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Featured GraphicIcebreakers Volume 12: Excellent Activities for Getting Students Warmed Up

Are you all set for the first day of school? Or are you still searching for the perfect activities for that day? Included: More than a dozen new icebreakers plus links to 150 more!

Students in some communities are back in school already. In many other locales, excited conversations fill school hallways as teachers prepare their classrooms for the big day.

One of teacher Heather Migdon's favorite activities is to have her students at Dogwood Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia, write a letter of introduction to her. The students' letters help her get to know them and their interests. She also finds the letters to be a useful diagnostic tool. She can see immediately some of the language and writing skills she needs to work on as a class and with individual students.

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

Another of Migdon's favorite first-day activities is to have students write a "Who Am I? riddle." "Students write four or five statements about themselves followed by the last line, the question "Who Am I?" explained Migdon. "I put the students' riddles up as a bulletin board and let students guess each person. The first person to guess correctly gets to choose who guesses next."

Later, Migdon compiles those riddles into a book that the students can revisit and enjoy all year long.

Migdon usually tries to share at least one read-aloud book during the opening days of school. Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes, and First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg, are favorites. Most essential to her, though, is More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby. More Than Anything Else is an excellent tool for starting a discussion about students' goals for the school year, said Migdon. "The biographical story of Booker T. Washington's youth," she explained, "uses beautiful language and illustrations to show how he learned to read as a young boy. After reading the book, we talk about his goals and how his determination to achieve them made them a reality."

LEARNING STYLES AND BASEBALL CARDS

Pamela Tempest, a teacher at Hudson (Ohio) Middle School was another contributor to the Middle Web listserv discussion. During the opening days of school, Tempest provides each student in her classes with a file folder to decorate and set up for use as a work portfolio. "We also talk about learning styles and multiple intelligences," said Tempest. "I have students take a multiple intelligence survey. Then I have them note right on their folders what their learning preferences are and what their learning strengths are." Those notes serve as a reminder to the students and their teacher throughout the year. For students, those notes remind them in moments of frustration that they do have learning strengths.

Tempest has many icebreaker activities that she uses in the opening week. One of her favorites is a language arts icebreaker that engages students in writing and interviewing their peers. Students choose a partner to interview. They use the information from that interview to create a baseball card about the person they interviewed. A digital picture of the student appears on the front of the card and the information appears on the back.

"I will lay out the completed cards with the fact-side up (picture side down), and each student has a chance to guess which description belongs to which student," Tempest added.

Then she puts plastic organizer pages into an album and slides all the cards into the plastic sleeves. "Kids enjoy looking at the cards all year long," she said, "and new students to the class love to look through it and learn about their classmates."

TWELVE MORE ICEBREAKER ACTIVITIES

Has Heather Migdon or Pamela Tempest given you a new idea for an icebreaker activity? If you're still searching for the perfect idea, perhaps one of the ideas below submitted by Education World readers will fill the bill...

And don't forget our Icebreaker Activities Archive. There you will find a dozen volumes of icebreakers -- more than 150 ideas! for fun ways to get to know your students!

Two Truths and a Lie.
Give each student an index card. Have them write on the card three truths about themselves and one lie. Model the activity for them based on your own life, so they can see how the lie must be something that is believable in light of the truths they list. When they guess one of your truths as the lie, tell the real story that goes along with the truth. Continue until they uncover the lie. Have each student write his or her own truths and lie. Then do 3 to 5 of them each day during the first week of school. When you have a lot of students who know one another, do not name the author of the truths and lie. Have students guess who authored the card.
Mary Lou Bettez, Flat River Middle School, Coventry, Rhode Island

Alien Greeting
This is a fun and silly first-day activity. Arrange students into a circle. Have them pretend they are from another planet. Have them think of a sound and motion that might be used as a greeting on that planet. (A sound and motion that would replace a typical American greeting such as a quick wave and a "Hi!") Once students have decided on their greeting, start the activity by using your alien greeting to greet the person to your left. That person should respond by repeating your greeting to you. Then, that person shares his or her alien greeting with the class and introduces him/herself to the next person in the circle. Continue until you have made your way around the circle. At the end of the activity, you might ask these questions: What did you learn from this activity? Is it more fun to send out energy or hold back energy?
Brenda Aspelund, Aldrich Junior High School, Warwick, Rhode Island

Where-We-Come-From Map
If your school population is fairly transient, have each student write their name on a small sticky note. Then display a United States map and a world map. Have children take turns coming to the map and telling the class what their name is and where they were born. Then they put their sticky note on the state where they were born. If they were born in another country, find that country's location on the world map. Follow up this activity by creating a graph that shows from which states students come; include an "other" bar on the graph for children who were born outside the U.S.
Joan Kleindorfer, Timbercrest Elementary School, Deltona, Florida

Q&A Hands
Have students work in pairs to trace one of each other's hands. When the hands are traced, have them write one of the questions below -- or any other question of your choosing -- on each finger of the hand.

  • What is your favorite TV show?
  • If you could choose your future career today, what would you be?
  • What is your favorite school subject?
  • If you could travel to anyplace in the world, where would you go?
  • What is your favorite sport to watch or play?

You might provide students with as many as ten questions. That way, they can pick and choose which ones they answer. Have students write the answers to their questions on the fingers. When they have finished with their Q&A hands, give each student an opportunity to introduce themselves to their classmates by sharing the information they have written on their hands. With older students, encourage them to share more than the surface information; have them explain the "why" behind their responses. Hang the hands up in the classroom to create a fun display.
Angela Bryant, Moore Intermediate School, Florence, South Carolina

Animal Quiz
This icebreaker works well in a middle or high school science classes. It presents a humorous quiz that emphasizes that students often think too hard in science; sometimes the answers are much more obvious or easy than students might initially think. Start the activity by providing students with a sheet of scrap writing paper. Announce that you are going to present a little quiz about material they should already know. Preface the questions by saying that the events in the question are all happening concurrently (at the same time). Following are the quiz questions:

  1. How do you get a giraffe into a refrigerator?
  2. How do you get an elephant into a refrigerator?
  3. The Lion King is having a meeting and has invited every animal on Earth to the meeting. What animal does not show up?
  4. There is a lake full of angry crocodiles and you need to get to the other side. How do you do it?

Answers to the quiz:

  1. You just push it in.
  2. First you have to pull out the giraffe in order to push in the elephant.
  3. The elephant doesn't show up, because it is in the refrigerator.
  4. Just swim across, because all the animals are at the meeting.

Reiterate your earlier point that sometimes answers in science, as in life, are much easier than we make them out to be!
James Hall, Teague Middle School, Altamonte Springs, Florida

Survey Says
This is an idea for a technology teacher or any other teacher! On the first day, have students complete an online survey regarding your content area. This activity can be done in a variety of ways: You can create the survey using text fields in MS Word or using an online course server such as Blackboard. You can post the survey on your school's Web site or simply hand students a hard copy. If you have the hardware, this is a wonderful way to integrate technology and to get important information from students.
Michael Smith, Lombard Middle School, Baltimore, Maryland

Construction Zone
Arrange students into groups of three or four. Give each group a deck of cards. Explain that each group will use the cards to build a house. They can decide to enter their house in any one of three contests: the Biggest House Contest, the Strongest House Contest, or the Most Creative House Contest. They can use whatever supplies they can find -- tape, glue, staples, and so on -- to help them build their house or they can rip, fold, bend, or otherwise alter the cards. But here is the catch! Students are not allowed to talk during this whole process! They need to find other ways by which to communicate. Set a time limit for the activity, and set a timer to ensure that groups are constantly aware of the time remaining. After the houses are built, each group gets to share their house and how they learned to communicate. This is a great team-building activity.
Tracy Neibergall, Southwest Elementary School, Lawson, Missouri

Treasure Hunt
Plan a treasure hunt to familiarize students with your classroom. List 20 to 30 items found in the classroom and have the students search the classroom for those items. This way they will know where to find the dictionaries, glue sticks, spelling lists, graphic organizers, and so on. As they find an item, have students check it off the list. Not only does this activity familiarize students with the classroom, it has them asking questions about the materials!
Madeline McDougal, Pocantico Schools, Sleepy Hollow, New York

Discussion Cards
This activity is best when students are starting in a new school and will have many classmates they have never met before. Provide each student with a 4- x 5-inch index card. Have students write their first and last names in the middle of the card. In each corner of the card have students write about themselves. The specific information to be written can be assigned by the teacher. For example:

  • Top Left Corner: Number of brothers and sisters
  • Top Right Corner: Favorite style of music or favorite music group or musician
  • Bottom Left Corner: Favorite movie
  • Bottom Right Corner: Dream vacation (country or city)

When the cards are completed, have students partner with a classmate they do not know. The students trade cards and read what their partner has written. For the next 2 minutes, one student plays the role of questioner and asks the other student about the topics listed on the card and about anything else they would like to know. When the teacher announces the end of the 2 minutes, the students trade roles; now the other partner asks the questions. You might repeat this several times. Each time, the student will do the activity with a different partner they do not know. You might collect the cards and repeat the activity on the second or third day of school. The kids have fun with this activity. Having some information on the card is the key ice-breaking element, especially for those students who might otherwise have difficulty starting a conversation with a stranger.
Marian Larson, Ft. Vancouver High School, Vancouver, Washington

A Sticky Situation
A principal did this activity with this teacher, so she thought she would pass it along Hand out several sticky notes to each student. Let students mingle, placing each of their sticky notes on the back of any individual in the classroom. After this is done, have students return to their seats. Have them count the number of sticky notes on the back of the person who sits in front or next to them. How many sticky notes did they count? Inform them that they are to tell that many things about their summer break or about themselves. For example, if the person in front of student x had five sticky notes on his back, then student x must tell five things about his/her summer or about him/herself.
Jessica Thomas, St. John's School, Little Chute, Wisconsin

Welcome to Our Yard
Cut picket fence posts out of large art paper. Give each student a picket. Ask students to draw on that picket things that he or she wants others to know about them -- for example, hobbies, likes and dislikes, sports... When students have completed their pickets, hot glue them along the bottom of a wall -- under the chalkboard, for example -- to create a picket fence.
Treasa Walker, Lewis and Clark Middle School, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Working Together for Best Results
Arrange students into small groups of 3 or four students. Give to half of the groups a large sheet of drawing paper and this simple assignment: Draw a picture of a person. Give the other groups a large sheet of drawing paper cut into three or four equal sections (depending on the number of students in the group). Assign each person in each group of three to draw part of a person (for example, the head, upper body, or lower body). The students will work independently to create their drawings of part of a person. When the drawings are done, share the results with the class. Ask students to tell about the differences between drawings created by groups that worked together and groups that worked independently. The drawings produced by groups that worked together appear more whole and true than those produced independently, which might appear funny because the head and legs might be female while the upper body might be that of a football player! Use the drawings to drive home the point that students usually produce a better result when they work together than when they work solo. This is a lesson that can be referred to throughout the year when students are expected to work in small, cooperative groups.
Mandi, Adult Education Service, Wolverhampton, England

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

 

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