How many of you cringe at the thought of planning one more ice-breaker activity for the start of the school term? I think we can all agree that it’s important to set the right tone at the start of the class, and for students to get to know each other right away for meaningful learning to happen, but sometimes typical strategies for getting to know one another can feel forced or inauthentic.

When I’m teaching, my classes are typically focused on teacher education or studio art. In either scenario it’s important that I build a community of trust where students feel open to share ideas, fail upward, and quickly to find suitable solutions and answers. In the past, when I haven’t done any sort of activity concerning learning or personality styles, it takes students longer to get to a point where they are voluntarily sharing their work with one another for feedback, or to feel really comfortable participating in an exploratory role-playing or idea generation activity.  

If you are seeing a similar dynamic in your courses, I invite you to try the following fun exercise using 16 Personalities (2023) with your students. 16 Personalities is an online assessment that tells users what their personality type is, how their type influences the many facets of their life, and how to unlock their personal potential. Additionally, it adds a sense of whimsy to the process by telling you what famous people share your traits with fun little characters to personify the experience. Following is a sample roll-out of how to bring a similar experience to life in your classroom with your students. You never know what you might learn – about yourself, or your students!

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A Sample Roll-Out

Picture it, you’re a student and it’s the first day of class. You sit down, surrounded by strangers, fully expecting the typical rundown of syllabus, procedures, materials, calendar, repeat. Instead, your instructor asks you to pull out your computer, tablet, or phone, and complete a personality test they’ve linked in the learning management system. The whole class is quiet for several minutes as you navigate to the assessment and start answering questions. There are a few chuckles and then eventually everyone is looking up at the instructor expectantly, awaiting next steps.

Canvas assignment prompt directs students to Take the Self-Assessment and Share Your Results

You’ve noticed that while you’ve been answering the set of questions on your device, your instructor has sneakily posted character cards around the room. You realize that the characters are from the assessment that you just completed. Your instructor asks the class to break up into zones based on your results from the assessment. The zones are color-coded as purple, green, blue, and yellow.

You assign a team recorder to complete a personality matrix to map out who has each personality. Beneath the matrix is a set of reflection questions guiding you through a group conversation about what makes your team really shine, as well as what blind spots you may have.

Class Personality Matrix splits students up into different groups: Analysts, Diplomats, Sentinels, and Explorers
Conversation Starters chart asks questions of each team: What are your unique superpowers based on your personality types? What are your blind spots and how might you lean on other teams for support?

At this point, everyone is percolating with conversation. The instructor is moving around the room, mostly listening in, but sometimes chiming in with a probing question or comment. Time flies by, and soon, the instructor is getting everyone’s attention again. The instructor thanks everyone for their enthusiastic participation, and for being open to sharing with those in their zone. She informs the group that the exercise will continue throughout the semester, as you  lean into peers similar in personality to you, but also tap into peers from other groups to gain different perspectives as you complete key assessments. You leave the class eager for the next class meeting, but also understanding a little bit more about yourself and what you uniquely bring to the table. 

Alternative Approaches and Tools

16 Personalities is just one tool that you can use to engage students in a very similar experience to what was just described. I’ve used other assessments like Adobe’s Creative Type and Clifton Strengths to get students thinking and talking about their unique styles and approaches to learning and engagement. No matter the tool, or approach you take, it’s important that you complete the assessment/exercise yourself ahead of time. This will (1) give you insight into your own personality, and (2) help you understand how to best roll out the experience to your students.

The Hidden Curriculum

I’ve taken the 16 Personality assessment myself a few times over the course of my career, and each time, I see slightly different results. I attribute these small shifts to the different professional positions I’ve inhabited over the years. This, in itself, is something worth noting to students when you first kick off a conversation about personality tests like this, that changes can happen over time, and it’s worth considering new results compared to previous data periodically. 

After facilitating an exercise like this at the start of the term, consider circling back on student results on an ongoing basis, either through asynchronous or synchronous reflections over the course of the semester. This will keep students thinking about how they are leaning into their own personality strengths, and how the strengths of others can help serve them in their own learning. 

Have you explored personality tests with your students? How did it go?


NERIS Analytics Limited. 2023. “16 Personalities.”

  • Sarah Ackermann

    Dr. Sarah Ackermann’s background is in educational technology, instructional design, teacher leadership, and art education. She has experience teaching and leading in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats. Her most recent research is in the area of teacher response and professional development during the COVID pandemic. Additionally, she has written and illustrated a children’s book which encourages young learners to identify their personal strengths.

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