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Reverse Icebreakers

During the first few drama classes, we drama teachers often lean heavily on icebreaker questions to get to know our students better and to get them to talk to each other. However, some students struggle with responding to icebreaker questions. Sharing personal information requires a lot of vulnerability on the part of your students. They might have difficulty figuring out what to say when it’s their turn, or be worried that they’ll be made fun of for their answers. (If the latter is the case, you may want to work on trust-building exercises with your students before diving into questions.)

So let’s add some variety and comedy to our icebreaker questions with “reverse” icebreakers. Inspired by the game show Jeopardy, students are given various icebreaker answers, and it’s up to them to invent a question to go with it. For example, let’s say that a given answer is "My grandmother's chocolate chip cookies." Some ideas for questions could include:

  • "What is your favourite food?"
  • "What is something you can cook or bake?"
  • “What is something you’d like to receive as a surprise?”
  • “What is an item that holds a nice memory for you?”
  • "What's something you'd want to have on a desert island?"
  • "What's something you don't want to find in your shoe?"

The questions can be serious or silly or even outlandish, but they have to make sense with the answer and use appropriate language — no foul or bullying questions allowed.

Reverse icebreakers are great because they continue to give students the opportunity to talk with others and help you get to know your students. They just have a different twist than students might be used to, and you’ll need to listen carefully to the types of questions they suggest for a given prompt.

Do they stick to simple, straightforward questions? Do they suggest funny questions? Do they try too hard to be funny or shocking? As well, observe how your students respond to various questions their classmates ask. Do they respond appropriately? Does the vibe or energy of the class change when certain people respond? Do they laugh along with or call out any less-than-appropriate questions? These observations can help you tailor your lessons to the abilities and attitudes of your students.

There are many ways to incorporate reverse icebreakers into your classes. You can give reverse icebreaker answers to your students as bellwork or a welcome question at the beginning of class. Write something like, “The answer is (xyz); what’s the question?” on the chalkboard or whiteboard and have students write their answers down and submit them. You can use them as an attendance question and have students respond as you call their name on the class roster. You can use them as a group warm-up — have students grab a partner, give a reverse icebreaker answer, and have the pairs write down as many related questions as they can in two minutes.

You can play a Jeopardy-like improvisation game — have one student play the host and three students play the contestants. The host gives an answer and the contestants each give a different question response. If you like, you can have the rest of the class vote on what response they think is the funniest, the most creative, or the most convoluted. You can also give a reverse icebreaker prompt as an exit slip at the end of class, and have students write down and submit five possible matching questions. Finally, you can take the questions that your students came up with, and ask them to respond to the questions with what they’d actually answer. If you think of more ways to use reverse icebreakers, be sure to let us know!

Here’s a list of 10 sample reverse icebreaker answers to get you started. See the giveaway link below for more reverse icebreaker prompts. Your students will likely enjoy coming up with suggestions as well:

  • My grandmother's chocolate chip cookies
  • Professional wrestling
  • A dead fish
  • Your mom’s laptop
  • Your cell phone, with a huge crack across the screen
  • A tall glass of water
  • Babysitting the neighbour's three kids
  • Purple nail polish
  • A llama wearing your uncle’s hockey jersey
  • A blurry photograph
Click here for 25 additional reverse icebreaker prompts, as well as a reflection.
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