aha moment, being a teacher, first day, new year

3 Non-Ice Breaker Things to Do the First Week of School

I always wonder how students felt about doing the ice breaker activities I had planned for them.  How I asked them on the very first day to let loose, lighten up, and live a little.  How some of them seemed to light up while some barely went through the motions, no amount of coaching from me helping them. And some just stood there mortified.  I figured a little embarrassment didn’t hurt them that much.

Then I was asked to do ice breakers myself.  To share something I had never told someone else.  To take part in a scavenger hunt where I had to do things I didn’t feel comfortable with.  I didn’t feel like I knew people, I was mortified.  That night I swore to myself never to do anymore ice breakers, at least not in the traditional sense.

Yet we still have to break the ice.  We still have to plant the seeds of community.  So while I have discussed what I will be doing on the first day of school already here, here are three more ideas for forming a community with your students.

How We Are Connected Web

I wish I could remember who taught me this one, but I cannot.  You take a large piece of paper (bulletin board paper will do nicely) and then every students gets a sharpie.  All students and you sit around the piece of paper and then write their name down in front of them.  A students will then share something they like or dislike, if you agree with their statement you draw line from your name to their name.  You then go around the paper until everyone has shared.  In the end you will have a spiderweb image on your paper showing just how many things you have in common with each other.

Find A Picture Book

It is no secret that I am obsessed with picture books, so I love this way to get a hint at their personality.  All this requires is a lot of different picture books spread out.  Tell the students that they should find a picture book that speaks to them in some way, perhaps the cover reminds them of something, perhaps they remember it from their childhood, perhaps the story connects to them?  Once everyone has found a book, have them gather in groups and share why they selected the book they chose.  Students get a chance to speak about themselves and it is a great way for them to get excited about the books they will have access to.

The Circle

This is taken straight from our restorative circle program at school, an incredibly powerful program.  All members sit in a circle and one person holds the talking piece.  A question is asked such as; what is your favorite memory or something else non-threatening, and students take turns sharing and more importantly listening to each other.  We use circles all throughout the year and the way they build community is extraordinary.  Students learn to be a part of a protected environment where they can share whatever they need to share and know that their words are private within the circle.

Building community and getting to know students should not be something that embarrasses kids or leaves them riddled with anxiety.  It should be a positive experience that sows the seeds for the community you will build the rest of the year.  So be mindful of all of the students, not just those that you know will love the games.  Make sure they all feel accepted or you may be causing more rifts than building connections.

Jenn Gonzales from Cult of Pedagogy just published “Icebreakers That Rock” – check out her post too for more inspiration.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

12 thoughts on “3 Non-Ice Breaker Things to Do the First Week of School”

  1. Hi Pernille, thanks for these awesome ideas to incorporate on the first days of school. I agree, ice breakers introduced too early in the year or at a conference are uncomfortable for me; so, of course, they have to be for teens! These ideas are very non-threatening, yet still help begin the community building!

  2. Love the “How We Are Connected” web idea. Totally using that in my geography classespecially 🙂 Woohoo!

  3. There have been many times I have asked students to do something only to realize later, when I had to do it, how hard it really was! I always tell teachers to try it themselves first. I loved this post. Thank you for the ideas. As an avid picture book lover myself, I will probably use that idea this year.

  4. Great ideas! I, too, never much enjoyed awkward ice breaker activities. These seem much less threatening.
    A question about the web activity: after a student makes a statement, are all students who feel a connection supposed to draw a line from their name to the person’s name? So in a class of 25, a student could have 24 lines coming to their name?

    Thanks for clarifying.

  5. Thanks for bringing this up! This fits perfectly with my Responsive Classroom training. You have to start with low risk activities.

  6. Excellent idea on using the picture books. I wondered what you meant in other posts when you referred to several as “first day” pictures books. Thanks for sharing!

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