Ice Breacking Exercices

Every veteran teacher has his or her favorite first-day-of-school activities. Here are a few of mine. Let me hear about your favorites too!

Excited about the first day of school? Terrified?

If you're an experienced teacher, you probably have a few favorite activities that you use every year to get acquainted with your new students. They work --- so you stick with them -- or maybe this will be the year when you try something new.

I'll share a few of my favorite first-day-of-school activities if you'll share your favorites with me!


My favorite first-day-of-school activities aren't particularly unique or creative. They are intended only for fun and to be helpful to me as I get to know my new students. Let's jump right into our first circle activity.

My name is _____, and if I were an animal I'd be a _____ because....

I demonstrate for my students: "My name is Mr. H., and if I were an animal, I'd be a turtle," I say, "because I'm always rushing around. Sometimes I wish I could slow down."

Then I give the students a little time to think about what animals they might like to be -- and why. I encourage them to be creative, to be different and unique. The first student to one side of me in the circle starts out. After the first student finishes, I say, paraphrasing, "My name is Mr. H., and if I were an animal, I'd be a turtle because I'd like to be able to slow down. This is Emily, and if she were an animal, she'd be a hyena because she likes to laugh a lot." Then it's on to the next child. After each child speaks, I try to repeat all the other kids' name-and-animal combinations in order. That's always good for a laugh or two -- shows the kids right from the start that the teacher isn't perfect!

Next, I ask the kids to draw themselves as their animals, leaving space at the bottom of the drawing for their first writing assignment. I ask them to write at the bottom of the page a complete sentence following the form "If I were an animal, I would be a(n) ____ because..." When we're all done with the activity, I know all the kids' names and a little something about them.

As I call on students during the day, I always repeat their names -- and their animals! But I learn a lot more about my new students from this little activity. I find out who is able to follow simple directions. I learn about their writing abilities and their creativity. And I have a hint about which students might be independent workers.


We are all unique!

Each day throughout the school year, I introduce a Word of the Day. The first day's word is unique. I write the word on the board and ask students to read the word. (I don't recall any of my third graders ever identifying the word without a few clues. My last clue, using proper emphasis, is usually "This word is a unique word!")

Then I use the word in several statements, the last of which is "Each of us is unique." We talk about ways in which we're each unique. I'm the only one more than 6 feet tall. Mia is the only one who's wearing a pink shirt. Sam is the only one of us who has a pet ferret. (I learned this from the previous activity.) And so it goes.

Next step: Out comes the roll of white mural paper. I tear off a sheet about 10 feet long. Sometime during the day, each child goes out into the hallway and uses markers to draw his or her name on the mural paper. "Make it unique!" is my only direction.

I start out by writing "Mr. H" in big bubble letters inside an explosion design such as you see declaring NEW! or IMPROVED on product packaging in the grocery store. I draw colorful polka dots inside the bubble letters. When completed, this colorful mural makes a great hallway bulletin board under the cutout-letter headline We Are All Unique! I can also see from this activity who some of the truly unique characters will be in my new class!


Let's play detective.

I hand out a Clue Sheet to each student. We go over the statements on the sheet, and then I ask the students to find a quiet spot where they can fill in the blanks in statements such as

  • * "My favorite hobby is ________."
  • * "When I grow up, I want to have a job as a _________."
  • * "The most fun thing I did all summer was __________."

I preface this activity by telling the students that this will be one of the few times this year that I don't want them to put their names on their papers. As the students finish filling out their Clue Sheets, each picks up the sheet and a book and joins me on the rug for a class meeting. They hand the sheets to me and read quietly while the rest of the class finishes the task. Then I introduce the activity. I hand an anonymous Clue Sheet to each student. If a student ends up with his or her own sheet, we make some switches.

"I want to see whether you're good detectives," I tell the students. Then I invite them to move around, asking questions of their classmates, narrowing down the list of "suspects" until they find the one person who matches all the clues they hold.

Note: If it's a nice day, you might move this activity outdoors. Set up boundaries -- the basketball "court" -- if that isn't carrying the detective-suspect theme too far! -- for example, or the base paths on the ball field. When all the students have located their "suspects," each student takes a turn introducing the guilty party, telling others in the class a little about that boy or girl.



Many icebreaker activities are focused on helping teachers get to know their students and helping students get to know one another. These activities are fun ways to learn about students' backgrounds and personalities and to start to form bonds that will last all school year long.

Recipe Card Mix-Up

Provide each student with a recipe or index card. Ahead of time choose about five questions that you might ask of students. Be as creative as you want with the questions. Possible questions might include the following:
  • # What is the title of a favorite book?
  • # What do you like doing in your free time when you're not at school?
  • # What is your favorite board game?
  • # What is your favorite candy bar?
  • # If you could request your favorite meal for your birthday, what would that meal be?
When students -- and the teacher -- have written their answers to the questions, collect the recipe cards. Shuffle the cards. Then pass out a card to each student; be sure students do not receive their own cards. When everyone has a card, then the job of each student is to find the student in the room who belongs to the card the student holds. When everybody has found the person who wrote the answers on the card they hold, they must make sure they know how to pronounce that student's full name and that they understand everything that is written on the card. Then it is time for introductions. The teacher can begin the activity by asking the student on the card s/he holds to come to the front of the room. As that student stands by, the teacher introduces the student to the rest of the class by saying, "Class, I'd like you to meet ___. Her favorite book is ___. Her favorite board game is… Please welcome ___ to our fourth grade class!" (Classmates then give the student 4 claps [for 4th grade]). The student that the teacher introduced continues the activity by calling up the student whose card he or she holds. Continue until all students have introduced someone to the class. When everyone has been introduced, take all the cards, shuffle them, and call out responses on one card at a time to see if students can remember who belongs to each card.


Getting-to-Know-You Venn Diagram

Gather groups of three students. Supply a prepared three-circle Venn diagram (see an editable sample) for each group. Students talk in their groups about themselves and the things they like to do. After a brief discussion, students must…
  • # decide on at least three ways in which they are all alike; they write those things in the area of the diagram that intersects all three circles.
  • # find ways in which they are like one other student in the group and record those ways in the appropriate areas of the diagram.
  • # determine a few facts that make each of them unique and write those facts in the appropriate sections of the diagram.
This activity helps students recognize and appreciate likenesses and differences in people. It also introduces them to Venn diagrams on the first day of school. This type of graphic organizer might be used many times throughout the year.


Student Dictionary

Write five questions on the board. Questions might include the following:
  • # What is your name?
  • # Where were you born?
  • # How many brothers or sisters do you have?
  • # What are their names?
  • # Do you have any pets?
Tell students to write those questions on a piece of paper and to add to that paper five more questions they could ask someone they don't know. Pair students, and have each student interview his or her partner and record the responses. Then have each student use the interview responses to write a "dictionary definition" of his or her partner to include in a Student Dictionary. You might model this activity by creating a sample dictionary definition about yourself. For example:

Reynolds, Kim. proper noun. 1. Born in Riverside, California. 2. No brothers or sisters. 3.…

Have students bring in small pictures of themselves to paste next to their entries in the Student Dictionary. Bind the definitions into a book, and display it at your back-to-school open house for parents.


Getting-to-Know-You Chart

Create a large chart titled Getting to Know You. Include on the chart sections for students' names and interesting facts, such as how many people are in their families, how many pets they have, their favorite colors, favorite school subjects, favorite sports, and so on… Laminate the chart and hang it on the wall. On the first day of school, have each student "sign in." Leave the chart up for several weeks. The kids love to wander over to it when they have free time. They keep learning new things about one another. The chart can be a good source of "data" for a lesson in graph-making too.



Lots of great books offer fitting segues to getting-to-know-you activities. If you're a teacher who likes to read aloud to students, why not start the year with a read aloud that leads to a fun activity that will get students talking and interacting? Here are just a few possibilities…

Special Memories Book

If you write a letter of introduction to students before the school year starts, include a request that students bring to school on the first day something that has a special memory attached to it. (If you do not send a before-school letter, you can make this activity the homework assignment for the first day.) Start the day by reading Mem Fox's popular book Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. The story is about a little boy who befriends an older woman and gives her back memories that she has long forgotten. After reading the story, discuss what a memory is and list students' ideas. Then give each child an opportunity to share his or her special item and tell about the memories it carries. You might also use this as the first writing assignment of the year; have students write about the memories their objects spark, take pictures of the objects, and create a class book of memories.


The Giving Tree

Read aloud Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree and involve students in a discussion of the types of gifts the tree gave the boy; none of those gifts cost a thing. Then talk about the types of cost-free "gifts" the students can contribute to the class. Prepare a bulletin board that has the silhouette of a tree trunk and branches. Give each student a cutout apple. Have students write on their apples the things they can "give" to the class. Put the apples on the tree. This bulletin board makes a nice display for open house.


Goal Setting With Booker T.

I like to share at least one read-aloud book on the opening day of school. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes and First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg are favorites. Most essential though, is More Than Anything Else by Marie Bradby. The biographical story of Booker T. Washington's youth uses beautiful language and illustrations to show how he learned to read as a young boy. After reading the book, we talk about his goals and how his determination to achieve them made them a reality. More Than Anything Else is an excellent tool for starting a discussion about students' goals for the school year.



The last two activities above are perfect ones for setting the tone for a productive and respectful school year. When the going gets rough -- when students are not respecting their classmates or when they are losing sight of their goals -- you could always refer back to the lessons learned from the "giving tree" or Booker T.

Following are a few more activities that can help you set a tone on the first day of school that will carry over throughout the year.


Chain Gang

Begin by asking students "Who can do something really well?" After a brief discussion about some of the students' talents, pass out paper and ask students to write down five things they do well. Then provide each student with five different-colored paper strips. Have each student write a different talent on each paper strip. Then create a mini paper chain by linking the five talent strips together. As students complete their mini chains, use extra strips of paper to link the mini chains together to create one long class chain. Have students stand and hold the growing chain as you link the pieces together. Once the entire chain is constructed and linked, lead a discussion about what the chain demonstrates. For example, it might illustrate that…
  • # All students have talents.
  • # The students in this class have many talents.
  • # If the students in this class work together, they can accomplish anything.
  • # Our class is stronger when students work together than when individual students work on their own.
Hang the chain in the room as a constant reminder to students of the talents they possess and the benefits that can result from teamwork.


Puzzling It Out

This activity is especially valuable if you have in your class students who are new to your school. Those students probably will be experiencing a range of emotions -- including fear, shyness, and uncertainty. Before the activity, create a word processing document containing many different messages -- preferably in different type sizes and fonts -- that convey such messages as
  • # Welcome!
  • # Don't be puzzled, you'll fit right in!
  • # We're here for you!
Depending on the age of student with whom you work, you might include a few messages or a dozen. Print multiple copies of the document (one for each small group of students). Then cut each copy into puzzle pieces, and place the pieces of each copy in a separate envelope. Post on an overhead transparency instructions that direct students to work with others at their table to assemble the puzzle pieces in their group's envelope. As students enter the classroom on the first day of school, be sure they read the instructions and begin the activity. This activity accomplishes several goals: It offers a quiet activity that you can observe; as you observe, you will learn about your students and discern potential problems. It gives students something to do when they first enter the classroom -- something they will be successful at. And it can be a great discussion starter.


Ugly Words Are Out!

As you discuss classroom expectations, introduce the idea that "ugly words" have no place in your classroom. Ask students what they think you mean by "ugly words." Then have the class generate a list of words that might be found on an ugly-word list, and write the words on a piece of chart paper. (Explain to students that any word that is considered a swear word would definitely be on the ugly-word list, so there is no need to mention them. Point out that the same is true for such words as dummy, jerk, dork, geek, hate, or ugly.) You might start the list with the word "can't." What about the word quit? Go around the room and give each student an opportunity to add an ugly word to the list. When you are satisfied that the students' supply of ugly words has run dry, dramatically rip the chart paper off the pad, let it fall to the floor, and stomp all over it. Next, rip it up and crush it into a ball. Finally, get a shovel, take students outside, and ceremoniously bury the list of ugly words. This activity will have quite an impact: students will always remember the "ugly words" that will not be accepted in class.

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