New school, new friends, and new experiences.
The idea of having to deal with these three things can be overwhelming for an incoming first-year college student. As a transfer student, I was nervous about meeting new people and acclimating to a new school. Just like your first day of school as a kid, your college orientation can be awkward and uncomfortable, leaving you praying that you won’t be asked to introduce yourself in front of everyone — but obviously, that’s a given.
Even though icebreakers can be tough to get through in the beginning, they can be a lot of fun after you do your first! Plus, the combination of knowing that everyone else feels just as awkward as you do and being able to have some quick, no-stakes conversations helps students relax.
Icebreakers are a critical component of any student affairs professional’s toolbox, so we put together a jumbo list of 60 icebreakers to help you refresh your icebreakers for orientation, RA training events, or whatever!
Ready? Say “hi” to helping students make new friends 60 different ways!
1. Train Wreck
Arrange a group of chairs into a circle and once everyone sits down, they should take off their shoes (or some other placeholder to indicate their “spot”). The orientation leader will be the first to remove a random student’s placeholder. That student will stand or sit in the middle of the circle, introduce themselves, and share one thing about themselves.
If their statement applies to anyone else in the room, those students must get up, run into the middle of the circle, and find another person’s place to sit in (the first student can now also run to find a seat) — you are not allowed to move directly to the left or right of where you started. The one left without a seat will have their turn to go.
At any point, the orientation leader can yell “train wreck!” and everyone must get up and move to a new seat.
2. Human Knot
Have your group form a close circle. Each player must put their right hand in the middle of the circle and the hand of a player who is not to their immediate left or right. Repeat this using the left hand, except holding the hand of a different player than before. The group must now untangle themselves into a circle without letting go of one another. (For larger groups, you can split them up into smaller groups.)
Divide the group into 2-5 teams. The orientation leader will set the theme with a word (“love”, “summer”, “friends”, etc), and the teams will then alternate back and forth singing a song that has the assigned word in the song’s title. Everyone must sing (or try to sing) for the song to count.
No repeat songs or skips! If a team does either of these things, they are eliminated. Keep going around until only one team is left.
4. Alliterative Name Game
Instruct your group to gather in a circle and pick a theme. Each student will introduce themselves by stating their name and a word within the theme that starts with the same letter of their name (i.e. “My name is Luke and I like lemons”). The person next in line repeats the last student’s statement and adds their own. (i.e. My name is Lindsey and I like lettuce and his name is Luke and he likes lemons.”). This continues all throughout the circle until the last person recites everyone’s name and word.
5. Beach Ball
Use a Sharpie and write on a beach ball with getting-to-know-you questions. Ask the students to get into a circle and toss the ball to someone. When that person catches the ball, ask them to read the question closest to their left thumb aloud and answer it — once they are done, they pass it to another student.
Ask everyone to gather in a circle. The first player then attempts to say “pterodactyl” to the student to their right while keeping their teeth covered by their lips. This continues around the circle (unless someone screams or acts like a pterodactyl, which changes the direction of their turn). If anyone shows their teeth, they are out.
7. Rock, Paper, Scissors Tournament
Everyone pairs up or is paired up by the orientation leader and plays regular ole RPS. The person who doesn’t win their round is now a cheerleader for the winner. The winners then take on a new opponent. At some point, the tournament will come down to only two people, with everyone else cheering!
8. Telephone Charades
Divide the group into two lines facing in the same direction, so that one line is standing behind the other. Give the two students at the end of the line something to act out (i.e. final exams, the school mascot, writing a paper, etc.). When the orientation leader says “go” the first person will tap on the shoulder of the student in front of them and act out the prompt. This is repeated down the line. The last person must try to guess what the original prompt was.
One student will start out by introducing themselves to the group (i.e. “Hi my name is Alex and I like dogs). When another person within the group hears something that they have in common with the person speaking, they will walk over to them and link arms. They will then say their names and what they have in common (“This is Alex, and my name is Franklin, and we both like dogs.”)
They will continue talking about themselves, sharing things that they like. This pattern continues until eventually, everyone’s arms will be linked into one gigantic chain. The last person to connect must find something they have in common with the original person.
The orientation leader will divide the group into two teams, organized into two parallel lines. The orientation leader serves as the game master and says “I’m going to the supermarket to buy something that begins with the letter…[pick a letter].”
The first person to say an item that begins with that letter wins that round! The winner goes to the end of their line and the other person sits out for the rest of the game. The game continues with a new letter for each match-up until all the players on one team are eliminated.
11. Moving Scenery
For this icebreaker, you’ll need to prepare some scene prompts in advance. Then, divide your group into evenly-sized teams. Share the first scene prompt (i.e. going to the grocery store) and assign the first group to begin.
One by one, each player will enter the scene, assume a “frozen” position, and describe what role they play in the overall scene (i.e. “I’m the grocery cart with the creaking wheel”).
Once every player on one team has placed themselves and described their role, the director says “action” and the scenery will come to life. Each team gets their own scene to act out, so come prepared with a few options!
12. Zip, Zap, Zop
Have everyone get into a circle and one person will start. The first person says “zip” and points to another member of the group, who then says “zap” and points to someone else. That person then says “zop” while pointing to a third person. This continues in a repeating sequence (zip, zap, zop).
Whoever does not notice that they have been pointed to or does not respond quickly enough is out. This continues until only a few students are left.
13. This or That
The group leader will read out several “this or that” statements, one at a time. Each student will go to one side of the room based on their preference. (We don’t recommend trying this with Laurel/Yanny, just as a word of warning)
14. Birthday Boggle
The group is instructed to line up according to their birthdays — but in complete silence. You can also adapt this game to be “Name Boggle” instead of birthdays. It’s your choice!
15. Two Truths and a Lie
Gather your group and dedicate some time for students to think of their two truths and a lie.
Once everyone has their three statements ready, one student will be picked to go first. The first student to identify the speaker’s lie will go next. This continues until everyone has had a turn.
16. I Chose This College Because…
Have everyone form a circle. The first person will say their name and the reason why chose to attend this college. Continue going around the group. You can also repeat this by having each student state their intended major and why they chose it. This icebreaker is ideal for groups smaller than 20.
17. Sentence Completion
The orientation leader will prepare a list of sentences. The leader will give a different sentence randomly to each student. Some suggested sentences for this exercise include: “Before I came to college, my main interests were…”, “The way I would describe my family is…”, and “The things I value most are…”.
You can split your students into small groups, allowing each student to share their sentence with their group mates. Once everyone is finished, switch up the groups.
18. Comic Chaos
This icebreaker is played like a competition between multiple orientation groups. Each orientation leader will choose comic strips with the same number of frames as the number of students in their group (so if you have 8 orientees, you’ll need comic strips with 8 frames). Have the students take turns picking out a comic frame. Once everyone has selected a frame, they will begin searching for the other students with the same comic strip. Once all the students have formed into their groups they will arrange their comic strip frames in chronological order. The first group to finish wins.
19. Marshmallow challenge
Separate your students into groups of 4-5. Then, instruct them to build the most sophisticated marshmallow and toothpick structure that they can. Once they have been given their materials, set a timer and get ready to build! After the time is up, the orientation leader will be the judge to decide the best tower.
20. Giant Map
Ask the students to form a giant map of the world, with each side of the room representing North, South, East, or West. Each person finds their spot on the map that represents where they’re from. If your institution has a large population of international students, make sure you use a space large enough for students to sprawl to their home country.
21. 72 Seconds of Fun
This one is simple: You have 72 seconds to meet as many of your peers as possible. Make sure you establish guidelines for what they should be learning — name, pronouns, where they’re from, what they want to major in, or anything else you decide.
On your marks, get set, go!
22. Poker Hand
This icebreaker works best with larger groups of students (52 or so, to be more precise), so it’s ideal for a multi-group mixer or for some of your very first getting-t0-know-you events. Shuffle a deck of cards and hand out one card per student. Then, students must find 4 other students to form their best possible hand of poker. Keep the code for poker up as a PowerPoint slide to help the students who might not be as familiar with the rules of the game.
23. Pat on the Back
Ask the group to draw an outline of their own hand on a piece of paper. Once they are done, have them tape it to their back. Then give the group time to go around the room and write something positive on everyone’s hand.
24. First-Years’ Got Talent
Form the group into a circle then have them all introduce themselves. Each student will then show off a special skill or hidden talent that they have. This one also works great as a late-night event during orientation week. You could make a whole talent show out of it!
25. Fill in Their Blank
Ask each student to write a fill-in-the-blank sticky note or index cards. Collect all of the responses and place them in a bowl. Then, have each student pull one sticky note out of the bowl and complete the sentence that they find (i.e. “If I had a soundtrack to my life, it would be ____.”).
26. Social Bingo
This one takes a bit of planning in advance, as a heads-up! Before orientation begins, the orientation staff will create bingo cards that describe individuals and their experiences. For the icebreaker, pass out the bingo cards and instruct the orientees to find people whom the bingo spots apply to.
Same rules of bingo apply here — the first person to get bingo wins! Here’s an example from Oregon Goes to College.
27. Pop a Question
The orientation leader will prepare questions on small pieces of paper and put one question inside a balloon. Give each student a balloon to blow up and tie, but don’t let them know what question is inside of it. Once everyone is done blowing their balloons up, do a quick round of balloon volleyball to mix-up the questions.
Then, go around the room and one at a time, have them pop their balloon and answer the question inside aloud to the group.
Bonus tip: This one can get pretty loud. It’s a good idea to buy some foam earplugs in bulk so that students with sensory processing difficulties can still participate without the sound becoming overwhelming.
28. Questions Only
The orientation leader will break the group off into two sub-groups and then pick a topic of conversation. Set the two sub-groups up in a line facing each other. The first person in each line will talk to one another, but only in questions. If one stumbles or does not ask a question, they are out. This continues until one of the lines is exhausted.
29. Blindfolded Polygon
Ask the students to form a circle and then put on blindfolds. Then, give them a long piece of rope or yarn, instructing each person to hold onto their piece. As a group, they must form a perfect square. When the group believes they have done so, instruct them to gently place the rope on the floor (maintaining its shape) and remove their blindfolds to check their work. You can do this again with any geometric shape you wish.
30. Where Were You When…?
The orientation leader picks any year or a date before orientation and gives each student a chance to tell the group what they were doing at that time (the summer of 2007, when One Direction split-up, when Lemonade was released — whatever you want).
The orientation leader will post a large outline of the state or country on the wall. Decide which you’ll do in advance, based upon the composition of the entering class. Then, have the students put their hometowns and names on the map. Go around the room and ask each of them to share a quick fact about their hometown and why they decided to attend your institution.
32. Body Language
The orientation leader will split the group into two teams. Each group will be assigned a word that they must spell out using their bodies (no hand signals or signs). The other group must figure out what they are spelling.
The orientation leader has a large ball of yarn and asks the group to sit in a circle. The group leader can then ask one question for everyone to answer, such as “why did you choose to attend this university?” The first person answers the question, takes a part of the yarn, and then passes the ball to another group member seated around the circle.
This continues until each person has participated. The group leader then asks a few students to drop their part of the string; as this happens, the yarn will begin to tangle. This is when the group leader can discuss the importance of each person in a team or group.
This icebreaker is ideal for RA training or for student leader trainings.
34. Find Your Twin
Pass out a piece of paper to each student. Have the students fold the paper in half length-wise (hot-dog style) and on the left side, write a list of 20 personal traits. Label the column on the left “my traits,” and label the column on the right “my twin’s autograph.”
Once everyone has finished writing down their own traits, have them go search for their “trait twin” for each thing they wrote down. Make sure everyone writes their names down!
35. Three of a Kind
Instruct the group to find three different students in the room that they share something in common with. These commonalities cannot be visible (so not hair color, eye color, etc).
36. Reverse Hide-and-Seek
The group leader will select one student to hide, and everyone else searches for the hidden person — when someone finds them, they secretly join them. Make sure you give the hider a set amount of time to hide!
37. Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock
It’s very simple: just like regular RPS except with a few added features.
“Scissors cuts paper, paper covers rock, rock crushes lizard, lizard poisons Spock, Spock smashes scissors, scissors decapitates lizard, lizard eats paper, paper disproves Spock, Spock vaporizes rock, (and as it always has) rock crushes scissors.”
38. Ha, Ha
Begin by having all the players sit in a circle. Pick one player to start the game, saying “ha” once. The player standing next to them then says “ha” twice. Following this pattern, the third player says “ha” three times. As the game progresses, eliminate any players who laugh or make noise when it is not their turn. The player who avoids laughing throughout the game wins.
39. Picture Scavenger Hunt
Prepare a list of 12 to 15 interesting (or helpful) places or things around campus that can be photographed. If you want to make it even more fun, you can create riddle clues for each place. Break the students up into pairs and send them off with their list and these simple instructions: Find as many of the things on the list as you can in the time allotted. Make sure to take a selfie with the place or object in view! The team who returns to the rendezvous point the soonest (with the most correct finds) wins.
Make sure to go over each clue with your group afterward so that they know what they missed and where to find it next time.
40. Ultimate Ninja
In this quick-moving icebreaker, you attempt to (lightly) hit another player’s hand quickly enough before they pull it away — in one motion. Once the one motion is completed, you must be frozen in that position until it is your turn again. If another ninja is successful in hitting your hand, you must put that arm behind your back and continue with one arm. If both of your hands get hit, you are out.
41. Alphabet Freeze
Ask all the students to recite the alphabet until you say stop. Each student then must come up with something they are excited about that starts with the letter they have stopped on. To continue, repeat this, but stop on a different letter. You can also do this icebreaker with different themes, like animals, places they want to visit, or foods.
42. Dinner Plans
Ask the group to form a circle. Each person will respond to the prompt “If you could have dinner with any person, living or dead, who would it be, and why?”
43. Have You Met…
Break the group off into pairs and give them some time to get to know one another. Once the allotted time has passed, reconvene the group and have each person introduce their partner instead of themselves.
44. Two-Minute Mixer
Give everyone two minutes to chat with others in the group. Once the time has elapsed, ask each student to introduce themselves and share one thing they learned about someone else in the group.
45. Where in the World…
Gather the group and allow them some time to think about three clues that describe where they are from. Once everyone has their three clues, go around the group and have each student present their three clues for the group to guess where they’re from. The first student who guesses correctly (or close enough) goes next.
46. Hula Hoop Relay
Split the group into two teams. Then, have each group create a chain by linking arms. Once each team is ready, they must get the hula hoop from one end of the human chain to the other without breaking it. The first team to accomplish this wins.
47. Musical Get-to-Know-Me
First things first: Make sure that you are in a room with moveable chairs and that every student has a seat. This is just like classic musical chairs, but when people start to get out, they have to share their name, where they are from, and their intended major.
48. Mind, Heart, Body
Have everyone form a circle to share what is on their mind, what is in their heart, and how their body feels. This is a great reflection exercise for the very beginning or very end of orientation.
49. One-Word Story
This one is pretty simple. each student will help craft a story, one word at a time. Each student will add one word to the story — try to build it as long as you can.
50. Paper Airplanes
Provide each student with a piece of paper and something to write with. Ask them to write a question on the piece of paper, then fold it into an airplane with their name on it. Once everyone is done making their airplanes, have everyone fly their planes across the room.
Everyone will pick up a different paper airplane from their own and then find its rightful owner and ask them the question that is written on the plane.
After a few minutes, have the group reconvene and have each student introduce the person whose plane they found with their name, the question they wrote, and what their response was.
Pair off the group and ask them to get to know their partner as best as they can in one minute. Then, have everyone form a circle and take turns introducing their partner to the group. Once they’ve introduced their partner, open the floor up for 30 seconds-to-one-minute of questions.
52. Same & Different
Break the group into small groups and have them come up with five things that make them similar and five things that make them different from each other. Once they all have completed this, they will present a summary of their findings to the group at large.
53. Find Me
Each student will write on a blank card with one-to-three statements about themselves. Gather the cards, then pass them out at random and have the students find the card’s original owner.
54. A Poem About Me
Ask each student to write a poem about themselves. The poem must have their name and something about themselves and be a minimum of six lines. Once everyone is finished, they must present their poems to the group.
55. Three-Word Interview
Pair the group off and give them five minutes to interview each other. Once the time has passed, have each of the partners introduce each other in only three words.
56. Character Descriptions
Ask the students to write down one or two adjectives about themselves on a sticker badge. Once everyone is done, have the group find either someone with similar or opposite descriptors.
57. Toss-A-Name Game
Have the group form a circle and toss a ball around the circle. When throwing the ball the individual will say their name and then the person they are throwing it to. The objective is for everyone to learn each other’s names.
58. Solemn and Silent
Pair the group off and tell them to stand back to back. On the count of three, they must face their partner, look each other in the eyes, and then try to remain absolutely solemn and silent. The partner to smile or laugh first must sit down. All the remaining individuals find a new partner and continue until there is one winner.
59. Hobby Huddle
Ask the group to sit in a circle. The first person will say their name and their favorite hobby. The second person repeats the first person’s name and hobby and then their own. The third person repeats person one’s, person two’s, and their own. Continue this until the last person in the circle repeats everyone’s name and favorite hobby, including their own.
60. Taps (Connect with Someone Who…)
This final icebreaker is really more of a teambuilder, but it is a great way to practice gratitude at the end of orientation. You can use it amongst the orientation leaders themselves or have your orientation leaders facilitate this for their group.
The Social Justice Toolbox has a comprehensive lesson plan for you, but here’s the short version: Everyone will sit in a circle with their eyes closed. One or two people will be “tapped” to silently give recognition to the people who they have connected with throughout the week.
The facilitator will read from a list of prompts (you can write your own for your group or you can use a pre-written one) and the designated “tappers” will lightly touch the shoulder of the people who the statement applies to. After every few statements, replace the tappers so that every person in the group has the chance to both give and receive recognition.
Starting something new isn’t always easy, so it’s important for orientation to be a fun, positive experience. Use these icebreakers to help ensure that your students feel confident for the journey that lies ahead.
Thanks to the Presence team for helping me curate this list!
What icebreakers would you add? Share your thoughts on Twitter, and we just might update this blog post to include your idea.