Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Back-to-School Brain-Boosting Icebreakers

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I'm not a fan of traditional large-group icebreakers. I find that I spend most of the time leading up to my turn thinking about what I'm going to say, and consequently,  I never really pay much attention to what others are saying. I debate whether I am bragging when I share my accomplishments, and I get annoyed when I feel like others actually are. I also think that many icebreaker questions are fluffy and don't really help me to get to know anybody in a meaningful way.  To sum it up:

As a teacher, it's important to remember that we are surrounded by many different personalities in our classrooms. Chances are, some students feel similarly about icebreakers as I do. Alas, I'm not a total killjoy. I think that icebreakers can be very useful if the right questions are asked, and the activity is facilitated in the right way. When done in a constructive way, icebreakers not only help us to learn about our students but also go a long way in building classroom community. When it comes time to learning about my students and students learning about each other, I like to dig deep right off the bat--but in fun and interesting ways!

Here are three icebreaker ideas in which students can thoughtfully and creatively introduce themselves and their personalities to you and their classmates:

If I Was... 

In this activity, students complete prompts with answers that reflect their personalities. Here are a couple of examples: "If I was a musical instrument, I would be..." or "If I was a school supply, I would be...." Answering the prompt is only part of the activity. I ask students to explain why they answered in the ways that they did, and I am fascinated by the responses that students come up with.  Disclaimer: I'm not a psychologist, and I can't decipher the deeper meanings of students' answers. It's just really interesting to see how students compare themselves to the objects and ideas in the prompts!

In addition to just going around the room and everyone answering, there are alternative ways that you can facilitate this activity depending on the purpose you want to achieve.  I'll outline a couple:
  • Do this as a journaling activity. Using it this way allows the student to communicate directly with you and maintain the privacy that doing the activity aloud in a large group might infringe upon in the eyes of some students;
  • Preselect 3-4 different answers for each prompt ahead of time. Assign each answer a location in the room. Then, read the prompt aloud and ask students to move the location in the room that represents the answer that they feel best describes them. You can ask students to find at least one person in the group to talk to about why they chose the answer they did. (This may be uncomfortable for some students, and while it's good to be mindful that some activities may not appeal to all students, it's also important to stretch your students' comfortability and encourage them to communicate with one another.);
  • Assign students to small groups of 4-5 and have them each share their answers to a given prompt;
  • Do the activity as a whole class, but instead of students giving answers orally, provide students with whiteboards on which they can write their responses. You can then pick a few students to explain their answers for each prompt; or
  • Choose a prompt as the focus of a bulletin board and have students illustrate their responses.
If My Life Was a Novel...

This literacy and art activity allows students to share about their lives while demonstrating understanding of literary genres. Using a template like the one shown above, each student chooses a literary genre that best represents his or her life. Then, students expound on their genre choices by writing about the characters and settings in their lives as well as summarizing their stories.

You can conduct this activity with students having them view it through a couple of different lenses:
  • Students can tell their stories "so far...." They can share what has happened in their lives up to this point; or
  • Students can summarize what they hope their lives will be like over the course of their entire lifetime. 
Be sure to review common literary genres (fiction, nonfiction, etc.) with your students, and invite them to relate sub-genres such as suspense; melodrama; comedy; tragedy; romance; mystery; biography; fairy tale; and adventure, among others, to their lives. 

After students write about their lives as novels, invite them to illustrate a cover of their novel as way to further share about themselves and their life stories.

Back to School Categories Game

Anytime you can use a well-known game or game show in the classroom it's a winner in my book. This back-to-school game is based on "Scattergories." While this activity isn't as personalized as the previous ones, it is a lot of fun--and asks students to be thoughtful at the same time. It provides a window to how students think, which is valuable as you get to know them as children and as learners.

To play, every student gets a blank game card with categories listed. You randomly choose a letter. Start a timer of between 3-5 minutes. Then, let students try to complete their entire list of categories with answers that only begin with the chosen letter. (For example, if the letter is G, and the category is school supplies, you could write "glue.") Students score a point for every unique answer they have (i.e. no one else can have the answer). This game can be played many times since you can use the same list with a different letter each time you play. 

As with the other activities, you can play this game in a variety of ways:
  • Play it as a whole class with students answering individually. Be prepared to devote a big chunk of time to doing it this way, though, since you'll have to have every student give his or her answer to every category. To use time efficiently, once an answer is given for the first time, ask the class if anyone else has the same answer, and then skip over students whose answers have already been given. Also, to make sure that everyone has chance to give an answer, start with students in different parts of the room as you go over answers for each category;
  • Play as a whole class, but divide students into small groups, and have them work together to complete the list of categories; or
  • Divide students into small groups, and have them play against each other. 
Are you interested in trying these icebreaker ideas in your classroom? Click here or on the image to download these for FREE!

What are some of your favorite icebreakers that you use ? Do you have any other brain-boosting icebreakers that you would like to share? Leave a comment!


  1. The "If I was..." would be perfect for my 1st grade students (I'm a special educator). I know they would enjoy it, plus it would be a great way to model and support using expressive language. Sometimes those first few days are SO busy and this reminded me that we need to plan opportunities for our students to share with each other. Thanks :) Jen

  2. Fabulous ideas! I also like the "If I was..." like Jen mentioned above, great for firsties. Thanks for sharing.
    Our Elementary Lives

  3. Loved this post, especially the "If I was a ..." activity. I like the novel idea too. Thank you!Sharing with my team!


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