I will be teaching for the first time to both undergraduate and graduate students in computer science, not in the US, and I am wondering

  1. if I should take time to meet & greet with students
  2. if so, what should I ask them? I know some questions are uncomfortable (anything that gives away socio-economical background for example), so I want to avoid uncomfortable questions. Should it be about the class? Should it be about their favorite movie?

The course will be online due to the pandemic.


3 Answers 3


Addressing #2, here's a list of ideas that's worked well for me:

  • what are you hoping to get out of this class?
  • what's your favorite food you can find in the area or like to make at home?
  • why did you choose your major/what are you thinking about majoring in?
  • describe an experience you remember about learning something new?
  • tell us something random about yourself (if you use this one, start it off for them, let someone volunteer to go next, then warn them the order you'll go in after that. Tell them they are free to copy other people's categories).
  • 1
    I like 1 and 4. 2 can be relevant especially for chef / hotel management courses...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 13:59
  • 2
    yea I was trying to mix it up using relevant/irrelevant questions. Ice breakers in general don't have to be relevant, the point is just to get people comfortable enough that they can start working together quickly with total strangers and feel less awkward. I don't use them anymore, as being a more experienced teacher I can set up an environment friendly to open exchange more easily, but when I was first starting out they were helpful to the students.
    – Well...
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 15:46
  • 1
    to get people comfortable enough that they can start working together quickly with total strangers and feel less awkward. -> exactly, what I need! Especially for me, but also for them as well. How do you do it now?
    – dusa
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 17:32
  • 1
    Establishing the atmosphere you want in your class is different for every teacher, and it really depends on your style and personality. Students tend to respond very positively when you treat them like humans who have the potential to do well and who you want to see succeed. Just a small amount of friendliness and enthusiasm for them figuring something out goes a long way. That sounds like the bare minimum, but honestly in higher ed the bar is really low (see the above upvoted comment recommending that you... read them the syllabus? groundbreaking.)
    – Well...
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 11:19
  • Well, just to note, I think ice-breakers also help to remember people in the class (for myself and the students). So irrelevant or funny ones are even more memorable, e.g. what is your fav dish. But I don't have the confidence to be too irrelevant or better ridiculous on the first day just yet :) Maybe I will throw some brain teasers to start group discussions. Hmm.
    – dusa
    Commented Sep 15, 2020 at 16:44

"Ice breakers" are not a good way to meet people in any context. When you are meeting a new class of students, it's better to:

  • Let them know what they need to do to succeed
  • Tell them about the resources they have available
  • Tell them why the class is important
  • Assess their current ability
  • Actually teach
  • 5
    « Ice breakers are not a good way to meet people... » might be true for physicists but may not be true for all.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 13:31
  • Why are they not a good way and why are your points better?
    – user111388
    Commented Sep 12, 2020 at 22:00
  • 90% of my college instructors used some variation of this approach for their first class, though "actually teach" was often omitted for the first day. Regarding assessments: Depending on your class, it's not uncommon to have a rough understanding of a typical incoming class's abilities. This comes with experience, but can be bootstrapped by reading your predecessor's lesson plans. Making such requirements clear via formal prerequisites (or informal prerequisites via course description) is common.
    – Brian
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 16:17
  • That being said, icebreakers do make sense in settings that are less lecture-oriented. E.g., Graduate seminars, trade-school classes, and pseudo-internships.
    – Brian
    Commented Sep 17, 2020 at 17:26

I think the most important function of the first class is to engage with the material in an exciting and intriguing way. In cs that might mean teasing with a serious introduction to some topic of interest you will encounter in detail later in the semester. If you can ask good questions that can be addressed now (even if not "correctly"), do that.

In many classes my first assignment, due very quickly, is a short questionnaire asking students about their preparation (previous courses? How long ago?), their hopes and fears/worries about this class, anything else that might help me help them (personal issues like child care or illness can be mentioned but are not at all required).

That serves to break ice for me. If you are comfortable with group work in class you could ask small groups of students who happen to be sitting together to respond to your introductory remarks about what you hope will be exciting things to learn about.

  • 1
    Re "engage with the material in an exciting way": when possible (physics/chemistry in particular), experiments are good, though I suspect the effect is better in person than in video-teaching.
    – UJM
    Commented Sep 13, 2020 at 22:28

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