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Back to School: Icebreakers for Diverse Groups of Students

Getting ready to go back to school? Teachers are preparing to greet a whole new group of students, and kids are gearing up to meet new classmates. Students of any age can be nervous on their first day of school, and icebreakers are a great way to help kids get to know each other and feel more comfortable at the beginning of a new school year.

Below are five of our favorite back-to-school icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities for classrooms in which there is a lot of racial/ethnic and other forms of diversity. Want more icebreakers for students of all ages? Don't miss our huge library!

  1. Circles of [Student Name Here]:  Have each student draw a large circle and smaller circles coming from around it. Ask kids to write their names in the center circle and their gender, racial/ethnic background, and other characteristics in the smaller circles. Encourage kids to note other unique characteristics involving their home life (guardians, religion, siblings, etc.) or even their interests, hopes and dreams. Ask students to look around the room and find classmates with whom they share at least one characteristic. This will demonstrate that everyone is unique, but that we all have something in common with others. 
  2. Walk Apart / Walk Together:  Have pairs of volunteers come forward and stand with their backs together. Ask students to list things that are different about the two students, and for every different quality, have the volunteers take one step away from each other. When the two students are far apart, have the class name things that are similar about them, and for every similar quality, have them take a step toward each other. Stress to children that we may have differences in outward characteristics (hair color, skin color, gender, etc.), but that it's important to find out and celebrate what we have in common. Point out that learning about commonalities takes effort, but is well worth the time.
  3. The Diversity Poster:  Give each student an index card or a larger sheet of paper and have them make a poster depicting their individual characteristics. This can include culture, ethnicity, religion, language, hobbies, interests, etc. Have the students share their posters and place them on a bulletin board to remind kids that although they are different from one another, they are part of a classroom community. 
  4. Diversity Bingo:  Give students a copy of the diversity bingo worksheet (for younger students, you may have to adapt this worksheet or create your own). Have them travel around the room and get others to sign the descriptions that apply to them. Some descriptions include: "I am left-handed," "A person with red hair," "I live in a single-parent household" or "A person who is a Muslim." This will show help showcase--and teach students to value-- diversity in the classroom. 
  5. Who I Am Poems Ask kids to spend 10 minutes writing a poem called "Who I Am." The only rule is that each line should begin with the words "I am..." Suggest that they can, if they wish, include statements about where they're from regionally, ethnically, religiously, and so on; memories from different points in their lives; interests and hobbies; mottos or credos; favorite phrases; family traditions and customs; and whatever else defines who they are. (You will have to adapt this activity for younger students, perhaps by suggesting and modeling particular types of statements.) Be sure to let them know that they will be sharing their poems. The teacher might want to share a poem about him/herself first.

Related resources

Lesson to Celebrate Diversity: The Unity Necklace
Appreciating Diversity: What Kids are Really Learning
Combating Racism: Classroom Ideas

Article by Kassondra Granata, EducationWorld Contributor
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