OK, I'll admit it. I love ice breakers and have used them in both high school and freshman college classes. I'm surprised by the comments about students reacting negatively. I've never experienced that. My students, even in college classes, seem ready to "play," and no matter how "sophisticated" they appear to be, they are often really quite shy among each other in a new class with a new teacher.
I have two favorites among several I have used. I will ask them to write down 5 unusual facts about themselves, collect the papers, and read one of the most unusual facts from each student's paper. After some responses from the class--which usually express surprise, admiration, interest, or respect--the anonymous student "claims" the fact. One interesting fact I remember from a student ice breaker is this one: "I once met Angelina Jolie in a ladies room in Los Angeles." True story, and one that generated a lot of class discussion!
My second favorite is really an exercise in critical thinking. I ask students to pair up and place an object from their pockets, purses, or backpacks on their desks, the more unusual the better, but ordinary is okay. I usually have some fun with this and advise them not to come up with something that tells us more about them than they really want to share.
When each pair of students has two objects to work with, I point out that the differences between the objects are easy to observe, but what are their similarities? I ask them to make a list of all the ways they can think of that their two objects are similar. Finding similarities, for instance, between a lipstick and a calculator or a set of car keys leads to some discussion. At the end of the exercise, the team with the greatest number of similarities on their list presents their findings.
Students seem to enjoy this activity, maybe because it has an element of competition. They also like seeing what objects are dug out of hiding around the room. For some really shy students, the exercise gives them a way to get acquainted by focusing on a task instead of themselves.
I don't love icebreakers, especially at the college level. When I was a student I just wanted to be taught -- I didn't want to do some kind of artificial bonding thing with the other people. So I tend to be ambivalent on this -- I'll feel like I should and then (especially when I'm teaching adult students) I'll feel like it's a waste of time.
Anyway, when I do do them, one of the ones I like better than others is "Would You Rather." This is one where you have people come up with "would you rather" questions to ask of one another. They can be on topic (would you rather have lived in the 1950s or today; would you rather spend the next 4 years as President of the US or in prison) or they can just be for fun (would you rather be an eagle or a dolphin).
You can at least get people to say something about themselves this way and you can have a mix of serious and playful so hopefully people like me won't be completely turned off...
I, too, am not a huge fan of icebreakers--even my high school students get tired of them because they seem to have so many on their first days of class.
One that I have used (I teach English) is to have my students fold a piece of paper into three parts (a triangle shape). They write their names on one side, and then three adjectives which describe them and which begin with the first letter of their names on the other side. We then go around the room and discuss how those adjectives apply to them. Most teens like to talk about themselves and to show off their "impressive" words; so this usually catches their attention.
Again, though, I have found that if I begin with a simple introduction of myself and the class and start right into content and skills, my students appreciate that and do better throughout the semester.
I, too, am not a fan of traditional icebreakers with older students, but I usually have the students complete an information sheet where I ask questions about their perception of the their past strengths and weaknesses in English classes. I then ask them to tell what they thought was the best or favorite book they have read for school, and what they have read and would highly recommend from their out of school reading. I usually go around the room to hear their answers. I tell them it is OK is say they don't like to read, or that they only read Internet news sites or a particular magazine. I can learn quite a bit about the type of student I will working with for the semester when I hear what they have to say about their reading habits. It is most interesting when students respond to each other's opinions about various books.
There are two things I usually do to break the ice. First, I have students alphabetize themselves to find their seats. Whichever row is first, wins. They become very competitive, speak to old friends and meet new faces.
The second is more traditional. I provide each student with a grid on paper, containing specific question about something they did over the holiday, along with a free space. I include in different boxes things like: "name of a movie you saw," "name of a book read," "a vacation location," "beach visited," "sport tried for first time," etc.
There is mayhem, but a friendly sort. And from time to time, I'll holler a question and ask if there is someone who can answer it. You can choose to be part of the game if you wish. The kids enjoy it and it's nice to see how they work together.
The little biopoem that one can write about him/herself introduces the students to one another. It is short and simple, but allows for originality and creativity. In many years, only a few are reluctant to recite theirs whether they are high schoolers or college students.
Models for this biopoem can be found on the internet through a search engine, but it goes something like this (with any variations you want):
Who is the -----------of --------------------
Who loves --------------- (name 3)
Who detests ------------(name 3)
Who desires -------------
and who feels --------------
I've made a switch to only breaking the ice about myself. I find that the more open I am about myself with my students, the more open they are with me... which I just let happen with time.
I created a true false quiz about myself (which you could easily do at a collegiate level). It is kind of cheesy (as all ice-breakers tend to be) but it takes some of the pressure off of the self-interview which kids often don't pay any attention to.
I also enjoy finding out what kind of a reputation I have among students.
You can have students sit in pairs and one interviews the other to learn about their partner. Then, when everyone finishes, the interviewer can share out what he or she learned about the student he or she interviewed with the entire class. It is a way of actually listening and paying attention to what the other person is telling you. However, on the college level, I actually think students are there less for socializing and more for gaining knowledge. Socializing should be done on their time outside the classroom.
I am not a fan of ice breakers for upper level classes, as students often find them boring and somewhat juvenile. I have, on occasion, paired students together, given them five minutes or so to interview each other, find out something of each others interests, future plans, etc. and have each student "introduce" his/her partner to the class. It seems to be not quite as trite as playing "name games," etc. and the students don't object nearly as much. If at all possible, however, I forego icebreakers altogether.
For college classes I like to begin by having students tell three things about themselves: their favorite color, their favorite book and one thing you wouldn’t know by looking at them. The first is kind of silly and tells us something about a person’s personality in a noninvasive way. The second lets us a little bit more into a person’s soul, and gives us something to have in common. The third allows us to get to know a person better and look beyond the outer shell.
I have to say I tend to use icebreakers with my younger classes, but I give each child a sign-up sheet and they need to collect autographs from the class for different categories - who has been to Europe, who can roll their tongue, who is also doing Chemistry, etc, etc. Sometimes I sneak in questions about books they may have read to gather my own information, and often I take part myself.
Have never used ice breakers on a regular basis. However I have used one similar to the one mentioned by kiwi in post #4. It can really be interesting if you can find out some unique information about each student before the first day.
I am with clairewaite on this one. True/false about me at least gives them some insights about what may be ahead for the semester, which may not seem like such a waste of time to them.
Freshman orientation was full of icebreakers. I'm not a huge fan of them in a large random group setting but they're super fun for clubs.
In one icebreaker we all stood in a circle and the first person said their name and an adjective that describes them and starts with the same letter as their first name. Then the second person would say the previous person's information and say theirs. We'd go through the whole circle. It forces you to remember people's names but in a fun way.
One of the most awkward experiences I ever had was freshman orientation for college. 90% of the orientation was ice breakers and get to know you stuff. I am also the type of person who was there to do my work, learn something, and maybe make some real friends along the way. Not do awkward ice breakers with people I will never see again. However, some of those ice breakers allowed me to meet some of my very best friends. And with that, I believe my favorite one is a name game where everyone thinks of a word that begins with the same letter as their first name.