10/8/08

Best of the Icebreakers


Education World has been collecting great icebreaker activities from teachers since 1997. This year, we take a look back and spotlight some of the best of the more than 150 ideas that teachers have shared. Included: Ten creative, teacher-tested ideas.

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.

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.
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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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