It’s the first class meeting. Most people don’t know each other. Many will work together over the next few days, weeks, or months. Getting to know each other will help. Plus, people often feel uncomfortable without introductions. They want to know at least a little about who else is there.
Starting a New Class Sometimes Feels Like Early Morning, Before Coffee
Still, class time is precious, and you know that 24 people (say) introducing themselves one after another can easily turn tedious. I’m remembering a class where the first 90+ minutes were spent with each person droning on about his or her self for 4 or 5 minutes each. They were all great, but about an hour in, who wasn’t stifling a yawn?
Here is an easy way to address the human desire to meet other people while breaking the ice, saving time, and enhancing interest. You can vary the timing and complexity of this activity to fit your schedule and circumstances. This will work best for groups of 12 to 30(ish) people, in a class that meets for at least 3 hours or more.
- Partners. Ask everyone to find a partner. If they don’t know each other, this can be anyone sitting close by. If some know each other and others do not, then you can ask them to find someone they don’t know. (If there’s an odd number, then you’ll have one group of three.)
- Defined Information Gathering. Depending on available time and context, choose a few items for the partners to find out about each other. Tell them they will be introducing their partner. Give them 5 or 6 minutes to chat. Example items:
- Where working
- Where live
- What wanting to learn in this course (or what wanting to do as a result of this course)
- Any other question that’s relevant because of the audience, context, topics, or objectives
- Little known fact. Be sure to define this and give an example or two. Little known facts should not amount to “too much information.” Often they are hobbies, accomplishments, or other non-work-related things. For example:
- I climbed X mountain a year ago
- My first grandchild was born last week
- I run marathons four times a year
- We grow most of our own vegetables
- I play the cello in a string quartet
- The First Section. Call people back together. Indicate a section of the class to do the first introductions. (For example, in a class of 24, maybe choose four pairs.) Explain that we’ll get to meet everyone during the session (or the day, etc., depending on class size and timeframe).
- Two-by-Two. Ask the folks in the first section who wants to go first. Have the first pair stand up. Each person introduces the other. Move quickly to the next pair and the next, until everyone in the first section has been introduced. Thank the pairs for their introductions. There’s something about having people stand up for the introductions that increases energy and commitment.
- Name Review. If they have name tags or name tents, have them hide these for a moment. As you gesture toward each person in the first section one at a time, have the class call out each of their first names. This means that you, instructor, must have made an effort to remember their names, because you want to make sure that you can say their names as you go (or at least most of them). Having the whole class participate in this quick review is fun, and it increases engagement for everybody.
- The Remaining Sections. Complete the remaining introductions at intervals. A good time to do the second section is right before a break. This sends everyone out with a smile. Other good times are right before or after lunch or after a more cerebral or taxing activity.
You can modify this activity for shorter or longer times and for bigger and smaller classes in any number of ways. You can change the number of questions or sections. You can even spread out the intros if your class meets often, but for less than 2 hours at a time. If the group is too large for individual introductions, you can have people meet just the folks sitting nearby.
If you try this, encourage an upbeat atmosphere to make it fun for everyone involved. Chances are, this activity will improve your learners’ moods (and therefore motivation for learning), encourage them to feel more comfortable in class (break the ice), and make it easier to work together.