The school year is starting, and that means one thing is certain….ice breakers.
Did you just sigh? Audibly moan? Throw up a little?
I feel you.
I haven’t met a lot of teachers who love icebreakers – either participating in them during staff events or facilitating them with our students.
So can we just skip them? Can we just start teaching content??
I mean, sure, you can. But is that the best option?
The first days of school are a special opportunity for you to get to know your students a little bit without the pressure of academics. It’s also an opportunity for students to get to know each other and start to build a positive classroom environment in a low-pressure way. So here are my tips for ice breakers:
1. Tip #1: Don’t put kids on the spot
Instead, find low-pressure activities that involve groups. If kids need to talk in front of everyone, give them the chance to think about it, give options, and let them write something down that they can read from to reduce anxiety.
I’ve been scarred by ice breakers where one person is forced to be in the spotlight…one included putting a person in the middle of a large circle and keeping them there until they could make someone smile, and one asked me to tell a joke in front of like a hundred people. WHO THINKS THESE ARE GOOD IDEAS!?? These are not ice breakers, they’re throwing people in ice cold water and then watching how they struggle. Not the best for building relationships and creating a community where students feel comfortable and supported.
2. Tip #2: Include an activity that will help you to learn names
But don’t spend too much time on it. Name games are not always necessary now that most of us can access rosters with pictures, and most of the time the students know each other’s names. I love a good name tag for the desk (include pronouns!) or a quick Flipgrid introduction assignment (this helps you with pronouncing names correctly).
3. Tip #3: Use one or more of these easy ideas
- My absolute favorite option is the Polar Bears and Fish activity. You can read about it in detail here, or you can watch me explain it on my Instagram highlight @bigredscience in my “First Day” highlight.
- Do a STEM challenge. Which group can make the tallest tower with plastic cups? Which group can create the newspaper bridge that supports the most textbooks? What about a spaghetti and marshmallow tower? Or an egg drop challenge?
- Cell-fie Questionnaire. This is a cell-themed “Get to Know You” questionnaire that you can use to both review knowledge of cell structures and tackle some SEL topics like stress, character strengths, and boundaries. Check it out here!
- The ABCs of -ologies. This quiz game activity is a fun, low-pressure option that has pairs of students working together to select the correct answer from A-D when presented with an “-ology” term projected at the front of the room (ex: Mycology is the study of ________). So fun! Grab it here.
- Speed questioning. Have students form two lines that face each other and give a question for each pair to talk about for 30 seconds before switching partners. Silly questions, favorites, bucket list items – keep ‘em simple, and don’t do this for TOO long!
- This or That? Make a list of questions that include things like: Beach or snow? Boats or planes? Travel or stay home? Instagram or TikTok? Add in some science choice for the appropriate level of nerdiness (as long as you’re able to laugh about the ridiculousness!)…Chemistry or Biology? Labs or nature walks? Nucleus or mitochondria? Brain or heart? Angiosperms or gymnosperms? Eukaryotes or prokaryotes? (ha!) Students raise their hands to show which side they land on, or bow out if they hate both! Allow for some chatting and explanations as you see fit.
- BONUS: Virtual Icebreakers. My go-to virtual option is a home scavenger hunt where students are told to go find items to show via their webcams: something blue, something living, something that begins with the letter “B”., etc. This or That? also works easily online, and pet or sibling show-and-tell is always fun!
Those are my quick suggestions! And remember, while it feels like there is a lot of pressure on getting those first days *just* right, don’t stress about them too much. Be a good human, come in with your systems ready, and if you genuinely want to build relationships with your students it will happen!
Are you an ONTARIO SCIENCE TEACHER?
Me too! Click here if you’d like some specific science content that’s aligned to the Ontario curriculum, Growing Success, and all that as, of, for jazz that we know and love! (I promise you won’t be overloaded with emails!)
Interested in other helpful Back to School ideas? Check out:
High Quality Movies for the Science Classroom
A Surprisingly Simple Way to Deal with Cell Phones in the Classroom
7 Super Helpful Tips for New Science Teachers
Classroom Management Series #3: Tips for Reacting in the Moment
Classroom Management Series #2: Tips for Building Relationships
Classroom Management Series #1: Tips for Creating Systems
The #1 Things Teachers Wish They Learned in Teachers College
How to Guarantee that Your Students Will Remember What They Learn
The Proven Blueprint to Using Movies in the Science Classroom
Using YouTube for a Low-Prep Bellringer
My Favorite Way to Start the Science School Year