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Featured GraphicIcebreakers Volume 11: More Fresh Ideas for Opening Day

Most teachers have a favorite icebreaker activity they repeat year after year. After year! Is that the case with you? Or are you looking for a new, fun activity that will help you and your students get to know one another? Included: More than a dozen new icebreakers plus links to 150 more!

For teacher Pamela Woods, her favorite icebreaker activity helps set a tone for the school year. Communication will be important all year long because Woods, a teacher at J. A. Rogers Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, uses a lot of cooperative group activities in her classroom. That's why, on the first day of class, she introduces a cooperative activity that requires the ultimate in communication skills.

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

"I challenge students to line themselves up in order by birthday," Woods told Education World. But then she adds a twist! They must do that without speaking or writing. "I ask students if they think they will be able to do it in 3 minutes," she said. "They always say they can, but I have never had a class that could do it."

That activity gives Woods an early opportunity to see how her students will work together, who can follow directions, and who is going to "take charge" in a group activity. "We discuss how people communicate with one another," she said, "and I share with them how important it is that they communicate with me when they don't understand or are when they are having problems."

Woods likes to repeat her favorite activity around semester break. "We do it again," she said. "This time, everybody is really working together to complete the task. They are always amazed at how they accomplished something they couldn't do earlier in the year."

TEN MORE NEW ICEBREAKERS!

The birthday-lineup activity is a great icebreaker -- one worth trying if you have never done it before. So, this year, in addition to the tried-and-true icebreakers you repeat every year, why don't you try that one too? That one, or one of the ten more icebreaker activities that follow...

"Me to a T" T-Shirts
Cut out a cardboard a template in the shape of a T-shirt. Have students trace the template onto a sheet of white drawing paper and cut it out. Provide the following instructions (verbally, or displayed on a transparency).

  • Write your name at the top of the T-shirt.
  • In the middle of the shirt, write one word that describes you.
  • All over the shirt, write words that describe some of your characteristics and special interests.
  • At the bottom of the shirt, write one fact about yourself that most people don't know.

The teacher might model the activity for students. For example, teacher Brenda Aspelund writes on her own T-shirt

  • Name: Mrs. Aspelund
  • One word: hard-working
  • Additional characteristics, interests: I like horses, love to walk, have 2 kittens and a dog, have been teaching for 3 years, used to be an actress, used to be a disc jockey, used to be a lifeguard, want to write a book of poems, love to read, love to sleep, love to dance, like to analyze dreams
  • Fact: a mother of 5 -- ages 1, 8 (twins), 13, and 18

When students have finished creating their shirts, have them use masking tape to tape their paper T-shirts to their actual shirts. Arrange students in small groups and have them share their shirts with group members. Then give them time to walk around the room searching for people with similar characteristics or interests. Students should ask each other questions about the information they read on their classmates' shirts. (Every student should ask at least one question of each of the other students in the class.) You might even ask them to find one person with whom they don't share a single characteristic or interest. Following the activity you might ask questions such as these: What did you learn from doing this activity? How many of you found someone with an interest you would like to know more about? How many of you found people with similar interests? How many of you realize that you have a talent that could be used to help others? How many of you found others who have strengths that could be helpful to you? Create a fun display by hanging kids' T-shirts from a clothesline!
Brenda Aspelund, Aldrich Junior High School, Warwick, Rhode Island

Drawing Straws
Buy a package of brightly colored straws. Instruct students to pick two or three straws of different colors. When each student has straws, introduce a sheet of questions that has a specific question associated with each straw color. For example, the question that goes with the red straw might be What is your favorite movie, and why? The question that goes with the green straw might be Who are the members of your family? The blue-straw question might be What are your hobbies? Each student answers two or three questions based on the colors of their straws.
Chantel Sloan, Evergreen Elementary School, Casa Grande, Arizona

In the Spotlight Chair
Place your chair or a special chair at the front of the room. Give each student a chance to spend time in the "spotlight chair." While students are seated, their classmates get to ask them questions. You might limit the number of questions to five before it's the next person's turn to sit in the spotlight chair. You might draw this activity out throughout the day; do a few students at a time instead of all of them at one time.
M. Smith, Mad River Schools, Dayton Ohio

What's in the Sack?
To help children get to know you, take a king size pillowcase and decorate it. Put things of importance to you in the pillowcase or bag. For example, teacher Joan Kleindorfer put in her pillowcase

  • a bicycle helmet because she does a lot of bike riding;
  • some books because she loves to read;
  • measuring cups because she likes to cook; and
  • a picture of her family.

Store your pillowcase in a closet until it is time to do the activity. Then throw the pillowcase over your back and proceed to read the poem, "What's in the Sack?" by Shel Silverstein. The poem begins...

What's in the sack? What's in the sack? Is it some mushrooms, or is it the moon? Is it love letters, or downy goose feathers? Or maybe the world's most enormous balloon?

After reading the poem, have students guess what they think is in your pillowcase. (You could even graph responses, if desired.) Then share the contents of the bag with the class. Finally, give each student a non-transparent bag. Ask them to draw pictures of the things they would put in their "pillowcases" -- things that will help you learn about their lives and interests.
Joan Kleindorfer, Timbercrest Elementary School, Deltona, Florida

Recipe Card Mix-Up
Provide a recipe/index card to each student. Ahead of time choose about five questions that you might ask of students. Be as creative as you want with the questions. Possible questions might include the following:

  • What is the title of a favorite book?
  • What do you like doing in your free time when you're not at school?
  • What is your favorite board game?
  • What is your favorite candy bar?
  • If you could request your favorite meal for your birthday, what would that meal be?

When students -- and the teacher! -- have written their answers to the questions, collect the recipe cards. Shuffle the cards. Then pass out a card to each students; be sure students do not receive their own cards. When everyone has a card, then the job of each student is to find the student in the room who belongs to the card the student holds. When everybody has found the person who wrote the answers on the card they hold, they must make sure they know how to pronounce that student's full name and that they understand everything that is written on the card. Then it is time for introductions! The teacher can begin the activity by asking the student on the card s/he holds to come to the front of the room. As that student stands by, the teacher introduces the student to the rest of the class by saying, "Class, I'd like you to meet ___. Her favorite book is ___. Her favorite board game is Please welcome ___ to our fourth grade class!" (Classmates then give the student 4 claps [for 4th grade]). The student that the teacher introduced continues the activity by calling up the student whose card he or she holds. Continue until all students have introduced someone to the class. When everyone has been introduced, take all the cards, shuffle them, and call out responses on one card at a time to see if students can remember who belongs to each card!
Arlene Stoebner, Yankton School District, Yankton South Dakota

Getting-to-Know-You BINGO
Take digital photos of your new students on the first day of school. Display the photos one at a time. As you display a student's image, that student will stand and say his or her name. Overnight, use a photo-shop program to create a sheet with all students' pictures on it. (A good size for these images is approximately 2 inches square.) Also provide a BINGO card grid with 2-inch-square squares. Have students cut pictures and place one picture on each BINGO grid square. To play the game, show a student's picture to the entire class. As a test of name recognition, on your signal students will call out the name of the pictured student. Students look at their BINGO cards to see if they have included that student's picture on it. If it is there, they place a marker on the square. Additional ideas: You can take this activity a step farther by playing a guess-who game. Who will be the first student to mark five squares in a row? Or, instead of showing pictures, give clues such as Whose name starts with the letter A?, Which girl is wearing red today?, or Whose name starts with the sound you hear at the start of the word boy?
Sharon Tatsch, Citrus Glen Elementary School, Ventura, California

Locker Math
Do your students have assigned lockers with numbers on them? Karen Lyle has her fourth graders create a math problem that, when solved, yields their locker number. The problems should help students remember their locker numbers and they should be simple and easy enough to solve in a hurry!
Karen Lyle, Davenport Elementary School, Davenport, Washington

Summer Theme Song
Tired of the traditional "What I Did on My Summer Vacation" writing assignment? There is an Ally McBeal episode in which Ally's psychiatrist tells her to find a "theme song" that will help her identify herself and her feelings. That episode (a clip of which might be shown to students) inspired this idea: Challenge students to choose one song that reflects their summer experience. The song must represent several thoughts or feelings they had over the entire summer. It should not simply be a reflection of yesterday or of last week. Students should choose a song that fits their personality; for example, the song might be an upbeat one or one that is more reflective or soothing. The only stipulation is that the song must not have any "explicit lyrics" -- lyrics that might be offensive to the teacher or a classmate. Students should submit a copy of the lyrics of the song typed on one side of a sheet of paper, including the name of the song (in quotes) and the artist. On a second sheet of paper, students will type a draft of their written explanations of why the song fits their summer experiences. Students will probably want to highlight a particular song line(s) or passage(s) with which they empathize. Their explanations should help others understand clearly why they chose the song.
Bob Zogby, Pittsford Middle School, Pittsford, New York

Rumba Song
This lyrics of this "First Grade Rumba" can be changed to match the primary grade you teach. The song is a combination of claps and a repeated tune. With each new verse change the names of students you call out and change the movement you ask those students to do.

Let's do the First Grade Rumba!
[Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.]
Let's do the First Grade Rumba.
[Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.]
[Child's name], stand up! [Child's name], stand up!
[Child's name] and [Child's name], will you stand up?
Touch your head,
Put your finger on your nose.
Now you may all sit down.

Let's do the First Grade Rumba! [Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.]
Let's do the First Grade Rumba! [Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.]
[Child's name], stand up! [Child's name], stand up!
[Child's name] and [Child's name], will you stand up?
Touch your hips
and smack your lips.
Now you may all sit down!

Continue with the song. Be sure to include all students' names in it.
Kim Cooper, Putnam County Elementary School, Eatonton, Georgia

Time Capsule
On the first day of school, create a time capsule that will be opened on the last day of school. Provide each student with a toilet paper tube. Give students time to decorate their tubes with their names and drawings. Then provide to students a question sheet that includes questions such as What is your favorite television program? and What is your favorite sport? In addition, take a photo of each child, record their height, and have students trace one of their hands. Put all of those things inside the tube and put the students' tubes inside a time capsule. At the end of the year, provide a question sheet identical to the one you provided on the first day of school. Have students complete the sheet before opening the time capsules they created on the first day of school. Once they've opened their capsules, they can compare their answers and do the math to figure out how much growth has occurred. If the students are young, the teacher will do the measuring; that provides an opportunity for the teacher to have some one-on-one time with each child.
Mary Orwin, Warrendale Academy, Detroit, Michigan

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

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