An Equitable Ice Breaker Using Google Maps

Does your online ice breaker need a refresh? Chelsea Cohen has a great idea that will get your students connected and take the edge off the start of a new course!

In the 4-minute video embedded above, she will take you on a tour of her course and show you how she blends a Canvas Discussion with an interactive Google Map to create a 2-part assignment. Her students, who are English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) learners, drop a pin on a Google Map that designates their home town and add a photo of that location. As you will see, the map transforms into a contextual representation of the students’ backgrounds, inviting them to share meaningful experiences.

If you use Google Maps in your course, include a link to Google’s Accessibility in Google Maps page to ensure all your students can engage with the content. And offer an alternative pathway for students to contribute their content if they experience challenges.

Let Chelsea be your guide — click the video above and enjoy the ride!

Posted in Articles, Course Design Showcase, Rubric Section A, Rubric Section B, Uncategorized.

Chelsea is a tenured instructor of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and the Distance Education Coordinator at Laney College. She is also a lead reviewer for the Online Education Initiative and a new facilitator for @ONE. She is passionate about helping her colleagues develop creative, inclusive activities for their online classes, and equipping her students with technology skills that will open doors in both their educational and professional lives.


  1. Hi Chelsea! I stole this idea from you when you shared it in the @ONE course 10-10-10. I love how easy My Maps is to use. It’s notable that your students are truly from all over the world. When I tried it out last semester for my online class at Barstow Community College, most of my students were from the L.A. area. I was one of the few people in the class from outside California.

  2. What a fun introductory activity! I’m going to try this with my Advanced class this summer. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is amazing! It brings in all the aspects of humanization, equity, cultural exchange, connecting with each other, all elements to start the class right.

  4. Hi Chelsea. How do you create a class Google Map? Do you just link to Google Maps or do you have to create a special version?

  5. Hi Chelsea,

    As a Spanish teacher, I LOVE your activity. The cultural possibilities of this activity are endless and the visual presentation will motivate students to find out more about their classmates’ places of origin. Like Chris Stone, I would like to know how you create Google Map.
    I am new to Online instruction (and scared). When I learn about an activity like this, I want to learn how to do it.

  6. I’m using your idea in my classes beginning in August. Thanks for the great idea for a class icebreaker activity.

  7. I did it by going into Google Maps, going down the menu to click on “Your Places”. At the bottom it says “Create Map”, so click on that. It will be showing you where you are now or maybe a generic map, but you can zoom out to show the entire world. Give the map a name and save it. Zoom back in to where you want to place your marker. Click on the little marker icon, and place it by clicking on the location. If you click on the icon after placing, it opens and you can add words and photos.

  8. Hi Chelsea. What a fantastic idea! I am having trouble creating a specific map for our class, as well as finding the “add marker” icon. How do you create a class Google Map? Do you just link to Google Maps or do you have to create a special version?

  9. Thank you, Chelsea! I just updated my introduction/ice breaker so that I could use yours. I’m very excited about trying it out on my class tomorrow!

  10. Hi Chelsea,

    This is fantastic! I have seen other faculty use an iteration of this. I LOVE the fact that you have students look at the other pins. That layer is so important. I am thinking that for my students who tend to come from more or less similar spots that I will add a choice that they can choose their hometowns or the hometown of one of their ancestors that they have heard about or visited.

    Thank you for sharing this!
    🙂 Janet

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