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Best of the Icebreakers

With this "best of" collection, Education World takes a look back and spotlights some of the best of the more than 150 ideas that teachers have shared over the years. Included: Ten creative, teacher-tested ideas.

The ten icebreakers that appear below are some of the most original and powerful ideas we've seen through the years. Maybe you'll find the perfect idea here for your first day of school. If not, be sure to check out more than 100 additional ideas that have been submitted over the years to our Icebreaker Activities Archive.

MAKING INTRODUCTIONS

Many icebreaker activities are focused on helping teachers get to know their students and helping students get to know one another. These activities are fun ways to learn about students' backgrounds and personalities and to start to form bonds that will last all school year long.

Recipe Card Mix-Up
Provide each student with a recipe or index card. 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 student; 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 Venn Diagram
    Gather groups of three students. Supply a prepared three-circle Venn diagram (see an editable sample) for each group. Students talk in their groups about themselves and the things they like to do. After a brief discussion, students must

  • decide on at least three ways in which they are all alike; they write those things in the area of the diagram that intersects all three circles.
  • find ways in which they are like one other student in the group and record those ways in the appropriate areas of the diagram.
  • determine a few facts that make each of them unique and write those facts in the appropriate sections of the diagram.
    This activity helps students recognize and appreciate likenesses and differences in people. It also introduces them to Venn diagrams on the first day of school. This type of graphic organizer might be used many times throughout the year.
    Rene Masden, Sixth District Elementary School, Covington, Kentucky

    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. 3.

    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 your back-to-school open house for parents.
    Kim Reynolds, Warwick Elementary School, Fremont, California

    Getting-to-Know-You Chart
    Create a large chart titled Getting to Know You. Include on the chart sections for students' names and interesting facts, such as how many people are in their families, how many pets they have, their favorite colors, favorite school subjects, favorite sports, and so on Laminate the chart and hang it on the wall. On the first day of school, have each student "sign in." Leave the chart up for several weeks. The kids love to wander over to it when they have free time. They keep learning new things about one another. The chart can be a good source of "data" for a lesson in graph-making too.
    Charilyn Damigo, Liberty Baptist School, San Jose, California

    MANY GREAT ACTIVITIES START WITH A GOOD BOOK

    Lots of great books offer fitting segues to getting-to-know-you activities. If you're a teacher who likes to read aloud to students, why not start the year with a read aloud that leads to a fun activity that will get students talking and interacting? Here are just a few possibilities

    Special Memories Book
    If you write a letter of introduction to students before the school year starts, include a request that students bring to school on the first day something that has a special memory attached to it. (If you do not send a before-school letter, you can make this activity the homework assignment for the first day.) Start the day by reading Mem Fox's popular book Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. The story is about a little boy who befriends an older woman and gives her back memories that she has long forgotten. After reading the story, discuss what a memory is and list students' ideas. Then give each child an opportunity to share his or her special item and tell about the memories it carries. You might also use this as the first writing assignment of the year; have students write about the memories their objects spark, take pictures of the objects, and create a class book of memories.
    Cindy Kramer, West Side Elementary School, Cold Spring Harbor, New York

    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.
    Lori Napoli

    Goal Setting With Booker T.
    I like to share at least one read-aloud book on the opening day of school. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes and First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg are favorites. Most essential though, is More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby. The biographical story of Booker T. Washington's youth 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. More Than Anything Else is an excellent tool for starting a discussion about students' goals for the school year.
    Heather Migdon, Dogwood Elementary School, Fairfax County, Virginia

    SETTING THE TONE

    The last two activities above are perfect ones for setting the tone for a productive and respectful school year. When the going gets rough -- when students are not respecting their classmates or when they are losing sight of their goals -- you could always refer back to the lessons learned from the "giving tree" or Booker T.

    Following are a few more activities that can help you set a tone on the first day of school that will carry over thoughout the year.

    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 each paper strip. Then create a mini paper chain by linking the five talent strips 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, it might illustrate that

  • All students have talents.
  • The students in this class have many talents.
  • If the students in this class work together, they can accomplish anything.
  • Our 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 that can result from teamwork.
    Kimberlee Woodward, substitute teacher, Waterford, Michigan

    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 messages as

  • Welcome!
  • Don't be puzzled, you'll fit right in!
  • We're here for you!
    Depending on the age of student with whom you work, you might include a few messages or a dozen. Print multiple copies of the document (one for each small group of students). Then 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; as you observe, you will learn about your students and discern potential problems. It gives students something to do when they first enter the classroom -- something they will be successful at. And it can be a great discussion starter. Nita Dale, Tryon Middle School, Tryon, North Carolina

    Ugly Words Are Out!
    As you discuss classroom expectations, introduce the idea that "ugly words" have no place in your classroom. Ask students what they think you mean by "ugly words." Then have the class generate a list of words that might be found on an ugly-word list, and write the words on a piece of chart paper. (Explain to students that any word that is considered a swear word would definitely be on the ugly-word list, so there is no need to mention them. Point out that the same is true for such words as dummy, jerk, dork, geek, hate, or ugly.) You might start the list with the word "can't." What about the word quit? Go around the room and give each student an opportunity to add an ugly word to the list. When you are satisfied that the students' supply of ugly words has run dry, dramatically rip the chart paper off the pad, let it fall to the floor, and stomp all over it. Next, rip it up and crush it into a ball. Finally, get a shovel, take students outside, and ceremoniously bury the list of ugly words. This activity will have quite an impact: students will always remember the "ugly words" that will not be accepted in class.
    Becci Motes, Kelley-Smith Elementary School, Palatka, Florida

    Article by Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
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    Links last updated 08/11/2011
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