For many teachers, the first week of school is for housekeeping tasks and icebreakers. The objective with the latter is to foster a feeling of community in the classroom. The problem is that a lot of students start off the week as quite shy—especially if asked to speak to the whole class. There are ways to build a sense of community and keep everyone comfortable. If you’re lucky, the students might even learn something.
Have students pair up arbitrarily—for example, by birthdays or alphabetically. Every pair draws a Venn diagram and tells one another about themselves. Encourage them to talk about their likes, dislikes, favorite activities, families, and other basic get-to-know-you topics. Then, have each pair list those facts in the appropriate places on the diagram. Finally, each student introduces his or her partner to the class using the diagram. Note: if you have an odd number of students, one student gets to partner with you based on the same arbitrary grouping.
The game is simple. You call out a fact that can be used to organize students—like different languages spoken or places lived—and then students simply have to arrange themselves. At the end of each category, have a little chat about what has been revealed, and then move on to the next qualifier. With some brainstorming beforehand, this activity can easily last a full class period.
This activity gets used in a variety of settings, including classrooms and conferences. Pick an inoffensive (and superficial) topic—like dogs vs. cats, fall vs. spring, Gryffindor vs. Slytherin, or Batman vs. Superman—then have students move to the side of the room that corresponds with their viewpoint. This helps students find out that they aren’t alone in their beliefs, no matter how trivial they may be. Then, really break the ice by asking several students from each side to give a short statement on their reasons for picking that side—just make sure to avoid letting anyone get too carried away.
The toilet paper game
A lot of teachers use this game. You stand at the door with a roll of toilet paper, welcoming students into class. Ask each student to take as much paper as they want without explaining what it’s for. When everyone is seated, the students write one interesting fact about themselves on each square of paper. Noteworthy fact: outgoing students will often take a lot of TP, while shy students will only take a few squares, so no one should feel too out of place.
Even though these sorts of icebreaker activities get a bad rap sometimes, they really are important to building community and a philosophy of teamwork in your classroom. Besides, you don’t want to be known as that teacher who dives right into material on the first day of school, do you?
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