Breaking the Ice

Not everyone gets the opportunity to develop a teaching voice before their first teaching experience. When I first started teaching, I had no previous guidance. I started with the conventional routine of introducing myself and covering the course outline. Never did I think of ways to interact with my students, or how to develop good communication skills between us. I started facing language barriers, group formation barriers and general class management difficulties, but the most important challenge to me was to feel more comfortable and pass this feeling on to my students. In other words, breaking the ice!

Towards mid-semester, I noticed that I’m having a hard time in getting the class to interact with their friends, participate, or even joke around. It felt like they weren’t enjoying class. I figured that I need to develop strategies to promote active learning. After taking advice from some of my colleagues, I started to shape my own teaching voice. I wanted to promote an environment where everyone in class can feel comfortable. On the first day of a new semester, I started my first class this time by distributing blank papers for students – this time, it was for name tags. While I was modelling my instruction on forming a name tag, I was happy to see that most of the class was participating. Calling out individuals by their names on the first day made them feel recognized and appreciated. I can imagine how disturbing it can be when your class instructor spends the whole semester without knowing your name. Since then, I gave the students casual class breaks where I took the time to talk to some of them on topics outside of class materials. Developing a basic friendship with students was my aim in helping them break down that barrier that’s usually is almost always there between students and professors. As I continued to come up with simpler ways to communicate with the students, I knew that teaching will become less challenging and more enjoyable than what I initially experienced.

The importance of breaking the ice in a classroom begins with providing a student sense of recognition, and sets up a stimulating environment that encourages participation and communication between students. Students receive a sense of responsibility as part of their learning by comfortably interacting in groups and generally building an optimum performing and dynamic classroom.


Sarah Deel, “Finding My Teaching Voice” (pdf here)

Shelli Fowler, “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills

About Dalya

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  1. Thanks for sharing! You do not know how much this has helped me and my teaching anxieties! I have not started teaching yet, I get nervous even thinking about it but the breaking the ice perspective that you shared here has helped me develop an idea to break the ice so that I am comfortable as well as my future students. Thank you

  2. I think you make an amazing point here that even some of the smaller aspects of teaching can make such a big impact on how a student perceives that class. I’ve always tried to remember my students’ names (not always successfully) because I know how much more acknowledged I felt when a professor knew my name. It can be difficult at times, especially when teaching several courses, but I also have seen how it sets the stage for more student recognition and participation throughout the semester. Thank you for the reminder of just how important it is to get to know our students and help them better engage with each other.

  3. Thank you very much for sharing your teaching experience! As an international student, I’m often worried about how to build good relationships with my students. Your post provides several good and practical strategies. I would like to have a try.

  4. I agree that it is extremely important to promote active learning of the students. I think it is also the most challenging part. Interactions with students such as calling their names and discussing with them definitely will help. The teacher should create the opportunities for students to speak out their opinions. My adviser likes the students to present papers in class. It is a good option to make students feel responsible for the class.

  5. What I like most about this is your intuitive sense that you need to cultivate some kind of community among the students and that you see yourself as being part of that ecosystem. Love the “ice breaking” cartoon!

  6. I like your method of breaking the ice. Yes, calling people by their names, instills some sense of warmth in them. It is amazing how far reaching very simple little gestures can do. Keep up the good work.

  7. Like you, I had no previous guidance when I started teaching so I had to find ways to break the ice with my students. Once I found those ways, I had to continue developing my teaching voice. In fact, I am still developing that voice. sometimes it seems as if I discover something new every day I teach. Your post has reminded me that I am part of an ongoing learning process just like my students.

  8. “Students receive a sense of responsibility as part of their learning…” I completely agree with this statement. I think that is one of the main positive impacts of recognizing and acknowledging students’ presence and identities, it provides them with a sense of accountability; they are no longer hidden in the anonymity that big classrooms with a large number of students promotes sometimes. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Dalia, what a funny (and very accurate) cartoon! Making students feel recognized and appreciated is essential. I strive to memorize all students name. Last week, I mispronounced one of my students’ name, and I felt so so guilty. I wrote him an email to apologize for that and make sure to remind him that his presence and participation are appreciated while apologizing for my mistake. It is important to treat each student with appreciation and respect. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Thank you for sharing. Initially, I did not think I knew what my teaching voice is. After reading your post I realized that when I first started to teach, I somewhat have my “teaching voice” already developed. I was a mentor for almost my entire time in college, and I realized that teaching a classroom is very similar to what you would do when you mentor a group of people. The main difference is that instructing a classroom is a bit more structured than a mentoring role. However, I have view that my class is like a team, and we try to tackle problems together. I used a lot of the experiences that I learned from working in team to lead my students to success.

  11. Thank you for sharing this experience. As a person who is still trying to find her teaching voice, I believe we do need to break the ice for making more space for creativity. I really liked the visual you used in your blog. We need to be more mindful about the barriers we intentionally/unintentionally place in our teaching process.

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