Working on a college campus typically means that you’re an unofficial expert in the art of designing and facilitating icebreakers.
Being asked to lead an icebreaker is basically our field’s top occupational hazard — one that many of us navigate with ease and enthusiasm.
But, the great majority of our dearly beloved icebreakers rely on a shared physical space. In other words, to do ‘em, you and your participants all need to be together in person.
Sadly, we all have a shared viral enemy that’s put a damper on those best-laid plans. So, we need to come up with new icebreakers. We need new ways of quickly bonding groups together that don’t require holding hands nor swapping seats.
Here are 24 possibilities. These activities are all simple, easy, and fun, requiring only a group video call. With some flexibility and creativity, they can help you energize your coworkers before a weekly meeting, introduce your students to each other, or give your supervisees a brief respite from the monotonous workday.
Enjoy! And I hope you’ll appreciate the break from Two Truths and a Lie.
1. Guess the pet
Ask your attendees to send photos or videos of their pets beforehand. Students who don’t have a current or childhood pet can still participate by sharing their favorite celebrity animal (#petfluencer) or TV pet. (Eddie from Frasier or Salem from Sabrina The Teenage Witch, maybe?)
For your icebreaker, create a slideshow to share the pics and videos, then invite everyone to guess who each fluffy and slimy creature belongs to or is most adored by. Whoever gets the most answers correct could win a pet toy or a gift card to a local pet store. Or, you could make a donation to an animal shelter in their name.
2. Guess the childhood photo
Use the same format as above but with childhood photos. Ask participants to send photos of themselves as babies, toddlers, or awkward pre-teens — your pick. You’re sure to garner laughs over everyone’s ridiculous hairstyles and clothing choices.
But before picking this icebreaker, I recommend sending every participant a quick anonymous survey asking if they’re comfortable with it. Keep in mind that, among other reasons, people who were adopted or went through the foster system may not have any baby photos, and transgender folx may not like to share pre-transition photos.
3. Workspace tour
This one works best for weekly or monthly meetings. Each time, ask a different coworker or student to show off their workspace — either through a pre-recorded video or a quick live tour. Families and roommates can make cameos!
Beyond showcasing everyone’s personalities, these tours can inspire viewers with ideas for decorating their own rooms or organizing their spaces.
Asking for volunteers, rather than requiring everyone to offer a tour, will alleviate the pressure on anyone who is not comfortable sharing their space for any reason.
4. Where are you?
This works best for a group of participants with some geographic diversity — who are living, working, and studying all over the world… or at least all over a state.
Rather than simply asking everyone to go around saying where they’re calling in from, have them drop hints to solicit guesses. They can write riddles, share pictures of landmarks or beloved businesses, list a few celebrities from the area, or even show a short TV or film clip that takes place in their town.
You can offer multiple choice answers to make guessing a bit easier. You could also adapt it to students who are all living on campus (or nearby) by having them share fun facts about their residential halls or neighborhoods.
5. Photo op
A picture is worth a thousand words… or a quick icebreaker.
Make a screenshot of your video call picture-perfect by asking everyone to pose in a certain way. Beyond the classic Brady Bunch shot, you could have each person use their hands to spell out your institution’s name, ask everyone to dress up like a particular coworker or student then capture the moment that person joins the call, or simply tell everyone to express their mood with an exaggerated facial expression.
Here are some more clever (and challenging) group poses to try.
You probably shouldn’t finalize next semester’s budget nor make hiring decisions via charades. But a round or two of this classic game can be perfect for a quick pre-meeting icebreaker. Just be sure that anyone wishing to shout out a guess is unmuted.
Here are some prompts to get you started and guessing.
7. Quiz time
Quizzes shouldn’t only be for class. Asking irrelevant questions can be an easy way to solicit laughs within a friendly competition. Use an app like Kahoot, ask participants to reply via the video platform’s chat function, or simply invite folx to call out the answers.
Quizzes can relate to random trivia you find online, a passion of the quiz designer, or facts about each person on the call. Perhaps you can make this a tradition with a different staff member or student leader creating a short quiz to kick off each weekly or monthly meeting.
8. Mood barometer
“How are you — really?!”
Find out participants’ honest answers to that question by banning the words “fine” and “okay.” Ask everyone to share their mood through a single word, dance move, facial expression, emoji, or song title.
Alternatively, you could have everyone fill out a simple poll question, rating their mood with emoji or with a number on a 1-10 scale of terrible to excellent. It’s a quick way to read the room so you can adjust the presentation or activity you planned to launch into next.
9. Stretch break
Most of your students and coworkers probably spend many hours each day moving only their fingers (to type) and their eyes (to be distracted by social media…or ahem, I mean, to read some super-duper important things). So, they should appreciate the push to get moving.
You could get inspired by a yoga video, lead an energetic dance break, or simply ask everyone to give their limbs a nice stretch in whatever way, er, moves them.
A more complicated, but fun, approach is to have each participant contribute one short move, perhaps with sound effects. One person could tell everyone to do a jumping jack, another could contribute three short head bobs, and another could add a belly drum-roll. Add everyone’s moves together, and you’ll have an original routine!
Just be sure to tell everyone that’s it’s a-ok if they cannot complete every move or wish to adapt it in some way to better fit their physical capabilities.
10. Screen break
Remember when I told you that all these icebreakers involved connecting via video call? Well, I lied… kind of.
For this activity, you’ll actually encourage everyone to take time away from their phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices that Gen-Z might have inside intel about. Request that participants leave their phones in front of their laptops, so you can see that no one is using the allotted time to doomscroll through Twitter or check out coupons on Uber Eats.
Tell everyone to take a few minutes to journey outside, meditate, write in a journal, cuddle with a pet, give themselves a pedicure, or anything else that doesn’t involve a screen. It’ll be good for their retinas and their souls.
Afterward, if you have time, invite participants to share what they did or what they thought about.
11. DJ of the week
Play that funky music. Ask a volunteer or two to play a few songs, perhaps utilizing Spotify or YouTube. If you’re on Zoom, I suggest playing the beats through audio share for the best quality sound.
It can be a tune that fits the DJ’s mood, the discussion your group is about to have, or current pop culture events. Alternatively, you can challenge DJs to pick something deeply personal, which they’ll share the reasoning behind once the song concludes.
12. Video clip of the week
This is similar to DJing, but serves as an excuse for participants to share clips from their favorite films, TV shows, music videos, influencers, cooking tutorials, or interviews — the sky, or rather, YouTube’s billions of uploaded videos, is the limit.
Just be sure to set a time cap so you’re not stuck watching a two-hour nature documentary or a 90-minute unboxing ceremony.
13. Doodle share
This one is perfect for participants who like to keep their hands occupied. Throughout your regularly scheduled meeting or activity, instruct everyone to have a writing utensil or notebook on hand. Invite them to doodle absolutely anything they like, no great (or even mediocre) art skills required.
Have everyone hold up their amateur masterpieces at the end of the call. It’ll be a fun little peek into everyone’s brains, if not their talent.
14. Portrait of the speaker
Is the next Vincent van Gogh or Frida Kahlo on your video call? Find out by asking everyone to sketch a portrait of your event’s presenter or facilitator while the call proceeds as usual.
Share your results at the end to earn some “oh”s, “ah”s, and sympathetic laughs.
Alternatively, you can invite participants to sketch anyone who is on the call. Then, at the call’s conclusion, your group has to guess whom each drawing represents.
15. DIY emoji
Apple, PC, and Android have a lot of official emojis, but are they enough to represent every possible mood and idea? I’d argue not.
So, rather than relying on the pre-existing catalog of emojis, have participants express what they are thinking or feeling by taking a few minutes to design their very own. They can either design it the old-fashioned way (via pen and paper) or use a free app, such as the Angel Emoji Maker.
If your team uses Slack, you can even add original emojis to enhance future conversations.
16. Virtual vacation
Travel around the world in five minutes or less. Ask everyone to share photos of their favorite vacation spot — either one they’ve already been to or their dream destination. Invite folks to also play music that’s popular in that spot, share recipes of regional treats, perform traditional dance moves, or play a short clip from a TV show or movie that takes place there.
You could even gamify this activity by asking participants to guess the vacation spot before its name is revealed.
17. Show us something ____.
Think of this as a show-and-tell with some caveats. Ask participants to either hold up an item that’s already in their home or use Google to share a picture of something they love — related to a prompt.
You might, for example, say “show us something blue” one week, then instruct “share something glittery”, “present something handmade”, or “show off something that’s made you laugh” the next.
Be sure to have participants thoroughly describe their objects for anyone who is visually impaired or is only accessing the video call via audio.
18. Rose, Thorn, Bud
This one is great for encouraging a bit of self-reflection and well-earned bragging.
Have everyone share three things, representing a rose, a thorn, and a bud:
- Rose: a recent personal highlight, success, or small win
- Thorn: a challenge that they’re currently working through or would like other participants’ support on
- Bud: an idea that’s been blossoming in their mind or something they excited about happening soon
19. Mind meld
Warning: This game, which is also known as Say The Same Thing, may be addictive.
To start, either ask for two volunteers or pair everyone off into duos in breakout rooms. On a count of three, instruct each player to say a random word; it can be truly anything that pops into their mind.
Then, based on the two words that each duo just called out, each player will need to say another word that somehow connects the original two. The game continues until each player within a duo says the same word.
For example, imagine you say “fish” while your coworker says “Disney.” You might then say “Nemo” while your coworker says “Flounder.” You then both say “cartoon.”
It’s simple but oh-so fun and can be played without any preparation.
20. Most unique
Ask each participant to share a fact about themselves. The only catch is they must be the only person in the group for whom that statement is true.
For example, I might say “I’ve been white water rafting over a dozen times,” but if three students say “me too!” then I’d need to offer up another fact.
You can add additional caveats to ensure that the game isn’t too easy or dull. I recommend at least prohibiting middle names, birthdays, and hometowns.
21. Six-word memoir
You probably won’t have time for everyone to divulge their whole life’s biography before a meeting or training session. But six words? That’s more feasible.
Give everyone a minute or two to think of a perfect summary of themselves that’s exactly six words — no more, no less. For students, considering banning majors, hometowns, or residence hall names, as a response like “biology major who lives in Smith” is too simple.
Here are some great 6-word memoir examples from the University of Pennsylvania
22. Frivolous debate
Debates don’t have to be contentious; they can be downright hilarious. Consider having participants debate on silly topics like “is a hot dog a sandwich?”, “which came first: the chicken or the egg?”, or “is your thumb a finger?”
You can either spring ideas on participants with barely a moment’s time to prepare or give them a day or two to build their case before the big showdown. Either way, it’s sure to garner creative thinking and spark follow-up conversations. (Just don’t debate the Oxford comma among writers. Yikes. We take our grammar opinion very seriously.)
23. Five-finger introduction
Yes, I realize that this sounds like a nickname for a handshake or a high-five, two things you should avoid right now.
But it’s actually a super safe activity, perfect for virtual engagement. Have participants introduce themselves through five statements, each representing a different finger.
- Pinky = a small thing about yourself (AKA a fun fact)
- Ring = something you love
- Middle = something you hate
- Pointer = where you’re going (could be upcoming travel plans to keep it literal or personal goals to take the prompt more metaphorically)
- Thumb = where you’ve been (take this as literal or as metaphorical as you’d like to)
24. Simon says
Sure, it’s a child’s game, but couldn’t we all use a dose of childhood nostalgia right now?
Be sure to turn on gallery view so you can see who wins and loses.
Now, Simon says: Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence. We’d love to learn your favorite virtual icebreakers!
For more fun (and COVID-friendly) activity ideas, check out:
- 100 Quick Icebreaker Questions to Keep in Your Back Pocket
- 53 Virtual Activity Ideas to Keep College Students Engaged During COVID-19
- 22 In-Person Activities Students Can Enjoy While Maintaining a Social Distance
- 5 Digital Tools that Will Give Your Virtual Student Programming an Upgrade
- 8 Student Leadership Training Activities that You Can Facilitate Virtually