Get them speaking & learning with digital icebreakers | Webinar summary

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. Plato

This is a round-up of activities shared by the ever-prolific and resourceful Shelly Terrell in last week’s IATEFL webinar. Shelly suggested that we spend over 4 hours a day on our devices, perhaps writing more than Jane Austen ever did, and that digital icebreakers are a natural extension of this trend while allowing Ts to guide Ss towards a more mindful digital presence.

Shelly recommended digitizing icebreakers to teach good digital citizenship because iour digital behaviour influences our rituals, customs, values, learning and communication. Most significantly, she told us that digital cultures are causing language to change. For example, selfie was the Oxford word of the year in 2014 and selfie stick was the gift of the year. Ss are creating and developing language every day through technology and once a word or a phrase becomes accepted and incorporated into the dictionary, as Ts, we become responsible for it.  So beyond, getting Ss to know each other better, Shelly explained that some of these activities are designed to get Ss to think about their digital actions. Essentially, they are introductions to both Ss and digital cultures.

Digital bingo 

Works along the lines of conventional bingo with Ss mingling to get three facts validated down, across or diagonally from their peers.  However, the contents of the bingo handout are digital in nature. She did say that she uses it mostly with teachers. You can either print it out or have them do it on their devices with a stylus.  Beyond helping Ss cultivate relationships, Shelly stated they’re also learning new digital words, forming questions and responding in English during this activity.

digital bingo


Get them to create a digital representation of themselves. They then need to explain to their peers the rationale for creating their avatar in a certain way.  There are range of avatar creation tools for different ages as some people may find some of the avatars a bit childish. With younger learners, get Ss to think about the fact that their avatar is like a real person in the digital world and consider the things they should or should not do. Ask Ss questions about why they chose to have their avatars look a certain way and get Ss to think through the choices they have for how they can portray themselves online.

See Shelly’s curated samples of avatars here.

Emoji introductions 

Show statements about yourself in Emoji and ask Ss to guess what it means. Then, ask them to create their own emojis and have other Ss guess. There’s an Emoji translation app as well as a Emoji dictionary. This could work well for virtual classes.

Shelly emoji

Participant map

If you teach online, you could use participant maps using Thinglink. Here’s a sample.  Ss create videos introducing themselves which are then placed on an interactive participant map.

321 introductions

An activity that was originally designed by Nicky Hockly where Ss use any tool they want to share the following information:

  • 3 things we should know about you
  • 2 places you love to visit
  • 1 job you wish you had

About me poem with word clouds 

Generate a word cloud that highlights things about yourself using sing Tagxedo. Here’s a sample. You could also generate word clouds using a mobile app like Image Chef.

Digital goal collages/vision boards

Use any of the following tools to create get Ss to set goals and create a visual collage to represent them: Buncee, Canva, Tackk, Piktochart, Biteslide, Smore, Glogster, PicCollage, ImageChef and Muzy. More details of this activity are available on an old post by Shelly.

About me pictionary 

Get Ss to make a deck of cards on their mobile phones which would say something about them such as their likes and dislikes.  They could use any free drawing tool to do this.


Challenge Ss to get their friend to smile and laugh by taking creative selfies on their phone.  Shelly then introduced the idea of the epic selfie and this guy who travels the world taking epic selfies. She talked about how most people take selfies in their bathrooms in a suggestive manner and that kids tend to replicate this behaviour. She suggested that we need to encourage Ss to think about how these selfies portray who they are in the digital world.  Ask Ss to make the epic selfie their goal for the day and the week – with interesting locations and non-conventional angles. Younger learners may not be able to take selfies so instead show them Animal selfies and have them explore language related to animals.

I spy with my device 

Ask Ss to take a close up shot of an object for a peer to guess. (I really like this one) 

Animate a bucket list adventure

Get Ss to use a mobile app such as BuddyPoke 3D Avatar creator to video-narrate their bucket list adventure.

Digital interviews 

Ss use GoAnimate or Buddy avatar to interview each other

Share a picture

Ask Ss to share an image on their image from their phones with their peers.

Recreate an image

Challenge Ss to collaborate with each other to recreate an image from the net. (A fascinating idea)

Mingle activities

Ss mingle using questions from the Icebreakers app. The advantage is that only the T needs to download the app. Instructions for this activity are provided here.

Draw your favourite 

Use a drawing app to draw your favourite cartoon character. Show the drawing to peers and have them guess which Ss share the same favourite cartoon. As a follow-up task, Ss they share some information about the cartoon character.

Match the joke & punchline.

Generate QR codes for jokes and their punchlines in different colours and get Ss to match ’em. Ss will need a QR scanner on their phones. You don’t need connectivity for the QR scanner to reveal the text. Ask Ss to tell each other the answers.

Create trading cards

Ss use the iOS Trading Cards app to design their own cards which they then trade with their peers.


  • Shelly’s webinar slides are available here.
  • Community building activities  (a curated gallery of Shelly’s ideas – enough stuff to keep you occupied for hours)
  • 30 goals (a fab initiative that Shelly came up with in a book of the same name)

I highly recommend having a dekko at the Powerful Tools for Teaching and Learning: Web 2.0 tools MOOC over at Coursera which actually covers a lot of the same territory as this webinar.


5 thoughts on “Get them speaking & learning with digital icebreakers | Webinar summary

  1. Pingback: Upcoming webinars for educators | Feb-Mar 2015 | Immersivities

  2. Thank you so much for writing this incredible and thorough review of my presentation! I love the pics you created. I’m so glad I found your blog and will be sharing it!


  3. Pingback: Get them speaking & learning with digital i...

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