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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Students detail which icebreakers caught their attention

Illustration by Ally Rzesa

Professors are sometimes guilty of overusing icebreakers in the initial days of a new semester to get to know their classes. But icebreakers don’t always go over so well with students. We asked students to tell us about a way an Emerson professor or past teacher has opened up a new class that they’ve enjoyed or has inspired them. 


In my first Discovering Journalism class with Paul Mihailidis, he started by having the class arrange themselves in a circle based on our birthday. Doing this pushed me to speak to the majority of the class, even if we were not necessarily having a complete conversation. Afterward, we all went in a circle and said our names, the most interesting thing about ourselves, and the most boring thing we do day-to-day. I told everyone I directed three student films during high school, and a boring fact about me is that every night, I look forward to vacuuming my dorm room—yes, it is true.

During the activity, I learned about students who went to the same high school as celebrities like Khalid and Adam Sandler, students who could samba dance, students who could play three instruments, and even a student who enjoyed language-learning memes. While the beginning of class, when no one really knows each other, can be awkward and, at times, cringey, I enjoyed getting to know my classmates in this non-traditional way.

To me, there is nothing worse than walking into a new class and having each person state their name, major, and where they are from before the professor proceeds to read the syllabus. Sure, it’s a way to learn about your classmates on a surface level, but it does not foster genuine connections and allow for much discussion. On the other hand, after Mihailidis’ activity, I had a feeling the class would be more tight-knit for the rest of the semester.

– Jess Ferguson

Ferguson is a freshman journalism major. 


On the first day of my speech class last year at a community college in Miami, after we spent the first half-hour discussing the syllabus and formal public speaking, my professor spoke to the importance of being able to attract the audience’s attention. In order to demonstrate just how short our attention spans are, he made the class gather for an activity. He had us form a circle and said something like, “We are going to start in a clockwise manner, and each of you is going to state your first name, your major, and your favorite food.” He then began as an example. Next came the first student, who said his name was Robert, he was a computer science major, and he liked pizza. Then another. Three more students continued this same pattern. But just as the sixth student was going to begin, the professor cut in and asked the group to recall the first student’s name. There was nothing but blank stares and silence. No one could remember his first name.

The purpose of the activity was to recognize short attention spans. Our professor told us that we need to be able to effectively deliver our messages. I was amazed by this activity. I never thought such a simple exercise could bring such profound attention to the importance of listening and effectively delivering messages, all while defining the true purpose of our public speaking class. 

Teachers should bring important themes from the course into their ice breaker activities and stray from the individual self-presentations. By mixing theory and practice, students can assimilate with the class and facilitate their success.  

– Carlota Cano

Cano is a sophomore communication studies major.     


On my first day of college, I was sitting in the lecture-style classroom, looking at the new faces around me, and anxiously waiting for class—both nervous and excited. But as soon as Professor Mark Leccese started talking to us in Journalism 101, this unfamiliar feeling magically disappeared. Mark chatted with students to let everyone get to know each other. And he did this with everyone in the classroom. 

He used a list of random questions that he would shout out for students. “Where are you from? What type of music do you listen to? What’s your favorite movie or show? What else do you do for fun?” 

Mark’s answers not only met our curiosity but raised our interests in journalism. When we asked him “why journalism,” he paused for a second and said something like, “I’ve never thought about another career besides journalism.” In a sense, this is what journalism students wanted to hear and why we’re here to explore together with a shared interest. And for the second class, the stage turned into 33 of us. From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, from raised in the city to growing up on the farm, from music to sports teams, each of us told our own stories in our ways. These stories were too good to miss, where interesting souls gathered and we shared inspirational thoughts.

By introducing ourselves beyond just our names and majors, I immediately felt like more a part of this class in just the first week of school. Establishing mutual trust and respect between the professor and students in the early days of class makes for the best icebreaker.  

– Jiaxuan “Jocelyn” Yang

Yang is a freshman journalism major.


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    Nancy Kaplan-Biegel / Jan 15, 2023 at 3:12 pm

    Just wanted you to know that here in 2023, a journalism professor from a California Community College loved reading this round up. I’m going to try some of these this week! Thanks! 🙂