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Back-to-School Teacher Toolkit: Free Classroom Resources to Help Get to Know Your New Students!

Thursday, August 17, 2017 -- McKenna Wierman

It’s time to head back to school, and for teachers, that means that getting to know a whole new class of students is just around the corner! As you gear up for the new school year, check out EducationCity’s FREE Back-to-School Toolkit, which includes lots of exciting resources to help you get to know your new class and the EducationCity gang!

This toolkit includes fact sheets on school traditions around the world and fun critical-thinking questions to get your students excited about returning to the classroom. There are also colorful, printable name tags and stickers that will make your students feel special (and help you remember names during the first week); a fun “get to know you” activity; and more!

While you’re looking for opportunities to infuse resources like these into your instruction, of course, you’re also beginning to build relationships with your students. And, at the start of the school year, getting to know the students in your class and helping them get acquainted with one another can feel a little daunting. Often, educators are forced to turn to the necessary evil of icebreakers, which offer plenty of opportunity for fun or groan-inducing awkward silences.  Some icebreakers don’t really help students get to know one another so much as they ensure that everyone in the room says his or her name out loud at least once. 

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to help your students engage with each other without putting them on the spot or making them feel embarrassed during the first week of school. Here are some teacher-tested, effective icebreaker activities to help you and your students start the new school year on the right foot!

1. Circle up

“Circle up” is a great icebreaker because it allows students to make connections without having the eyes of every other student in the class focused on them at once. To play “circle up,” students will need to form two circles, one inside ring and one outside ring, facing each other to form pairs. Start off by having students briefly introduce themselves to their partners, then have them discuss an open-ended question like: “What is your favorite movie?” or “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” After about a minute or so, have the inner circle stay stationary and the outer circle rotate so that each student has a new partner. To make sure that students in the same circle also get a chance to talk to one another, mix up your groups and play again later in the week with fresh questions. Your students will thank you for creating unintimidating circumstances to get to know their peers.

2. Marshmallow challenge

This activity could probably be classified as more of a teambuilding exercise than an icebreaker, but it’s a great one for the first day of school. You’ll need to split your students into groups of about four or five, then give each group 20 pieces of spaghetti (uncooked), a yard of string, a yard of masking tape, a pair of scissors, and a marshmallow. The goal of the activity is to see who can build the tallest structure using the materials given in 18 minutes. The trick is that the marshmallow must be at the top of the structure, and the structure must be standing when the timer goes off. While the timer is ticking, sit back and observe your students. You’ll quickly get a feel for how they interact with one another, take on leadership roles and share responsibilities, strategize to solve problems, and execute their ideas. This is a great exercise to help you get to know your students and let them interact with one another and having some fun!

3. Four corners

The “four corners” game is a great way to help your students find classmates with whom they share something in common. This activity does require some running around, so if you’re going to play it in the classroom, I suggest moving things around to make sure that students don't trip. Have all of your students gather in the center of the room, then choose a category, like ice cream flavors, and assign a topic to each corner that fits that category. Using the ice cream example, you might have a chocolate corner, a vanilla corner, a rainbow sherbet corner, and a mint corner. Then, once you’ve designated which corners are which, tell your students to pick their favorite corner. Your students will enjoy getting to move around, and by giving them a limited number of choices, everyone is bound to find someone they share similar interests with. For an added twist, you could designate one corner the “none of the above” corner and have students who choose to go there share their preferred answer with the class or with the other students in that corner.

4. Barnyard animals

To play “barnyard animals,” give each student a slip of paper with a barnyard animal on it or have them draw the slips out of a hat. Students should keep which animal they are given a secret. When you’re ready to play, tell your students to start making the same sound as the animal on their paper. Students should then try to find classmates with the same animal as them. The group who has found all of its partners first wins! This is a great game to help with first-day shyness and get students feeling more relaxed in the classroom. Besides, what teacher doesn’t love to watch his or her students having fun and being a little silly the first week back to school?

5. Toilet paper game

There are several variations of this game, sometimes using small treats like M&M’s® or Skittles®, but toilet paper is sure to get a laugh from your students. Without explaining what the toilet paper will be used for, pass around a roll and ask your students to take as much as they think they will need. Once everyone has taken some, explain they will be using the toilet paper to get to know one another (which will definitely get their attention) by sharing one fact about themselves for each square of toilet paper. You can divide students into small groups for this activity so that no one feels pressured presenting to the whole class. And, of course, if you get one student who took off about 50 squares, maybe limit him or her to just a few facts. The point is to get everyone in a lighter mood, and learn a few fun things about each other.

6. Snowball fight

This is a great activity to use around the end of the first week after your students have begun to learn each other’s names. Hand out one sheet of white paper or computer paper to each student, then have students write three fun facts about themselves without writing their names on the paper. Once everyone is finished writing, it’s time for the fun part! Have students crumple up their papers into “snowballs”. Then, for the next minute or so, have a “snowball fight!” After everyone’s “snowball” has been tossed, have students pick up one at random and read the facts. Now they must find the “snowball’s” owner! This activity will help your students mix and mingle as they try to figure out whose “snowball” they have, and it could lead to some interesting conversations. If you’re dealing with younger children who may not be reading or writing just yet, you could try a variation of this activity where, instead of writing facts about themselves, they draw pictures of three of their favorite things.

Looking for more resources to get into the back-to-school spirit? Don’t forget to download the FREE Back-to-School Toolkit from EducationCity, or take the full online program for a spin by registering for a free trial.