Breaking the Ice: The Case for Icebreakers



How can you ensure that your peers can trust and respect your academic integrity and authority within the classroom?


I sip my coffee tentatively, my right finger swiping through Twitter as I glance around the room: Students are pouring in, their eyes glued to their phones and the cadence of their footsteps reminding me that no one particularly appreciates 8:30 a.m. classes. I lean forward to sip more milky brew, but catch the plastic straw (yikes) on my lip ring and momentarily resemble a surprised fish on a hook. I detach myself from my drink, check the time and put my phone away as the professor (they all look the same at this point) saunters in, brown satchel slung over a long black overcoat.
“Alright, good morning, yes, hello, yes, this is Applied Calculus, correct? Good. Once I get organized, why don’t we go around and introduce ourselves? How about we say our names, where we’re all from and a little fun fact or two?” 

I have an immediate flashback to every bizarre, obscure and almost enigmatic activity that occupies my free time. What do I do for fun? I write, right? Yeah, I tell myself. I write a lot of short stories and sappy, dramatic poetry in my free time. That’s a generic, comfortable, interesting-enough detail about myself. I don’t want my fun fact to be the jaded observation that I have brown eyes, but I also don’t need to receive any judgemental looks before 9 a.m. I decide mentioning my love for English literature will suffice. The detail is just generic enough to evade reproach, but still conveys a sense of my personality. I’ll save the interesting-but-controversial facts for parties, I decide. There will be no mentioning of skinny-dipping or trespassing or late night dine-and-dash dares. 

A collective groan echoes from the sacrificial circle the class has formed. I recite my introduction in my head and lean back in my chair. Frankly, I don’t care about the leisure activities of 11 random students I will likely never interact with again, and I’m sure they would rather not learn about my free-time habits, either. 

A young woman directly across from me commences the awkward ritual. Her name starts with an E, I think, and she says she used to be a lacrosse player? I’m not really sure. I glance at the professor, who nods encouragingly and checks a folder while scribbling in illegible cursive. 

Why do we always have to do this? Why can’t she take a fast and efficient attendance and then start teaching the material?

I almost jolt forward in my chair. A flash of insight strikes my consciousness, and I sift carefully through the revelation. Icebreakers are not simply an exercise in futility as I had previously assumed. They are not intended for classmates to introduce themselves to each other. In fact, I realize, icebreakers are completely separate from the delicate exchange of social niceties. 

Icebreakers are intended for students to learn to introduce themselves, honing their presentation skills in an affable and professional manner. The purpose of these exercises, while useful for classmates who need to know my name and a professor who must take attendance, really lie in my own edification. I understand how to recite facts about myself, but what I need to learn revolves around relating pieces of my background to information that is relevant in my immediate environment. 

Yes, I am currently enrolled in an Intermediate Mathematics Course. But what makes my presence in this 4-month-long academic venture important? How do I convey my presence as pleasant, notable and beneficial? I should mention my passion for graphs and pie charts or my penchant for string theory. I should make myself known in the context of the environment in order to demonstrate academic interest and convey my persona positively to my peers.

This has never been about learning names, taking attendance or engaging disgruntled young adults during the first five minutes of a new course. Icebreakers are a business venture, an assertion of the ego and an exercise in crafting amicable personal relevance within specific environments. 

As a new semester begins this spring and each Fordham student takes up new courses, activities and habits, I urge my peers to drop the notion of icebreakers as immature, scripted and ultimately irrelevant. Instead, try to view these introduction opportunities as moments to display the most relevant aspects of your character in the context of your environment. How can you present yourself as a person who is genuinely interested in broadening your comprehension of the works of Jane Austen and who has always harbored an authentic commitment to the subject? How can you ensure that your peers can trust and respect your academic integrity and authority within the classroom?

When you introduce your passion for a subject alongside your name, you are encouraging your peers to associate your presence with a commitment to education. You demonstrate that you are in this classroom for a reason; it becomes obvious that you see the course material as relevant to your own academic interests and are using this semester as an opportunity to expand upon your intellectual infrastructure, the foundation of which you have already assembled with care. 

Icebreakers are your personal business ventures; wield your pick with panache to produce your polished persona.