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icebreakerIcebreakers Volume 5: All-About-You Activities for the First Days of School

One of Education World's most popular features returns this year with 19 new getting-to-know-you icebreakers for the first days of school!

It's time to make a fresh start. You've done some summer reading on classroom management, and you're eager to try out some new ideas. You've learned from past mistakes, and you look forward this year to avoiding those mistakes. Most fun of all, the opening days of school are an opportunity to get to know a whole new group of kids!

What will you do during those first few days of school? What activities might you do to help you get to know your new students? What activities will help students get to know you and one another?

For the last three years, Education World has presented a new group of getting-to-know-you ideas -- or icebreakers -- for those first days of school. Here are 19 ideas -- ideas tried and tested by Education World readers -- to help develop classroom camaraderie during the opening days of school.

Opening-Day Letter

Still looking for more ideas? Don't forget our archive of more than 150 icebreaker activities.

Write a letter to your students. In that letter, introduce yourself to students. Tell them about your hopes for the new school year and some of the fun things you'll be doing in class. In addition, tell students a few personal things about yourself; for example, your likes and dislikes, what you did over the summer, and your hobbies. Ask questions throughout the letter. You might ask what students like most about school, what they did during the summer, what their goals for the new school year are, or what they are really good at. In your letter, be sure to model the correct parts of a friendly letter! On the first day of school, display your letter on an overhead projector. Then pass each student a sheet of nice stationery. Have the students write return letters to you. In this letter, they will need to answer some of your questions and tell you about themselves. This is a great way to get to know each other in a personal way! Variation: Mail the letter to students before school starts, and enclose a sheet of stationery for kids to write you back.
      Meg Basker, Harrison Elementary School, South Bend, Indiana

Stringing Conversation Together
Cut string or yarn into pieces of different lengths. Each piece should have a matching piece of the same length. There should be enough pieces so that each student will have one. Then give each student one piece of string, and challenge each student to find the other student who has a string of the same length. After students find their matches, they can take turns introducing themselves to one another. You can provide a list of questions to help students "break the ice," or students can come up with their own. You might extend the activity by having each student introduce his or her partner to the class.
      Stacy Moore, Garrison Mill Elementary School, Marietta, Georgia

Animal Groups
On the first day of school, gather all the students from a grade level in a large common area. Give each student a slip of paper with the name of an animal on it. Then give students instructions for the activity: They must locate the other members of their animal group by imitating that animal's sound only. No talking is allowed. The students might hesitate initially, but that hesitation soon gives way to a cacophony of sound as the kids moo, snort, and giggle their way into groups. The end result is that students have found their way into their homerooms or advisory groups for the school year, and the initial barriers to good teamwork have already been broken.
      Donna Morgan, Avery Middle School, Newland, North Carolina

A Tangled Web
Gather students in a circle sitting around you on the floor. Hold a large ball of yarn. Start by telling the students something about yourself. Then roll the ball of yarn to a student without letting go of the end of the yarn. The student who gets the ball of yarn tells his or her name and something good about himself or herself. Then the student rolls the yarn to somebody else, holding on to the strand of yarn. Soon students have created a giant web. After everyone has spoken, you and all the students stand up, continuing to hold the yarn. Start a discussion of how this activity relates to the idea of teamwork -- for example, the students need to work together and not let others down. To drive home your point about teamwork, have one student drop his or her strand of yarn; that will demonstrate to students how the web weakens if the class isn't working together.
      Amy Henning, W. C. Petty School, Antioch, Illinois

Student Dictionary
Write five questions on the board. Questions might include the following:

  • What is your name?
  • Where were you born?
  • How many brothers or sisters do you have?
  • What are their names?
  • Do you have any pets?

Tell students to write those questions on a piece of paper and to add to that paper five more questions they could ask someone they don't know. Pair students, and have each student interview his or her partner and record the responses. Then have each student use the interview responses to write a "dictionary definition" of his or her partner to include in a Student Dictionary. You might model this activity by creating a sample dictionary definition about yourself. For example:

 

Reynolds, Kim. proper noun. 1. Born in Riverside, California. 2. No brothers or sisters.

Have students bring in small pictures of themselves to paste next to their entries in the Student Dictionary. Bind the definitions into a book, and display it at back-to-school night.
      Kim Reynolds, Warwick Elementary School, Fremont, California

Classmate Scavenger Hunt
Provide each student with two index cards. Ask each student to write a brief description of his or her physical characteristics on one index card and his or her name on the other. Physical characteristics usually do not include clothing, but if you teach the primary grades, you might allow students to include clothing in their descriptions. Put all the physical characteristic index cards in a shoe box, mix them up, and distribute one card to each student, making sure that no student gets his or her own card. Give students ten minutes to search for the person who fits the description on the card they hold. There is no talking during this activity, but students can walk around the room. At the end of the activity, tell students to write on the card the name of the student who best matches the description. Then have students share their results. How many students guessed correctly?
      Patricia McHugh, John W. Raper Elementary School, Cleveland, Ohio

Cooperative Musical Chairs
This activity is a takeoff on the familiar musical chairs game. Set up a circle of chairs with one less chair than the number of students in the class. Play music as the students circle around the chairs. When the music stops, the students must sit in a seat. Unlike the traditional game, the person without a seat is not out. Instead, someone must make room for that person. Then remove another seat and start the music again. The kids end up on one another's laps and sharing chairs! You can play this game outside, and you can end it whenever you wish. Afterward, stress the teamwork and cooperation the game took, and how students needed to accept one another to be successful. Reinforce that idea by repeating this game throughout the year.
      Danielle Weston, Willard School, Sanford, Maine

Hands-On Activity
Have students begin this activity by listing at least 25 words that describe them and the things they like. No sentences allowed, just words! Then ask each student to use a dark pen to trace the pattern of his or her hand with the fingers spread apart. Provide another sheet of paper that the student can place on top of the tracing. Because the tracing was done with a dark pen, the outline should be visible on the sheet below. Direct students to use the outlines as guides and to write their words around it. Provide students a variety of different colored pencils or markers to use as they write. Then invite students to share their work with the class. They might cut out the hand outlines and mount them on construction paper so you can display the hands for open house. Challenge each parent to identify his or her child's hand.
      Veronica Coker, Lanesville Elementary School, Lanesville, Indiana

Chain Gang
Begin by asking students "Who can do something really well?" After a brief discussion about some of the students' talents, pass out paper and ask students to write down five things they do well. Then provide each student with five different-colored paper strips. Have each student write a different talent on separate paper strips, then create a mini paper chain with the strips by linking the five talents together. As students complete their mini chains, use extra strips of paper to link the mini chains together to create one long class chain. Have students stand and hold the growing chain as you link the pieces together. Once the entire chain is constructed and linked, lead a discussion about what the chain demonstrates -- for example, all the students have talents; all the students have things they do well; together, the students have many talents; if they work together, classmates can accomplish anything; the class is stronger when students work together than when individual students work on their own. Hang the chain in the room as a constant reminder to students of the talents they possess and the benefits of teamwork.
      Kimberlee Woodward, substitute teacher, Waterford, Michigan

Silhouette Collage
Stock up on old magazines. Your school librarian might have a discard pile you can draw from. Invite students to search through the magazines for pictures, words, or anything else that might be used to describe them. Then use an overhead projector or another source of bright light to create a silhouette of each student's profile; have each student sit in front of the light source as you or another student traces the outline of the silhouette on a sheet of 11- by 17-inch paper taped to the wall. Have students cut out their silhouettes, then fill them with a collage of pictures and words that express their identity. Then give each student an opportunity to share his or her silhouette with the group and talk about why he or she chose some of the elements in the collage. Post the silhouettes to create a sense of "our homeroom."
      Kathy Juarez, Piner High School, Santa Rosa, California

Headlines
As part of the normal first-day routine, many teachers have each student fill out a card with such information as name, address, phone number, parents' names and work numbers, and so on. You can use such cards to gather other information too, such as school schedule, why the student signed up for the class, whether the student has a part-time job, and whether he or she has access to the Internet at home. As a final bit of information, ask the student to write a headline that best describes him or her! This headline might be a quote, a familiar expression, or anything else. When students finish filling out the cards, give a little quiz. Ask students to number a sheet of paper from 1 to __, depending on how many students are in the class. Then read aloud the headlines one at a time. Ask students to write the name of the person they think each headline best describes. Who got the highest score?

Bonus! It seems as if parents are contacted only if there is a problem with students. At the end of each grading period, use the home address information to send a postcard to a handful of parents to inform them about how well their child is doing. This might take a little time, but it is greatly appreciated!
      Dawn Walters, White House High School, White House, Tennessee

MORE QUICK GETTING-TO-KNOW-YOU ACTIVITIES

Following are a few more activity ideas that were sent our way:

Pop Quiz
Ahead of time, write a series of getting-to-know-you questions on slips of paper -- one question to a slip. You can repeat some of the questions. Then fold up the slips, and tuck each slip inside a different balloon. Blow up the balloons. Give each student a balloon, and let students take turns popping their balloons and answering the questions inside.
      Contributor Unknown

Fact or Fib?
This is a good activity for determining your students' note-taking abilities. Tell students that you are going to share some information about yourself. They'll learn about some of your background, hobbies, and interests from the 60-second oral "biography" that you will present. Suggest that students take notes; as you speak, they should record what they think are the most important facts you share. When you finish your presentation, tell students that you are going to tell five things about yourself. Four of your statements should tell things that are true and that were part of your presentation; one of the five statements is a total fib. This activity is most fun if some of the true facts are some of the most surprising things about you and if the "fib" sounds like something that could very well be true. Tell students they may refer to their notes to tell which statement is the fib. Next, invite each student to create a biography and a list of five statements -- four facts and one fib -- about himself or herself. Then provide each student a chance to present the 60-second oral biography and to test the others' note-taking abilities by presenting his or her own "fact or fib quiz." You can have students do this part of the activity in small groups.
      Mitzi Geffen

Circular Fact or Fib?
Here's a variation on the previous activity: Organize students into two groups of equal size. One group forms a circle equally spaced around the perimeter of the classroom. There will be quite a bit of space between students. The other group of students forms a circle inside the first circle; each student faces one of the students in the first group. Give the facing pairs of students two minutes to share their 60-second oral "biographies." While each student is talking, the partner takes notes. After each pair completes the activity, the students on the inside circle move clockwise to face the next student in the outer circle. Students in the outer circle remain stationary throughout the activity. When all students have had an opportunity to share their biographies with one another, ask students to take turns each sharing facts and fibs with the class. The other students refer to their notes or try to recall which fact is really a fib.
      Contributor Unknown

People Poems
Have each child use the letters in his or her name to create an acrostic poem. For example, Bill could write

Big
Intelligent
Laughing
Loving.

Tell students they must include words that tell something about themselves -- for example, something they like to do or a personality or physical trait. Invite students to share their poems with the class. This activity is a fun one that enables you to learn how your students view themselves. Allow older students to use a dictionary or thesaurus. You might also vary the number of words for each letter, according to the students' grade levels.
      Bill Laubenberg

Another Poetic Introduction.
Ask students to use the form below to create poems that describe them.

Name ______________________
Title (of poem)_______________
I will never _______________,
I will never ________________,
and I will never ______________.
I will always ______________.

This activity lends itself to being done at the beginning of the school year and again at the end of the year. You and your students will have fun comparing their responses and seeing how the students and the responses have changed.
      Contributor Unknown

Food for Thought
To get to know students and to help them get to know one another, have each student state his or her name and a favorite food that begins with the same first letter as the name. For example: "Hi, my name is Latrece, and I like liver." As each student introduces himself or herself, he or she must repeat the names and favorite foods of the students who came before. Watch out -- it gets tricky for the last person who has to recite all the names and foods!
      Latrece Hughes

I Am NOT!
Here's a challenging activity that might help high school teachers learn about students' abilities to think critically. Send students into the school hallways or schoolyard, and ask each to find something that "is completely the opposite of yourself." Option: To widen the area to be explored, provide this activity as homework on the first night of school. When students bring their items back to class, ask each to describe why the item is not like him or her. You'll get a lot of flowers, of course, and students will describe how those flowers are fragrant or soft or otherwise unlike themselves. But you might also get some clever responses, such as the one from a young man who brought in the flip-top from a discarded can; he talked about its decaying outward appearance and its inability to serve a purpose without being manipulated by some other force (and how he was able to serve a purpose on his own).
      Joy Ross

Personal Boxes
In this activity, each student selects a container of a reasonable size that represents some aspect of his or her personality or personal interests, such as a football helmet or a saucepan. Ask students to fill that object with other items that represent themselves -- for example, family photos, CDs, dirty socks, a ballet shoe -- and bring their containers back to school. Students can use the objects in the containers as props for three-minute presentations about themselves. The teacher who provided this idea suggests that you model the activity and encourage creativity by going first -- it's important for students to see you as human too! She included in her container a wooden spoon because she loves to cook, a jar of dirt because she loves to garden, her son's first cowboy boot, a poem she wrote, a rock from Italy because she loves to travel, and so on. You'll learn much about each student with this activity, and it will create a bond among students. As each student gives a presentation, you might write a brief thank-you note that mentions something specific about the presentation so that each student can take home a special note to share with parents. It might take a few days to give every student the opportunity to share.
      Valerie Braun

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