10 Easy virtual icebreakers with content

Are you using icebreakers with or without content? Two weeks ago, I shared 10 easy icebreakers for online meetings. The icebreakers didn’t have any reference to the content of your meeting or training and their only goal was to break the ice, get the participants to connect and build relationships. This week, I’m adding another 10 icebreakers (or warm-ups if you like) to the list that incorporate a bit of content. These are more suitable for training than general meetings. These icebreakers could be used to get a feeling of the level of expertise in the room, to introduce the topic and/or to get the conversation started.

Choose with your goal in mind

I would use icebreakers with content for different reasons. They work well to: 1. win time by combining the connecting activity with an introduction to the content 2. measure the level of expertise in the room and 3. get the participants in the right mindset for this topic. Below you will find a mix of icebreakers that would work well for one or more of these goals. Therefore, if you choose any of the icebreakers, make sure they work for your intended goal.

Same principles

The same principles as I mentioned last time apply for these 10 icebreakers with content. You don’t need any technology besides your videoconferencing software. This helps participants to focus on the task as they don’t need to worry about mastering the technology. Secondly, you need to create a safe space. Luckily, talking about a topic is less daunting than talking about oneself. And you can always allow an opt-out if a participant doesn’t feel comfortable talking to the group.

Icebreakers with content

1. Line-up

Required: A slide to annotate with your topic at the top. On the left side of a horizontal line, you write ‘Newbie’, on the right-hand side ‘Expert’. 
Instructions: Ask people to annotate the slide and write their name on the line where they feel they are at. You could allow using a stamp for an anonymous line-up. In addition, you could draw a second line, and ask participants where they need to be.

2. Common terminology

Instructions: Ask the group to agree on another word or definition for a common term. You can use the chat, an open mic or a whiteboard to make some notes.
Example: Another word for Instructional Designer is … A definition of online learning is …

3. I would rather

Instructions: Every participant asks the other participants a question starting with ‘I would rather’. The question needs to be about the topic and the participants can answer in the chat. This is an easy way to get some insights about the group. If you want to control the discussion, the facilitator could ask the questions. Example: I’d rather be facilitating than designing a course. I’d rather develop courses for kids than for adults. I’d rather use animation than real images…

4. Topic talk

Instructions: The facilitator starts a sentence and asks the participants to continue talking about it. They all take turns. Full stops are allowed.
This icebreaker combines collaboration with introducing a topic and starting a conversation.
Example: The first D in ADDIE stands for Design and this phase includes…

5. Share your learnings

Instructions: Ask every participant to share what they’ve learned about the subject in the last month. For this activity you ask participants to unmute themselves because you would like to hear them talk and make them comfortable with talking to the group. Using the chat is a safer option if needed.

6. One-minute topic

Instructions: The facilitator sends the participant two topics via a personal chat. The participant tries to talk 1 minute about one of these topics. Others can guess what the topic is after finishing the 1-minute talk. This activity would work better with people who already know each other or are comfortable with presenting or talking.
Example: instructional design course: colour/typography, design/develop, elearning/online learning, webinar/virtual classroom etc.

7. Truth or lie

Instructions: Ask all participants to send the facilitator a private message with a truth and a lie about your chosen topic. The facilitator reads them out loud. Ask the participants to vote with their thumbs up (truth) or down (lie). This activity works best with a gallery view, so you can see all the participants. If you can’t see them all, they could also type truth/lie in the chat box or use the yes/no buttons in the participants menu. This is a quick variation of the well-known ‘Two truths and a lie’ activity.

8.Sketch your interest

Instructions: Allow all participants 1 minute to make a sketch on a sticky note that represents what they would like to learn in the session. Let them hold the sticky note in front of their camera and talk about their sketch and reason in 30 seconds.
Participants in training sessions all come to your session with different expectations and interests. This is a quick activity to find out what they would like to learn.
Example: Sticky note about chunking content. 

green sticky note with chunks of content9. Describe the term

Instructions: Send each participant a word (via a personal chat message) and ask them to describe the term without mentioning the word. The word is related to your course content. Allow them to pass if they don’t know the word and send the participant a second word.
Example: Graphic designer: Person who creates visual attractive materials for online use as well as print.

10. Word cloud

Instructions: Just give the participants a topic and ask them to make a word cloud together with as many related words as they can think of. Let them use different colours too. To make the cloud look nicer, you can ask them to stay within a certain shape.
With your standard whiteboard in the videoconferencing tool, you can make a word cloud together.
Example: see image.

Kick-start the learning

Icebreakers that include content are great to kick-start the participants’ learning, to get them talking about the topic and make them more comfortable in the group. For the facilitator, it’s a good way to measure the level of knowledge or skills in the ‘room’ and start the course in a meaningful way. I hope you will be able to use some of these in your next online courses.

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