Or should I say “best icebreaker activity for high school students who HATE icebreakers!”
School is starting soon! I know you are busy getting your rooms ready and mentally preparing for the year ahead, so here is one less thing you have to worry about. What do you do on the first day of school when you and your students do not know each other? I struggled for a number of years with how to handle that first day of school. Go through the syllabus? Rules? Books? Hand out goggles? Safety? Yes, all necessary but it still felt like a wasted day and I wanted to get to know my students better. I kept re-inventing it because what I tried wasn’t quite working and it was always awkward. Until I came up with my Icebreaker activity. I did this with students with such success that I have used it every semester, every year since.
Bring some science to the first day of class
This Icebreaker is really a combination of two activities that I have used over the years. I like to get students thinking about science on the first day of class. It’s science class, it should feel like science class right away! So I created a mini version of my Mystery box lab. In that lab students attempt to identify a mystery item in a sealed box. This activity is a very abbreviated version of that. I used old film canisters that we happened to have at school but you can use any little containers that you have lying around. Check at your local Walmart or other film developing place because I hear that they give them away. They also sell new film canisters on Amazon relatively inexpensively. Those little plastic Easter eggs would probably work as well. Just make sure that your container is not see-through! Inside the canisters I put assorted things that are found in any classroom. Paper clips, pennies, beads, beans, toothpicks, sand, soap, etc. Whatever you have lying around and that fits into your container will work. This is my pile of canisters. They aren’t pretty (they are well-used) but they sure get the job done!
1. Easily Groups students
The first thing that this Icebreaker does is give you a easy, random way to group students or create your first seating chart. I have students pick a canister out of a basket and they walk around the room shaking and listening to their canisters in order to find other students with the same things in their canisters. Make sure you tell them ahead of time not to open the containers. *CAUTION – this is not a quiet activity!* For grouping, you have to first choose the size of your group. My lab tables sat 4 students so I chose 4. I then put the SAME items in 4 of the canisters. I repeated this for ~36 canisters. The number of canisters will vary according to your typical class sizes. I often began the year with as many as 32 students on my roster and since I think it’s easier to create “extras” now so that when a couple inevitably go missing, 36 was my magic number. Instruct students to find the other students that have the same items in their canisters and pick a table to sit down. At the end you will have a couple stragglers that say they can’t find their partners, that’s OK. It really doesn’t matter, it just gives me an idea of how willing students are to interact with each other. I usually step in at the end and point kids to tables to get them all seated. I then let them peek and see if they were “right.”
2. Talk about science
Secondly, this gives you an opportunity to inject some science into the day. Once they are all seated I ask them questions like “were you right?”, “did you find it difficult?” ,etc. Surprisingly students who were positive they were a match often have different things in their containers. We discuss how the activity was like science. Experimentation, inference, communication, etc. This is my first opportunity to see what they know and don’t know and how easily they talk about it. Such vital and often overlooked, information you need to know about your kids.
3. Get to know each other
Lastly, in the photo above you may have noticed that all of the canisters also have questions taped to the outside. These are simple, sometimes silly questions that I have found or made up that are designed to start a conversation. I encourage you to come up with some of your own, things that you will find easy for you to talk about but you can also purchase a copy of my questions from my store on teachers pay teachers. I just printed the questions out on paper and used pieces of packing tape to attached it to the canisters. Here is a close-up of one of the canisters.
Putting it together
After kids are seated, I grab my clipboard with my blank seating chart on it and tell students that we are now going to go around the room and each person will introduce themselves, read the question on the canister and answer the question. Usually a student will start by whispering their name and the question and no one can hear. So encourage them to really speak up! I usually repeat their name (as I enter it on my seating chart), re-ask the question and then answer the question myself as well. Believe it or not, students want to know who you are too! Then I invite other students to join in and before you know it, we are chatting like old friends!
Me: “Hi Jenny”
student: “My question is, What are you obsessed with?”
Me: “OOOHH! Good question, what are you obsessed with?”
student: “I don’t know, maybe music?”
me: “What kind of music?”
student: “Classical, I’ve been playing the piano since I was 5”
me: “What? That’s amazing you must be very talented! Right now I am obsessed with Dr. Who, we’re watching all of the old episodes. What about everyone else?”
student 2: “I love Doctor Who!”
student 3: “I play the flute in the marching band and I love it”
student 4: “I’m obsessed with Taco Bell”
student 5: “OOOHH, yeah, me too!”
It may seem like you are just sitting around wasting time, but you are building a relationship with these kids. They can see that you are a person and that you are interested in who they are and what they like. The silly questions will help you laugh together and that is never a bad thing!
Try it out for yourself, I promise you will love it!