The first day of school is still a ways off, but many teachers—especially those of us who just received our fall assignments—are already beginning to think about it. The day usually begins the same way: Our new students trickle in and find a desk where they can carefully guard their tongues for the next week. We feel for our students not only because we’ve been there before, but also because we always have some nervous energy ourselves. To ease the first-day jitters, we started using icebreakers. Below you will find five of our favorites.
Preparing for Opening Day: 5 of the best icebreakers for teachers
The only thing you’ll need for this activity is a big ball of string. Here’s how it works: The teacher stands at the door with two handfuls of string ends. As you welcome your new students give each student an end. Alternate hands as you pass them out: The first student gets a string-end from your right hand; the second from your left; the third from your right and so on.
Once everyone has arrived and has a string-end, they must start to follow the course of the string they hold (you got to class early and created a trail for each piece of string). Some pieces wrap around chairs, run through the coat closet, under and over desks and around your podium, or become tangled with other pieces of string. Your students will have to follow this trail—wherever it may lead them.
Eventually your students will be startled to discover that they are face-to-face with another student who is holding the other end of the same piece of string! Once each student has found his or her partner, it’s time for them to make their introductions.
Put on a new jacket
The covers of our most-popular books often become torn and dirty. Direct your students to the classroom library and have them select books with damaged jackets or book covers. If you don’t have enough damaged books, allow them to choose a book with their favorite cover they’d like to protect.
Offer a variety of craft materials (paint, pens, random ephemera and fabric) so that students can create their own covers and book jackets. If you’d like instruction books or kits for slipcases, stop by Hollanders.
This idea comes courtesy of Bonnie Kunzel’s and Constance Hardesty’s book, The Teen-Centered Book Club: Readers into Leaders.
Start a time capsule
Type up a handout that includes questions like:
- What is your favorite TV show?
- What is your favorite song?
- What are you thinking right now?
- What is your favorite thing to eat?
- What is your least favorite thing to eat?
- How tall are you?
Feel free to get as crazy and creative as you like with these questions. Once your students are finished, collect the handouts and put them in a secure place.
When I was in third grade, my teacher received permission from the principal to dig a hole and bury our class time capsule (which also included an item belonging to each student) in the playground! At the end of the year, we dug up our time capsule and discussed how much our interest, tastes and height had changed over the course of a year.
Know your orange
We got this idea from Christopher Willard’s book, Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm and Relaxed.
- At the front of the classroom or in the center of a circle, place a bowl of clementine oranges on a desk. Ask your students if they can tell the oranges apart.
- Now pick up the bowl and walk by each student and allow the student to select a clementine.
- Once everyone has an orange, write these questions on the board: Look closely at your orange; how many colors does it have? What shape is it? Where did it come from? How many hands have touched this orange before you selected it? What does it feel like when you squeeze it? What does it smell like? Are there any distinct aromas? How does it look when you hold it at arm’s length? How about when it is a couple of inches from your eye?
- Have your students write down their answers—tell them not to worry about spelling/punctuation/complete sentences.
- Now pick up the empty bowl, walk around the room and have each student drop his or her orange into the bowl.
- Now put it back on the table and have your students come up one at a time to find their orange.
- Have your students share how they found their orange.
- Eat and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
If you’d like to take this activity a few steps further, you might have your students journal about mindful tasting. Try giving them the following prompts:
- List 5 of your favorite things to eat and use vivid, colorful language to describe how each tastes, looks and smells.
- Pretend that you had your friend over for dinner and she refused to eat your favorite dish. How might you persuade her to eat it?
Spill the Skittles, not the beans
Pass out five or ten Skittles (M&Ms work too) to each student and explain that for each piece of candy the student has, s/he must tell the class something about him/herself. Here’s the tricky part: each color corresponds to a category. An orange Skittle represents a scary memory; green ones represent a favorite outdoor place; blue ones represent their favorite place to swim and so on. This is an easy way to get students talking—and when was the last time kids turned down free sweets?
There are a number of variations on this activity. For a slightly different spin, check out Katie’s idea on her blog, live.craft.eat