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Building Connections at a Distance - Icebreakers, Energizers and Team Building Ideas for a Virtual World

Presented by Traves Freeland, Assistant Director of Climbing and Challenge Education for Recreation and wellness and facilitated by Dr. Carl Krieger, Director of Residential Education - May 18, 2020

For the majority of this session's information and resources, you will want to watch the video recording here. (please note: users will be directed to a BoilerKey login screen to view)

Session Outcomes

  • Learn about conducting, participating or observing activities to increase connection between students or staff at a distance.

I do exercises for team building, icebreakers and energizers with groups on our outdoor challenge course. Obviously, we've been thrown into the world of virtual reality because of our current situation. I should be outside right now playing with students and getting them energized and excited. We can do some of my ideas in a virtual world. We can make connections with our students in the world we're in.


  • The challenge of hosting WebEx meetings can seem overwhelming and intimidating.
  • The best way to learn how to do activities is to experience them yourself. Practicing the use of WebEx is the best teacher.
  • It will give you a good idea on how long each activity takes.

Orientation using WebEx

  • Don't assume everyone knows how to use WebEx.
  • Walk them through the basics.
  • What is your ultimate goal? Are you simply wanting to say, "I'm going to talk to you guys. You're going to be quiet." That's the easiest way to use WebEx. But we want engagement. That takes WebEx to a different level, and I'm going to teach you some tricks.
  • Keep group size small—about eight. 


  • Questions:
    Make a list and have participants answer one at a time, taking turns.

  • Penny for Your Thoughts
    Tell participants to bring a penny with them to the meeting. At some point say, "Everybody look at the year printed on your penny, and think about something significant in your life that occurred in that year. Share when it's your turn." If the year is before the student was born, encourage them to Google and discover what occurred then.

  • Dicebreakers! An icebreaker using dice.
    In WebEx you can set up a “second monitor” for interaction. The WebEx access can be on your cell phone and made to come up as a second screen. There are also apps with dice, so you can actually “roll” the cell phone. Most people probably have access to dice at home. The participant rolls their dice, and answers the question that corresponds to the number they roll.

  • Playing Card Connections
    Place six cards(ace through six) face down on your second monitor, have participate choose, then flip the card over and have participant answer corresponding icebreaker question.

  • Virtual Icebreaker Bingo
    This is one of the coolest of the icebreakers that keeps the group engaged. It requires the most prep work because you need to send a bingo card to every participant before the presentation. The key here is that the bingo cards all need to be different. Each needs to have the same phrases, but arranged differently on the bingo card. An Example website to make bingo cards 


Energizers are activities designed for fun. If during your meeting you have been talking for a while, and you see your group is not engaged anymore, this is a way to change gears and reengage them.

I encourage you not to record your session. Because often when you start recording, people take their faces “down” because they don't want to be recorded. I tell groups, "Hey. I'm not going to record this. Please share your face," because we communicate by reading facial expressions.

  • Prediction
    The aim of this game is to turn over all 52 cards in a deck of playing cards without predicting one correctly.  Shuffle the deck and make sure you have a webcam focused solely on the deck of cards. Explain that before turning over the first card, the person in the first chat window must announce a number number/value of a card.  For example, “Five.” They must say the word out loud and be clear.  The goal is to try to avoid predicting the next card you are about to turn over.  If the announcement coincides with the rank of card revealed, the game is over immediately over.  So if they announced, “six” and then turned over the six of diamonds, the game is over.  Then the cards are shuffled and the game recommences with the next participant. The group wins if they can get through the entire deck.

    The game is also made harder by the rule that you cannot make the same prediction in consecutive turns, and once it is known that all four of one card value have been played, they may not continuously give this as an answer

  • Annotation Practice
    Annotate is a WebEX tool to use for team building exercises. When turned on, participants can draw anywhere on the screen. Sample games: “Select a State”—Using arrow pointers, participants point to a state on the map of the U.S. that they have not visited.

  • Hexagon
    With annotations turned on, have everyone use their pointer. Instruct participants to place their pointers outside of the black lines. You, as the host, will verbally count 3, 2, 1, go.  When you say “go”, everyone will choose a hexagon. If more than one person chooses the same hexagon, then you have everyone reset on the outside of the black lines and repeat. This time everyone chooses a different hexagon. They cannot choose the same hexagon two times in a roll. Be sure to limit the amount of hexagons to the same number of participants. Put an “X” on hexagons that you want to eliminate. I encourage you to instruct everyone to turn on their microphones, but they cannot talk. It makes it more engaging to hear the verbal frustrations


Team Builders
  • Traffic Jam
    Using annotations tool, have everyone put their arrow on a spot. The middle gray one should be left empty. Mark out extra spots at the end. Explain the rules; be sure everyone leaves their microphones on for communication. If you have 8 people this activity will take a while and be frustrating. It’s supposed to be. Part of the journey of working on a team is getting through frustrating tasks. A solution for you as the host is provided 

  • Food for Thought/Setting Your Place
    This is a different type of activity designed as a reflection piece with your group. It's a play on words that allows a way of seeing how people are doing, and it allows you to encourage conversation. You could say, "On the fork, list what new things you'd like to take a stab at. On the plate, list all the things that are on your plate right now. On the knife, list what things are cutting away from your time. On the spoon, you probably don't want to be spoon fed, but what things would you like help with."

  • Process of Transition
    Put the slide provided on the screen and ask people to point to where they feel they are right now (Anxiety, Happiness, Fear, Threat, Guilt, Depression, Denial, Disillusionment, Hostility, Gradual Acceptance, Moving Forward).You may see a considerable amount of people at one particular stage of this transition. Use that as a launch pad to have a conversation about why they feel the way they do.

  • Online Polling Platforms
    WebEx has a feature for polling, and you can use that to gage how people are feeling, where they are currently living, where they would like to visit, etc. Two other polling resources are:

Ideas for asynchronous

Use a poll everywhere but keep it open all day or all week to allow students to enter their answer on their own time.

I do this presentation per request via our website. You can make a request for virtual team building under Challenge Education. Check us out at

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