Design for Change USA Blog

Quick Activities for Breaking the Ice with Students and Getting the School Year off to a Good Start

Summer is winding down and I can only imagine the great deal of pressure and anxiety our middle and high school students are feeling with the onset of the new school year. Just imagine your first day as a high schooler in ninth grade, a time when all your friends and classroom buddies may be total strangers. Unfortunately, it can become a nervous, nail-biting experience for many of our students, and one that could last for months as they try to get adjusted to their teachers and fellow classmates.



I must admit, I was a true social butterfly during those middle and high school years. I looked forward to asking fellow students their names and classroom schedules, just to see if we had similar classes throughout the day. There was no such thing as a stranger to me; somehow, I was naturally sociable and naively thought I had something in common with everyone, in some way. It was just a trait that was part of my DNA and made me a bit different from the rest.


Nonetheless, I realized, not all my friends or fellow classmates inherited that trait. If anything, I was unique when it came to my way of socializing and chatting with others. Even decades later, as a thriving adult and working professional, I see that unique quality of mines is one some would rush to purchase online if they could. So, looking back, I appreciate the gift of gab I’ve had, particularly throughout my childhood.


However, I’m just totally impressed by the virtual and in-person icebreaker activities that open the floor to great conversations for our students today. It takes the pressure off those students who may be a bit different from me and need a bit of a push to get the dialogue going with their teachers and classmates.


Icebreakers for Students to Learn About Each Other


Classroom icebreakers encourage new students to have those exciting and low-pressure exchanges, getting to know you and each other in the process. Used early on, icebreakers can help students feel comfortable in your classroom and start the crucial process of building a classroom community. They can also help you, as the teacher, become aware of any interesting classroom dynamics.


Icebreaker Activity #1: My Perfect School Day


A really exciting and creative activity to consider is one study.com calls, ‘My Perfect School Day’. This activity is well suited for both middle and high school students.

Have your students break into groups and fill out a sample ''class schedule'' of their ideal school day, indicating what they would do and when. Then, have each group present their perfect school day to the class. This activity will help your students learn how to cooperate and adjust to group activities while thinking about school. It should also generate quite a few laughs!


Another great set of mental challenges from Signupgenius.com include on-the-spot games that are sure to give your high school student’s brains a workout.


Icebreaker Activity #2: The Number Game


Have the students sit in a circle and attempt to count to 10. Explain that there is no set order or time for calling out the numbers. Anyone can call out the next number, BUT if they say the number at the same time as someone else, the group must start over. Once the group reaches 10, try to get to 20!


Icebreaker Activity #3: Rainbow Categories


Have two students stand up. Let the group pick a category (like animals) and a color (like orange). The students must then alternate, trying to name orange animals for as long as possible until one hesitates. When one person stops, the other student wins.


Try a few Getting-to-Know-You Challenges


Of course, during the first few months of the new school year, we really work to make sure we make judgment-free environments where students can really feel comfortable and open to share who they are and what makes them unique. Who is going to be a leader in class or who might need encouragement to speak up? It’s a perfect time to ‘take the temperature’ in the class and observe the different personalities among your students.


Below are some great ideas from We Are Teachers website, for those middle school icebreakers:


Getting-to-Know-You Challenge #1: Build a Boat


Divide your class into groups or allow them to choose their own for a good look at who’s friends with whom! Give each group one bag of drinking straws and one small roll of duct tape. Inform students that they have 25 minutes to construct a boat using only the straws and the tape. Have a tub or classroom sink filled up with water and ready to go to test the boats and declare winners.


Getting-to-Know-You Challenge #2: Balloon Launch


Break students into groups of between four and six students and give each group a few balloons in the same color. Each team should have a different color. Have students blow the balloons up as much as they want and hold them without tying them closed. Have students stand in the front of the room and let the balloons go. The team with the balloon that flies the farthest wins.


Getting-to-Know-You Challenge #3: Two Truths and a Lie


Have each student come up with two truths and one lie about themselves. They can state them or write them on the board and then the other students vote what is the lie!


Getting-to-Know-You Challenge #4: Scavenger Hunt


Group the students together and then provide each group with a list of items they need to find in the classroom. They will have to work together to see who can find and show their items the fastest.


Conclusion


We all know that for some folks, it’s never fun to sit in a room full of people they may not know. Let’s help our students get a boost of energy and get their blood flowing with creative, physical and mental activities that encourage new friendships and a level of team spirit.


When doing icebreakers, students may learn something important about a peer they may have not known of before and it could even become the start to long-lasting friendships both in and outside the classroom. Icebreakers and social activities are important now more than ever for our middle and high schoolers.


Let’s make that first step with the introduction of these fun and interactive classroom activities. As educators, we also encourage you to sign up for additional resources and create student action projects at our Design for Change platform (pm.designforchange.us). It’s a perfect time to break the ice, start conversations and build team spirit in our classrooms for the school year ahead!



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