We’ve already talked about the importance of – and encouraged you to – take time during the first critical few weeks of school to foster a positive learning environment. So this year, instead of boring students with policy changes, rules and regulations, and parent signature forms, try changing things up with some fun activities that just might get your students excited about walking into your room on the second day of school and every day thereafter.
Not only will using these ice breakers and other activities help you learn all your students’ names more quickly, but they model the behavior you expect of your students, lessening the need to put all those rules and consequences into play.
I’ve put every one of these ideas into practice at some point during my eleven years in one of three different secondary Language Arts/English classrooms, but every idea and activity is easily adapted to suit elementary or other secondary content settings.
1. Find Someone Who…
I learned this activity by participating in it as a student in a Penn Literacy Network (PLN) graduate class, and it required little adaptation to put it to use in my own classroom. The purpose of the activity was immediately clear when our facilitator handed us sheets of paper with “Find Someone Who…” written across the top, along with several statements with blank lines at the end.
Working their way around the room, students find classmates to swap papers with, reading the statements to find one that suits and entering their names on the applicable lines. The process is repeated until all students have all their statements completed with student names, with no student signing anyone else’s paper more than once.
Here are a few statements I’ve used for this activity with my students:
- Find someone who has no siblings.
- Find someone who went to a Little League World Series game.
- Find someone who likes Math more than English.
- Find someone who loves cafeteria chicken nuggets.
Rules of the activity:
- Students must move around the room and exchange papers with others face-to-face. No passing sheets around the room.
- Use a timer to let students know they’ll be “on the clock” in your classroom.
- Students may not return to their seats until the paper is filled out in full.
- No student may sign another student’s sheet more than once.
When all students have returned to their seats, choose a volunteer to read their first statement out loud and name the student who signed. That student then, in turn, stands up, and reads the second statement on her sheet, and so on.
2. Gift Bag Book Guess
This is another activity I learned in a PLN class, and one that I put to use in the last few years in my classroom with freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. For this activity, choose enough books so that when students are divided into groups of four, you will have one book per group. Record four quotations from each book onto index cards, one quotation per card, and place them in gift bags.
Ask students to separate themselves into groups of four people, and give each group a gift bag, telling them to wait for further instructions. When all groups have received a bag, tell the class that you’ll be giving short talks on the books, which are displayed on a table at the front of the room. Students should be able to review the books while they work, if needed.
After discussing each book, ask students to pull the quotations from the gift bags, one quotation per student, and take turns reading them out loud to the group. Then, they should work together to guess from which book the quotation has been taken. Students write their guess on a slip of paper next to the gift bag’s corresponding number, and pass their gift bag to another group. Repeat the process until each group works with every bag.
A few tips for this activity:
- Number the gift bags.
- Number the quotations with corresponding numbers so they don’t get mixed up.
- Choose books students will have the opportunity to read throughout the year.
- Choose common quotations that aren’t too obscure.
- For primary teachers, try using pictures to match settings with characters or plot events with books.
This activity is one of my favorite ways to get students up and moving during the first few days of school. I’ve seen it in so many graduate classes, it’s tough to attribute it to just one. The idea is to match students up in unconventional ways.
For this simple activity, think of two things to match:
- quotations to people
- quotations to books
- art to artists
- historical figures to eras
- songs to musicians
Split your class into two halves and have each group stand on one side of the room. In one group, each student receives a card or paper representing one side of your matching scenario; students in the other group receive the other side of the pair. Students are then asked to mingle with the other group and find the student with the card that matches theirs.
4. Draw a Conclusion/Mystery
The premise of this activity is to create a mystery surrounding one aspect of your curriculum. As an English teacher, I always chose a plot from a story or parts of a particularly intriguing author’s life (Poe, anyone?), but you could easily choose a figure from your discipline to use for your purposes. Math teachers easily can do this with a creative word problem and science teachers can use a scientific question or hypothesis, for example.
Create stations placed around the classroom, each with a clue about the mystery. Students work in groups, either of their own choosing, your assignment, or by using one of the grouping activities from this list. Each student has a job: recorder, clue reader, discussion director, or connector. Students rotate jobs as they work around the room and investigate the clues, enabling you to observe how they perform in different roles.
At the final station, give each student a conclusion form (simple Word document with a space for the independent conclusion at the top and a space for the group’s final conclusion at the bottom), to illustrate the idea that you cannot draw a conclusion without first gathering all the evidence. Once filled out, students read and discuss their conclusions with their group members. Groups then create a group conclusion based on their discussions, with one volunteer from each group presenting the group conclusion to the class.
A full-class discussion is held on each group’s conclusion, with the class voting each conclusion as most creative, most logical, etc.
5. Speed Interviewing
This activity helps students develop summarization and note-taking skills. Give students four index cards and ask them to label the cards with their number (corresponding to their numbers in your grade book). Shuffle and redistribute the cards, ensuring no student receives his own number, and have students randomly call out one of their card numbers to pair students.
Set a digital timer for 90 seconds. One student asks a couple questions and takes notes while the other responds. This is followed by a group discussion in which you’ll receive some anticipated complaints: there isn’t enough time to think about and write their answers, partners talked too quickly and didn’t give them enough time to take adequate notes, and so on.
This becomes a teachable moment, in which you can discuss the importance of listening and developing good note-taking skills so that it’s not necessary to write word-for-word, etc. Link this idea to the concept of summarizing, and ask students to write a one- to two-sentence summary of their partners based on their notes. Students will find that even though they didn’t write word-for-word what their partners said, they’re able to write a brief summary based on the notes they took down.
6. iMovie Trailers
If your district uses Apple products, you can have students create their own iMovie trailers. If not, find out if enough students have iPhones that you can pair students with devices with those who don’t have an iPhone to complete this activity.
Have each student or pair of students download the free iMovie app. In one class period, have students create an iMovie trailer to introduce one another to the class. This activity can also be used as a follow-up to the speed interviewing activity described above.
By limiting trailers to 30 seconds in length, you’re asking students to summarize information about their classmates. In my classroom, students interviewed, created, edited, and presented in just two class periods, but this is an activity that’s easily adjusted to suit your time constraints.
7. Candy Colors
Purchase a few bags of foil-wrapped candy in bright fall colors. Give each student a piece of candy upon entering the room, but ask them not to unwrap or eat it until further instructions are provided. Use the various colors to group students in different areas of the classroom, then allow them to eat their candy to sweeten the deal before you hit them with the real work: inventing a new candy to market to kids in their age group.
- Make an ingredient list
- Name the candy
- Design the wrapper
- Write a commercial
- Record it as a radio or TV ad
Students get to choose whether to create a persuasive or descriptive ad and are provided with a scoring guide based on creativity and participation (knowing that grades will not be entered into the grade book).
This activity introduces students to the grading rubrics and project styles that will take place in the class during the year, gets them used to collaborating with peers, and allows you to model expectations and procedures. There are endless ways to modify and customize this activity for your subject matter and grade level. And, it gives you some valuable insights into your students’ personalities based on the inventions and marketing materials they produce.
8. Describe and Draw
For this activity, you’ll need some unusual objects gathered from around your home or elsewhere. The more unusual, the better. I’ve used things like quarters wrapped in a paper towel, then placed inside a Ziploc bag, rubber balls cut in half, and other oddities.
Place each object in a box and label the bottom of the box with what’s inside. Cut a hole in the top, large enough to put a hand and an arm through to feel the object inside, and tape a piece of paper over the opening. I use diaper boxes for this activity, for two reasons: one, because I happened to have ample diaper boxes on-hand, and two, because it adds to the intrigue. Place the boxes strategically in different areas of your classroom.
Group students into teams of three to four, and use whatever method (earliest birthday, etc.) to choose who gets to reach inside the box. Other group members need paper and a writing utensil. While the “feeler” reaches inside the opening and describes what he feels, the other group members attempt to draw the object based on his description.
After this activity is complete, the groups discuss their drawings and decide which they’d like to present to the class. Each group of students shares their results with the rest of the class, while you stand next to the box in question. When they’ve finished sharing their box, reach inside and reveal the object.
Not only is this activity an excellent ice breaker, it’s a good way to demonstrate that students will have fun in your class, in a structured way with learning. (And, that you’re going to be an unusual teacher.)
Getting kids interested in you, your class, and each other is the best way to kick off a new school year on a positive note. Not to mention, setting the stage for your procedures and expectations will be a way to save time and your sanity throughout the year.
If you have any questions about the activities, feel free to email Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a comment or suggestion, feel free to reply below. Better yet, if you have some tried and true activities of your own, we’d love it if you would share those below, too. Teach on!