Here’s a classic ice-breaker called “I have never….” I learned it years ago and have lost track of its source. This is the kind of first-day activity that says to students, “Expect your learning experience in this course to be active!”

1) Put student in a circle and provide each with 20 paper clips (or other small item).

2) Ask the first student to say his/her name and truthfully state something s/he has never done (Example: “I have never been to a baseball game.”)  If desired, you can encourage students to state something related to college or a particular class. (Example, “I have never gone to the tutoring center.”)

3) Students who HAVE done this action must give a paper clip to the student who “has never.” As students present their paper clip, they say their name for all to hear and briefly tell something more about what they did, that their classmate has never done.  (Example, “Hi, I’m Chloe. My father took me to dozens of major league baseball games when I was a kid, and today I’m a big Cubs fan.” or “Hi, I’m Ricardo, and I have gone to the tutoring center many times because I found a tutor who is very helpful. In fact, she helped me pass math last semester.”)

4) Continue around the class circle and, at the end, the student with most paper clips wins a prize. (A brand new red Corvette would probably be well received.)

Remember, students must say what they have NOT done. To maximize their chances of winning, they should choose activities they think many classmates HAVE done. Surprises surface as everyone finds out (sometimes memorable) things that others have and have not done. Afterwards, challenge students to go around the circle naming classmate and telling something s/he has or has not done. If relevant to your objectives, you can then explore the strategies that students used to memorize their classmates’ names.


At about midterm, provide the following quotation on a handout or PowerPoint slide:

If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic, that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence.  Determination.  The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying, ‘Here comes number seventy-one!’   — Richard M. Devos, Founder of Amway and self-made billionaire

Ask a volunteer to read the quotation aloud. Afterwards ask students to nominate a quality or personal characteristic they think is most highly correlated with success in your course (or in college or in life). Make a list of nominated qualities on the board. Have each student choose one quality and write a list of specific actions that they will do to demonstrate this quality in the second half of the term. Help them revise vague actions. (“Be better about attending class” is vague. “Attend every class on time” is specific.) Ask volunteers to read their planned actions aloud. Consistent with many expectancy theories for promoting achievement motivation, this activity suggests to students that if they change their behaviors, they can improve their results. As an option, you can ask each student to choose an “accountability partner,” a classmate who will help them keep their promise to themselves for the rest of the semester.


Here’s a simple but effective way to review key learning concepts:  Put students in groups and give each group a transparency pen and an easel-chart page a major concept (term) from your course printed vertically down the center. Give a different term to each group. Instruct students to write other key terms from the course horizontally across the main word and then vertically off of those words (as in a crossword puzzle).  After five minutes, stop and have groups take turns presenting their page, explaining each term on their transparency and giving an example where appropriate.  

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshops, 

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