Getting to know you, late in the game

After our last class, one of my students came up to me after the class and wanted to offer some feedback. I have heard teachers complain about things like this, especially in the context of young-looking women being offered unsolicited teaching advice from men in their class. However, this student was respectful and framed the advice as the kind of advice he would like to get from his students (I guess he must be teaching a DeCal or something?). And most of his suggestions were actually pretty on the mark! (We are planning to do a midterm evaluation soon anyway to gather precisely this kind of feedback, so I guess Christmas just came early.)

His main focus was on the relationships between students in the class–namely that there really aren’t any. Between the shifting enrollments at the beginning of the semester, and the sheer size of the class, we never did any kind of generalized “ice-breaker.” We also haven’t explicitly encouraged the students to learn each other’s names. And, of course, there is the “ping-pong” structure of discussion that we have lamented in our Koshland conversations. This student was totally right to bring to our attention that we haven’t done enough fostering of in-class community, and we are planning to address it in our next section, but I wanted to see if anyone has any suggestions.

See, I think there are two reasons we haven’t done this. One, I’ve never come up with what seems like an actually useful “icebreaker” type exercise. So if anybody has a recommendation for something they’ve done with students, please let me know! And two, I don’t know how to do an icebreaker with almost 40 students that won’t take up the whole class. With 80 minutes of meeting time, if everybody talks for two minutes (which is kind of a long time, but with pauses and trying to think of a clever answer, etc., actually not totally unrealistic), that’s an entire class. If we had a truly substantive exercise that would in fact have the effect of fostering community and mutual interest/appreciation in the students, I wouldn’t hesitate to use a whole class on it–but I shudder to think of a full hour and twenty minutes spent with them each in a row saying their name, intended major, and favorite movie/animal/place/whatever. How do you make a group so big feel intimate, and do it in such a way that the 35th person to introduce themselves isn’t talking to a room full of sleeping peers?

Thanks everybody, and here’s hoping you have some fabulous ideas I can steal!!