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Icebreakers Volume 9: My Classmates and Me

Icebreaker activities offer fun ways to get to know your new students -- and for them to get to know one another. Get the year off to a good start with one of the twelve new icebreakers below. Included: Links to our library of more than 100 icebreakers!

Have you ever thought of keeping a class scrapbook? Whether students create individual scrapbooks or a single scrapbook that's saved to individual CDs, a class "Memory Book" is a great way for students to create a keepsake of the events of the school year -- one they can look back on and share with others for years to come!

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

The Memory Book is an idea you might introduce on the first day of school -- documenting on the opening page or two some of the icebreaker activities below. Or you might begin by taking a simple survey that details the number of boys and girls in the class, the students' favorite songs or singing groups, the prices of some common items (a gallon of gasoline or milk, the price of a Whopper at Burger King, admission to a movie.) Create a worksheet with a column to record the class information during the opening days of school and another column that can be used to document the same information as the school year draws to a close.

You might also invite parents to send a disposable camera to school with their child's name clearly marked on it. As the year progresses, use the camera to take special photos of that student participating in classroom activities. When the last picture has been snapped, send the camera home with a request for parents to develop the photos and return them to school.

Imagine the fun a 20- or 40-year-old will have looking back at the images, information, and events recorded in the Memory Book!

Creating a Memory Book is just one fun idea -- one idea for breaking the ice -- during the opening days of school. Following are another dozen "icebreaker" ideas that teachers around the world have shared with Education World.

TWELVE TEACHER-TESTED ICEBREAKERS!

We Fit Together Perfectly. Use your class list to create a crossword puzzle filled in with all your students' names. (Note: Save yourself some time by using the free online Puzzlemaker tool to create the puzzle.) You can use first and last names, or shorten the puzzle by using only first names (and last initials, where necessary). Display the huge crossword puzzle in the hallway under the headline 'We Fit Together Perfectly.' You might also extend the activity by having kids fill out a survey on the first day of school. Use the information obtained from that survey to create a clue for each student. Then have students talk with one another to learn which student matches each clue -- and how to spell each student's name.
       Anna Standridge, Madison (Alabama) Academy

Apple Activity. The goals of this primary-level activity, which involves coloring, cutting, and following directions, are to calm nervous kids (They all enjoy coloring.) and to provide teachers with basic information about their young students' fine motor and reading skills and ability to follow directions. Begin by providing each student with an illustration of a large apple shape; the apple has on it a small oval with an X inside. The sheet also has on it a separately drawn stem, two leaves, and a worm wearing a shirt and eyeglasses. The directions say:

  1. Color the apple red. Do not color the oval with the X in it.
  2. Color the leaves green.
  3. Color the stem brown.
  4. Color Willie the Worm green.
  5. Color Willie's shirt blue.
  6. Cut out each piece. Cut on the heavy, black lines.
  7. Glue the leaves to the top of the apple, near the stem.
  8. Glue Willie to the X inside the oval.
  9. Write your name on the back of the apple.
  10. Bring your completed apple to the teacher.

       Michele McCoy, Orange City (Florida) Elementary School

Slice the Survey Pie. This activity helps students get to know their classmates' interests, while assessing their understanding of charts, graphs, and tables, and providing practice in using statistics. First, create a "tell me about you" survey sheet of about 20 questions (such as, What was the last movie you saw?; How many pets do you have and what kind are they?; and What is your favorite soft drink?). After students have completed the survey, collect the sheets and read them over. The next day, arrange students into small groups and assign to each group two of the questions on the survey. Explain to students that for each question, they must use the data from the survey sheets to create a mathematically correct chart or graph with a key. As students tackle the task, wander around the room prompting group discussions about whether the data would be represented best as a pie chart, bar graph, line graph, or table, and challenging students to use their creativity to create their chart, graph, or table. (For example, the group that creates a chart showing the type of movie students most enjoy watching, might place the title of their graph in a movie theater marquee, and create miniature movie posters to represent each of the categories.)
       Nicole Honour, Keystone Heights (Florida) Junior/Senior High School

Construction Crew. On the first day of school, meet your students wearing a hard hat that says, "Room __ Construction Crew." Explain to students that starting a new school year is like building a house: the foundation is the students' relationships with other people in the school (other students, teachers, the office staff, and so on); the frame is their relationships with their own classmates; and the interior is the spirit and attitude they bring to the classroom. Discuss the importance of each element to a successful school, and point out that if one part of the building falls down, the school can't continue to stand. Next, talk about the codes that regulate building construction. Challenge students to come up with their own "building code" (rules!) for their classroom. Throughout the year, whenever a problem arises, remind students that if any part of their house is weak, it could collapse; and then review the building code to see what changes should be made.
       Dana Labarry, Adcock Elementary School, Las Vegas, Nevada

Puzzling It Out. This activity is especially valuable if you have in your class students who are new to your school. Those students probably will be experiencing a range of emotions -- including fear, shyness, and uncertainty. Before the activity, create a word processing document containing many different messages -- preferably in different type sizes and fonts -- that convey such sentiments as Welcome!; Don't be puzzled, you'll fit right in!; We're here for you!; and so on. Print multiple copies of the document (one for each small group of students), cut each copy into puzzle pieces, and place the pieces of each copy in a separate envelope. Post on an overhead transparency instructions that direct students to work with others at their table to assemble the puzzle pieces in their group's envelope. As students enter the classroom on the first day of school, be sure they read the instructions and begin the activity. This activity accomplishes several goals: It offers a quiet activity that you can observe to learn more about your students and to discern potential problems. It gives students something to do when they first enter the classroom -- something they will be successful at. It can be a great discussion starter.
       Nita Dale, Tryon (North Carolina) Middle School

Getting to Know You in Math. Create a BINGO card for each student in the class. In each square on the card, write a piece of personal information that has an element of math in it. For example, squares might say, the number of kids in the family is a multiple of two; was born in an odd-numbered month; the last four numbers of his/her home phone number add up to more than 15; and so on. Distribute the cards and explain that each student must find classmates who fit the descriptions in each of the squares. Each time a student finds someone who matches one of the descriptions, he or he has that person initial the matching square. (No one can initial anyone else's card more than once.) The game ends when a student has a different set of initials in every square on his or her card. Then ask each student to read aloud the descriptions and initials on his or her card. Ask students to stand up as their descriptions and initials are called, so students can see what they might have in common with their classmates. This activity also provides a fun way to assess students' math skills.
       Stella Foster, Northeast Middle School, Greensboro, North Carolina

Happy Birthday Graph. On a large piece of paper or posterboard, draw a graph with the months of the year printed along the side or bottom. Make a simple cupcake pattern (with a birthday candle sticking out of the cupcake, if you like) and cut out a cupcake for each student. On the first day of school, give each child a cupcake as he or she enters the room. At some time during the day, have each child put the cupcake on the graph beside or above the month in which his or her birthday falls. When the graph is complete, discuss how many birthdays are in each month and in each season. You might also ask students to create additional questions about the graph.
       Janice Massey, Turner County Elementary School, Ashburn, Georgia

Mystery Friend. On the first day of school, assign each student a "mystery friend." (Only you know that the students are actually paired; each student's mystery friend has them for a mystery friend!) Tell students that they may not reveal their mystery friends to anyone -- including the mystery friend. Explain to students that for the first week of school they are to study and observe their mystery friends -- and think of questions they might ask the person when they finally get to "meet." (Little do they know -- they are being observed by their mystery friends too!) At the end of the week, invite students to "introduce" themselves to their mystery friend. The two friends then interview each other, asking questions related to the things they wondered about during the observation period. After the interview, students use notes taken during the interview to write brief biographies about each other. It's fascinating to see the friendships that blossom from this activity.
       Claudia Caudill, Tierra Vista Elementary School, Oxnard California

Classroom Rights. Most teachers post their classroom rules, announce them to their students, and that's the end of it. An alternative approach is to ask students to brainstorm some "rights" they would like to have in their classroom. First, you might give some examples, such as the right to a quiet work environment or the right to be treated well. Have each student write down a right he or she would like to have in the classroom. If they have time, students might illustrate their rights. Then ask each student to share his or her idea. Provide time for students to talk over the ideas and brainstorm negative and/or positive consequences of each. Then print on butcher paper the rights students agree should be among their permanent classroom rights. Have students press his or her thumb on an inkpad and place a thumbprint next to the right they most strongly agree with. Then have each student sign his or her name to the document to make it "official." Leave the Classroom Rights document on display all year long to remind students of their rights. This also is a great activity for transitioning into a study of U.S. History and the Constitution. Students can explore which of the rights in the U.S. Constituion are represented among the rights on their Classroom Rights poster.
       Kristy Davis, Challenge Charter School, Glendale, Arizona (from an idea observed in the classroom of Tricia Shaughnessy, Hawthorne Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas)

Fish Go to School Too. Construct a simple treasure chest by painting a cardboard box with gold paint and hot-gluing rhinestones and other gems onto it. (Inexpensive "gems" can be found at most craft stores.) Fill the treasure chest with items that represent the things you most enjoy. On the first day of school, introduce the treasure chest and pull out the items one at a time. For example, you might take a sneaker from the treasure chest. Ask students to infer from the sneaker what you like to do. After rumaging through your treasure chest, give each student a paper fish. Have students decorate the fish with pictures that represent themselves, the things they like, and the things they like to do. When the fish are completed, give each student an opportunity to share his or her fish. String the fish together and hang them above the treasure chest as a fun getting-to-know-you display.
       Elie Nicewonger, Weeksville Elementary School, Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Group Juggling. Before this activity, collect about five tennis balls and put them in your pocket. Start with one tennis ball. Introduce yourself, then call a students's name and pass the ball to that student. Continue the activity, having each student call another student's name and then toss the ball to that student. (Students who do not know the name of the student they are tossing the ball to must find out the name before throwing the ball.) The ball cannot be thrown twice to any student, so when everyone has had a chance to catch the ball, the last student tosses it back to you. Repeat the activity, telling students that this time they must throw the ball to a different person, and that they must remember the names of the person who threw the ball to them and the person they threw the ball to. As before, students must say the name of the person they are throwing the ball to. (If you teach young students, at the end of the round you might have them review who threw the ball to them and who they threw it to.) Then have students repeat the activity, this time throwing the ball in the exact same sequence as the previous round. After the first five people have called a name and thrown the ball, introduce the second ball and throw it to the same person you threw it to in the previous round. (So the ball is following the first ball around the circle.) If students are able to keep up, introduce additional balls. See how long they can keep the balls going. Can you get all five balls going around the circle? To add difficulty to the activity, reverse the order; instead of throwing the ball to the person they have been throwing it to, students must throw the ball to the person who threw it to them. Want to make things even more difficult? Try to get a ball going in each direction! (The first time you try that, you might keep the number of balls to 2.) This is a fun way for students to learn one another's names.
       Teresa Gibson, Village Union Public School, Oshawa, Ontario (Canada)

Getting-to-Know-You Stretch Break. Give each student a large index card. Ask students to write their names at the top of the card and divide the card into four boxes. Have students answer each of the following questions, writing each answer in a different box:

  1. How many people are in your family? (Count parents and siblings, but no pets.)
  2. What is your favorite food?
  3. What is your favorite color?
  4. What is your favorite animal?

Then have students turn over their cards and write on the back one thing special they did during the summer. When students have finished, collect the cards. During the first days of school, bring out the cards when it's time to stretch or take a break. Turn the "down time" into a get-to-know-your-classmates time. First, have everybody stand and stretch. Take the card from the pile and ask, "Who has four (or another number) people in their family?" Every student who has four family members remains standing; all the others sit down. Proceed through the remaining three questions in the same way. By the time you ask the fourth question, it is likely that only one student will remain standing. If not, call out the what-I-did-this-summer statement on the back of one of the cards. Ask a few questions about the summer statement of the one child who remains to give that student a special time in the spotlight.
       Carolyn Oyan, Lincoln Elementary School, Watertown, South Dakota

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