Education World readers have come through again! Enjoy these teacher-tested icebreaker activities for the first days of school. Included: Fourteen icebreakers from teachers around the globe!
Each activity below was contributed by an Education World reader who is identified alongside the activity.
IT'S IN THE BAG!
Over the years, teachers have pulled from their "bags of tricks" a handful of activities employing the common paper bag!
Dawn Lasko, who teaches third grade at Cliffwood (New Jersey) Elementary School, starts the year with a game that challenges her students to use their sense of touch. Lasko hides a series of ten objects -- mostly such classroom items as a piece of chalk, an eraser, or a marker -- in numbered paper bags. Each kid prepares a sheet of paper numbered 1 to 10. The students record their guesses about what each bag holds as they make their way from bag to bag. They share their guesses, then open the bags to learn who made the most correct guesses.
Cheryl Lindo, a teacher at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, uses paper bags in one of her favorite icebreaker activities. In an activity she calls Share Your Garbage, Lindo shares a bag filled with things that tell about herself. Her bag might include a receipt from Barnes and Noble (she loves to read), a wrapper from a chocolate bar (she is a self-confessed chocoholic), an empty yeast jar (she enjoys baking bread), and a few crumpled pieces of paper (she likes to write). She sends students home to pull together their own garbage collections, which they share on the second day of school.
Jamie Ward gives a similar opening-day homework assignment to her students at Clarendon (Texas) Junior High School. She challenges students to do a little reflecting by limiting the bag to three items.
Ward shares the three items in her own bag as an example before sending kids home to think and search. The next day, students share their items with the class. Everybody learns something new about the others in the class.
Yolanda Rangel, who teaches fifth grade at LeNoir Elementary School in Donna, Texas, does a similar activity. Instead of using bags, however, she has students decorate Me Boxes to share with their peers.
Have students write three things about themselves. They should not put their names on their papers. Then have each student crush his or her paper into a ball. Now you're ready for a getting-to-know-you "snowball fight." Tell students they cannot begin until you say "go" and that they must stop when you say "freeze." Remind students not to throw "snowballs" at anyone's face. When you say "go," give students 30 seconds to a minute to toss their "snowballs." When you say "freeze," every student should pick up one snowball. Each student should open up the snowball and find the student it belongs to. Students should chat with their partners about the information on the sheets. Then students will be responsible for introducing the students whose snowballs they "caught" to the rest of the class.
Carly Sween, Randy Smith Middle School, Fairbanks, Alaska
Penelope Cook, Chrisman (Illinois) Grade School
Ticket to Kindergarten
Greet your students at the door. Hand each student a "ticket" that has her or his name and a picture, a shape, a color, or some other symbol. Tell students to find their names and the pictures or symbols on one of the desks in the classroom. This activity provides practice in recognizing names and matching -- two important kindergarten skills.
Brenda J. Bustamantes, Fort Worth (Texas) Independent School District
Getting to Know Ms. P.
This activity helps students get to know you. In advance, create a ten-question, multiple-choice quiz about yourself. For example:
What kind of car does Ms. P drive?
- Ford Escort
- Volkswagen Beetle
Students circle their best guess for each question. Before you begin the quiz, ask students to predict the number of questions they will correctly answer. You might follow up this activity by having students create five- or ten-question quizzes about themselves; the questions should be about things most of their peers would not know.
Kara Perry, Accawmacke Elementary School, Accomac, Virginia
The Giving Tree
Read aloud Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree and involve students in a discussion of the types of gifts the tree gave the boy; none of those gifts cost a thing! Then talk about the types of cost-free "gifts" the students can contribute to the class. Prepare a bulletin board that has the silhouette of a tree trunk and branches. Give each student a cutout apple. Have students write on their apples the things they can "give" to the class. Put the apples on the tree. This bulletin board makes a nice display for open house.
This fun first-day activity teaches the importance of using vivid details, adjectives, and precise language in writing. Have each student take off one shoe and put the shoe on his or her desk. Then have the students write paragraphs in which they describe their shoes in detail. Collect the students' descriptions. Later in the day, have students take off their shoes and deposit them in the center of the room. Hand a description to each student. (Make sure students do not get their own descriptions.) Students read the description and try to find the shoe that best matches each description. Is the description well written? Does it help a classmate find the correct shoe, or does it need to be revised?
Jude Connick, John F. Kennedy Middle School, Enfield, Connecticut
Opening Day Sing-Along
Are you familiar with the song Getting to Know You, from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I? Write the lyrics to the song on chart paper and hang it on an easel. Talk about the meaning of the lyrics and some of the vocabulary that might be unfamiliar. What does it mean to get to know someone? to get acquainted? What does it take to get to know someone and let that person get to know you? What does it mean to get someone to like you and how do you go about that? Then introduce the tune, by playing it on a piano or sharing a recording. Finally, sing the song together during the daily class meeting for the first week or so of school.
Joanne Jackson, East Hills Middle School, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Organize yourself and the students on chairs in a large circle. You hold a pair of scissors. When the activity is about to begin, stare at the scissors as if you are studying them hard, to distract and confuse students. Then pass the scissors to the student seated in the next chair. As you pass the scissors, simply say the word crossed or uncrossed. Because the students saw you intently studying the scissors, they will probably assume that the words crossed and uncrossed have something to do with the scissors. The word really refers to the position of your legs when you passed the scissors. You said crossed if your legs were crossed or uncrossed if your legs were uncrossed. After you pass the scissors, tell that student to study the scissors and say the correct word while passing them safely to the student in the next chair. Give no other clues about the activity; the students must work it out! As each student passes the scissors, tell the student whether he or she got it right. See how many rounds it takes before each student has figured it out. If most of the students have not figured out the game by the end of a few rounds, you can start to make it more obvious by changing the position of your legs just before passing the scissors. Instruct students not to say anything as they figure out what is going on. To keep students from revealing the secret of the game, you might let them tell some of their peers whether they are correct as the scissors are passed.
Lucy Phipps, Pinehurst College, Auckland, New Zealand
Each student cuts the word ME from an 8 1/2- by 11-inch sheet of paper. The right leg (vertical line) of the M and the vertical line of the E connect the two letters so the word ME is in one piece. You might provide a tracing pattern for younger students. Have each student write on his or her ME cutout ten things about himself or herself. Then organize students into pairs. Each person uses the facts on the ME cutout to introduce himself or herself to the other person. When the two introductions are complete, students talk about what they have in common. Then they flip the ME cutouts up so they spell WE. The students write the things they have in common on the WE cutout. Students might then transfer the information they learn to a simple Venn diagram.) Finally, students use the ME cutouts to introduce themselves to the rest of the class. After each pair finishes the introduction, the students share those things they found they have in common.
Deborah Hercsek, Lee Eaton School, Northfield, Ohio
Grouping for Introductions
Note: Before preparing or distributing any food in the classroom, make sure you are aware of children's allergies or dietary restrictions, and caution children about choking hazards.
Hand out a gummy bear or lifesaver to each student, making sure nobody sees which color each person gets. When each student has a candy, instruct the students to put their candies on their tongues. Then the students must find others who have the same color candy. They cannot make any noise -- no uh-uhs! -- as they organize themselves into groups. Once the students are grouped, they can begin their introductions or whatever other group activity you have planned.
Jo Hendricks, Limestone Creek Elementary School, Jupiter, Florida
KWL the Teacher
This activity will help students get to know you. Students in small groups could use it to get to know one another. Begin the activity by drawing a three-column (KWL) chart on the board. Students help fill in the chart with information about you. They write things they Know about you in the K column. Then, in the column labeled W (Want to Know), they list things they would like to know about you. For now, leave the last column blank.
For the next step, you will need to prepare in advance a list of interesting facts about yourself. Write ten of those facts on slips of paper; then fold each slip of paper and put it in a jar or another container. Tape a large sheet of butcher paper to a board. Your name should appear in a circle in the center of the paper. (This is an opportunity to introduce a concept mapping activity -- an activity you may use frequently during the school year.)
Ask for a volunteer to come up, pull a fact from the container, read it to herself or himself, and then illustrate that fact on the paper. Other students guess the fact that goes with the illustration. The student who guesses the fact gets to select and illustrate the next fact. At the end of the period, the class has produced a free-form map of you!
The next day, present students with a 20-question, multiple-choice quiz about you. Students will use the free-form map to help them respond to questions. The students might groan at the idea of taking a quiz on the second day, but they will be rewarded on the third day: that's when you return their graded quizzes with a coupon attached! For every question they got right in excess of teen, they earn a coupon worth that many extra-credit points on a real quiz!
Finally, on the third day, go back to the original KWL chart and have students complete the L column with things they Learned about you. Now the mysterious teacher at the front of the class seems to be more like a real person to them, and they are ready for the third night's homework assignment. Students create free-form concept maps about themselves; the map should include seven to ten illustrated facts. The students' concept maps would make a great bulletin board for an open house!
Nicole Honour, Keystone Heights (Florida) Junior/Senior High School
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