In just a few days you will have 20 or 30 new faces in your classroom, staring at you, expecting to be wowed, bored, or challenged. How do you break the ice, and get your students engaged, right off the bat?
Here we present specific icebreaking activities for 8 subjects, with a few additional ideas that will work for any subject you teach. While the majority of the ideas offered here are geared for high school, they can be easily adapted for any grade level.
Divide your class into groups of 5-8 kids and ask each team to act out a famous scene in history. Each team can choose the scene and the characters they wish to play. As the teams take turns presenting their scene, the “audience” (students not currently performing) try to guess the historic event being portrayed. If time permits, hold a class discussion after each performance, asking the students to contribute historic facts that were not revealed during the skit.
Throughout the year, the class can periodically act out other scenes from your specific lesson plans. This personal, interactive experience will make history more memorable, as students see how key events affected the world, and individual lives.
With this subject it’s easy to get students quickly engaged and intrigued. Find a simple, hands-on experiment that relates directly to the topics you’re going to cover at the beginning of the year. These websites provide several fun ideas:
- Science Buddies
- Education.com – with activities listed by grade level
- STEM Works – mostly for high school level
- Teacher blog – this link provides one science teacher’s favorite icebreaker, which is inexpensive and easy to prepare, permitting students to get to know each other, while enabling you to introduce scientific concepts
Break the ice by helping your students interact and get their creative juices flowing. Divide them into groups of 4 and challenge them to write a team poem or short story within one class period. Each team can choose their own topic, or you can assign them. Teammates can decide among themselves what approach they’d like to take, but each team member must be in charge of some element of the process and contribute to a portion of the lines.
Ideas for possible topics:
- In an ideal world, how would you have spent your summer?
- Discuss the #1 thing you’d like to change in this world
- Retell a section of your favorite book
Let’s play the “What and Where” Game! Divide your class into groups and make sure each group has access to a smartphone or computer. Then give them a brief quiz – maybe 12-15 questions – asking them to identify various geographical features throughout the world. They must first identify what the feature is (a city, river, mountain, landmark, etc.) and then where that feature is (within which country, city, or continent). The quiz can be written or verbal, but there is an advantage with a verbal quiz, because the students will hear the name of the feature spoken out loud – which will help them retain the information – and they’ll also have to guess or look up how to spell it. Spelling does count in this quiz! A prize goes to the team that gets 100% of the answers correct, with correct spelling, the quickest.
Sample geographical features for your quiz:
- Chichen Itza
Spanish, French, or any Foreign Language –
Bring a variety of common items to class and arrange them on a table or desk at the front of the room. As class begins, speak a command related to one of the objects, using the language you’re teaching. For example, you may say, “Pick up the red ball” or “Cut the piece of paper” or “Read two sentences from this book,” – but don’t say anything in English! Randomly call on students (one or more at a time) to come to the front of the classroom and perform the desired action. See how quickly they can correctly interpret your direction. Even if they need to use trial and error, keep repeating the command phrase until they get it right, and then go on to the next. Encourage full class participation!
This icebreaker is a game we invented called “How Will I Use…” Write these words on the board (or choose subjects of your own):
With students paired in groups of 2, call on teams randomly to answer questions that combine professions with these scholastic endeavors. For example:
"I'm an architect. How will I use geometry?"
"I'm a NASA scientist. How will I use physics?"
"I'm a store owner. How will I use multiplication?"
"I'm a city transportation manager. How will I use algebra?"
"I'm a cryptologist. How will I use statistics?"
Through this game, the students get to interact while using creativity and critical thinking to imagine the type of expertise required for each job. At the same time, they will start to grasp how concepts they use in school are applied in the real world.
Poly Sci –
Working in teams of 3-5, assign students to make internet-style banner ads for issues you will be discussing during the school year. Topics might include:
Poverty in America
As they work in teams to design and write copy for their ad, the students will use their creativity as they enjoy the chance to get to know each other and discuss important issues.
Art or Art History –
If your class focus is creativity, let your students start the creative process as soon as they sit down on Day 1. Challenge them to create a piece – whether it’s drawn, painted, digital, sculpted, etc. – following a theme you provide. Theme examples might be:
Focus on color
Focus on people
Focus on autumn
Ask the students to create the piece during the first half of the class, and reserve the second half for “show and tell” and discussion.
If your subject is Art History, project famous artworks onto a screen at the front of the room and see if your students can identify the artist or provide any other facts about the work they’re viewing. Even if no one recognizes the piece, you can have an interesting discussion about what the students do or don’t like about it, or what makes it unique.
These two websites provide beautiful examples of famous artwork:
For Any Subject –
Introduce a new technology – Students today are engrossed by technology, as never before. Incorporating a new tech tool in your lesson plan will spark their interest and engagement, while proving that you’re a tech-savvy teacher.
In an earlier blog we provided a great list of free web-based tools that enable students to communicate information in innovative, creative, and visually appealing ways.
If you’d like to lead a classroom discussion about today’s hottest technologies, our blog on today’s hottest tech trends will give you a head-start.
Learning games – Interactive, collaborative learning games help break the ice as students get to know each other and become actively engaged in the learning process, in a fun way. TeachHub has compiled a list of games for all grade levels, which they say “allow students to become leaders, followers, and peacemakers… with the opportunity to learn and shine.” Find games for your grade level here.
For more classroom icebreakers, check out the Icebreakers website.
Enjoy your first day of school!