rao

    August 5, 2012 at 6:42 pm

  8. The great part about these ideas is that I can use them w/o a cell phone. (I have 5th graders). Thanks for sharing!


    August 6, 2012 at 10:24 pm

  9. These are great – they ask students to tell their stories and that is so empowering and an awesome way to start a year off.

    Al Tucker (@altucker)

    August 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm

  10. Hi, Jacky. I’d like to use. Your input to write an article for modern foreign language teachers. Would that be Ok?


    August 21, 2012 at 1:34 pm

  11. Love it! In the adult learning environment, trainers are often very focused on getting learners to put down their mobile devices. However, we are constantly on our mobile devices all day long, and being in a classroom doesn’t change that need. I always look for ways to put the mobile devices to work in an instructional manner, and these icebreakers are great options. In addition, we can integrate social learning using social media tools on mobile devices in the classroom as well. For example, asking learners to tweet their answer as a way of sharing it with the group.

    Erin Krebs

    August 7, 2013 at 9:11 pm

  12. Love this post!! In teaching emotional intelligence, we often use mobile devices to engage students–finding and sharing emotional expressions to develop emotional literacy, watch brief you-tube videos to illustrate choices such as navigating our emotions, or optimism, find photos and posts that captivate the imagination and help us tell a story, such as about empathy or people demonstrating kindness or compassion. Each of the 8 competencies in our Six Seconds EQ model can be developed with the use of mobile devices. Great to get some new ideas for icebreakers and check-ins. Thanks!!

    Dr. Susan Stillman

    September 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm

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