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Middle School Ice Breakers Students Won't Hate

For most teachers, the first days in the fall are focused on presenting the syllabus, going over expectations, and getting to know your students. But are your tried and true ice breaker activities getting more eye-rolls this year? Maybe it’s time to switch things up a little.

Middle school students will see right through a lazy, regurgitated lesson plan. They’ve been through enough first days that most of them will come into the classroom with certain expectations—positive or negative. First days can be a little awkward, but they can also be filled with excitement as you get to know everyone in your class. This article will cover some things you can do differently to make breaking the ice fun and rewarding.

Setting Your Tone for the Year Ahead

It’s always a great idea to be upfront and honest with your new students. You can start by emphasizing with them what they've overcome and where they’re going. Acknowledging that this year is obviously different and explore some of the challenges that lay ahead. Tell your students that the first few days are about getting to know each other and reinforce the idea that you need to know them and they need to know you for everyone to get the most out of the year. 

If you want to discuss any behaviors you find particularly annoying, try introducing them as pet peeves, i.e., “one of my pet peeves is when I’m stuck behind a slow person… I dislike dawdling.”

Get your new students to introduce themselves and say both their favorite thing to do and their biggest pet peeve. This is a great exercise for learning what attitudes or actions get under your students’ skin early on. It also encourages them to be honest and reflect on some of the things that rub them the wrong way. It can also lead to some funny conversations.

5 More Ice Breaker Activities

1. Would You Rather:

How to Play: Make a thumbs-up sign for each student and have them hold it up for the option they would choose when you say it out loud. If there’s a particularly divisive opinion, encourage students to defend their point of view. You can also hand out questions to groups and let them ask each other. Check out this list of “would you rather” questions.

2. Silent Arrangement:

How to Play: Secretly give each student a number and get them to arrange themselves in numerical order without speaking. They can hold up fingers or use other gestures. For Round Two, have them arrange themselves in order of birth.

3. Origami teamwork:

How to Play: Divide students into groups of 3 or 4 and give each group the instructions for an origami design. Teammates need to work together to make a single paper creation. Check out some designs here. You can leave the students' creations up in the classroom afterward.

4. 2nd hand Interviews:

How to Play: Divide the class into 2 equal groups and have students from each group interview another person in the other group, coming up with their own 3-4 questions. Then have them tell someone in their own group what they have just learned.

Each student will then tell the class what they have learned about someone else (that they didn’t interview). They can share what they find most interesting or list what they’ve learned. 

5. Scavenger hunt:

How to Play: Group students together and give them a list of clues to find items in the classroom. Make sure there's a way to collect the items to prove they've found them, or leave different colored dot stickers so they can stick them on their paper instructions.

For ease of flow, order the items differently for each group, so they are not on the same route. This is a great game to offer up prizes to the winning group.  

Classroom Management and Co-Creating Rules

Although you may want to run your classroom on your own terms, giving your students a say can be empowering for them. Now that they're older and becoming more responsible, giving them (some) choices over how things work often helps them feel more invested.

If students feel like they have agency and control over their environment, they're more likely to follow the rules they helped create. Here are a few options that you could let your students make decisions about:

  • Beginning and End of Class Procedures: Ask them how they think students should enter the classroom and start the lessons and what to do when they are preparing to leave the room. 

  • Seating Arrangements: Students choosing their own seats can very much feel like a privilege. Discuss what this privilege entails, including the possibility that you can change seating arrangements if disruptions occur.

  • What Should They Do With Cell Phones: Begin by telling them that they can’t be on their cellphones during work times. Then have them come up with specific rules. You’d be surprised how strict they can be on each other. Include disciplinary measures if they break the rules.

  • Classroom Decor: Ask students if they'd like to see the room improved and how. Hear out the suggestions, and you could even take a vote on incorporating a specific theme. This is an excellent option for making your students ease into a sense of belonging in the classroom environment. 

Middle school students want to feel grown up and out of that elementary school environment, so recognizing these changes can really go a long way. During the first few days of school, your main emphasis should be on setting up a positive environment and creating a space for conducive learning. 

If you want to foster connections between you and your students and help them connect with each other, show up with fun and meaningful activities for everyone to engage in. Remember to include shy or quiet students by encouraging them to participate in ways that build their confidence rather than bring it down. 


Written by Jessica Holdsworth

Education World Contributor

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