Back-to-School Icebreakers for Every Grade

Back-to-School Icebreakers for Every Grade
Brisa Ayub and The Editorial Team August 3, 2018

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We have all experienced it. Those first day jitters. That first day of a new job, the first day of a new program or club that we joined and if it was especially memorable, we might be even able to remember that first day of school way back when. Firsts can bring up fears and insecurities in all of us. And for students, the first day of a new school year, especially if things are completely new and unfamiliar can be even more intimidating. With distance learning, students will need even more opportunities to connect with one another and the space to get to know each other.

Having some fun and silly icebreakers to help ease students into the new setting can help. Check out some of the following ways in which you can help your class feel a little less jittery and a little more comfortable.

Some of these activities may be suitable for both in-class and online learning environments with minor adjustments.

Elementary school activities

Deserted Island Share-Out

Seat students in a circle. Tell the class to imagine that they’re stuck on a deserted island. To make it visual, project an image of an island on the board. Each person should share one object they would bring to the island and why. The item doesn’t have to be an item for survival. Encourage students to identify an item that’s important enough to them to bring. This game lets students share a bit about their interests and who they are!

Summer Vacation Postcards

Grab some card stock and print out some blank postcard templates. Ask students to draw a place they visited during their summer vacation — a park, Grandma’s house, a hotel. On the back, ask them to write about a summer memory associated with that place. Students can share their postcards, tell the class about their summer fun, and then put them up around the classroom!

  • Online variation: ask students to grab any piece of paper, whether it’s a notepad, paper shopping bag, or an electronic graphics program (if they’re graphic-savvy). You could also turn this activity into an online scavenger hunt by instructing students to build an online photo collage using images found on Google Images.

The “Who’s In Our Class?” Puzzle

Create a word search puzzle with your students’ names and ask students to find them — all while learning each other’s names. Make it a competition between small groups and offer up fun little prizes for the table that finishes first, second, and third. Create your word search puzzle online for free here.

Toilet Paper Fashion Challenge

Each team gets 2 rolls of toilet paper and/or crepe paper. Set a timer for 5 minutes and instruct students to design a toilet paper outfit on one student in the group. Play some fun music as students hustle to make their outfit! When the timer goes off, it’s time for the Fashion Show. Play some runway music and have each team’s model walk to show off the outfit without it falling off. The teacher can judge which team has the winning design!

Middle school activities

Beach Ball Question Toss

Blow up a beach ball and use a marker to write some get-to-know-you questions on it. Toss the ball around a circle of students. When someone catches it, the question that lands right in front of them is the one they should answer. Go a few rounds until everyone has answered a few questions! Added bonus: Ask students to say their name when they answer to encourage everyone to learn each other’s names. Like: “My name is and my favorite food is….”

  • Online variation: pick students at random and ask the same questions. To make it fun, ask students to change their backgrounds and inquire why they chose it.

Skit-tell Us

Grab some Skittles and gather students in a circle. Students should blindly pick a Skittle from a bag and depending on what color they pick, they answer a corresponding question from a pre-made chart. For example, red skittles could represent their favorite movie or a country they dream of visiting. See this photo for color-coded question inspiration. If students can’t or don’t want to eat the Skittles, that’s no problem! You can also play this game with Legos or any colorful object!

  • Online variation: have each student go to this online color spinner and click the “spin” button. After a color has been selected, ask the corresponding question from a list of pre-made questions based on each color of the wheel.

“I Am” Poem

Get students writing and sharing with some “I Am” poems. Share a pre-made sheet like this to motivate students to write, reveal cool facts about themselves, and share who they are with the class. Poems can be displayed in class or stored away to be looked at again at the end of the year to see how much students have changed.

  • Online variation: prepare a Google Doc (or Microsoft Word file) template based on the sheet and share it with students, and then have them complete and read it aloud to their classmates.

High school activities

Cell Phone Scavenger Hunt

We all know high school students love their phones, so why not incorporate devices into a fun game that gets students mingling and socializing in a tech-friendly way? Use this awesome scavenger hunt sheet that asks students to find things like selfies, photos of pets, and certain apps on their peers’ phones.

  • Online variation: have students privately pair with each other and encourage them to guess the other student’s interests using images from across the web.

Would You Rather?

This game poses a dilemma with two choices that are usually both bad or funny. Laugh along with your students with questions like: “Would you rather lose your sense of taste or your sense of smell?” Download these free Would You Rather printables or ask students to create their own and get the fun started!

Oh Hi, Jenga

Using either a regular Jenga set or a giant one, write a question on each block. Sit in a circle and place the game in the middle. Play as a whole class, letting everyone get up to take turns. Each time someone removes a brick, they have to answer the question on the Jenga piece! Have fun as the tension mounts and eventually the tower falls!

  • Online variation: place a regular Jenga set or a giant one on your screen and ask each student where you should grab a piece. After you’ve grabbed a piece, ask the student what the question is and have them answer. Repeat until all the blocks fall.

All ages and grade levels

  • Alphabet Name: This is one of my favorites, as it is easy for younger students to do, and it is next to impossible not to smile when hearing these silly names come out of one another’s mouth. Ask students to introduce themselves by attaching a word that starts with the same letter of their name. For example, my name is Brisa Ayub so I would introduce myself as Berry Brisa, Asparagus Ayub. Then have the next student introduce their name after they repeat each preceding name and work. You can pick themes such as fruits & vegetables, colors or animals to start them off. 
  • Superpowers for Everyone: This one is not only fun, but can be very telling of a student. I often used this one with my younger clients in therapy as it can be a great starting point into a deeper conversation as well as give me a glimpse into how they might view their current environment. It can also simply serve as a way to help me learn a little more about what was important or needed from that individual. Simply start your students off by asking, “If you had a superpower, what would it be?” You can have them also draw themselves as a superhero and then explain what their special power is to the rest of the class. For example, I would love to have an invisible cloak so I could go anywhere unseen!
  • 2 Truths and a Lie: Working with older students? They will love this one. Ask your class to each write down three statements about themselves. One of those statements is a lie and the other two statements should be true. Choose one student to go first and ask the student to read outloud the statements in no particular order. The other students then either individually guess which statement is the lie or have them work as a group to determine the false statement. 
  • Introduce the Other: Have students pair up. If working remotely, have the pairs use breakout rooms. Give each pair a list of questions and ask students to  interview one another. Have everyone return to the larger group. Each pair will then introduce the other to the larger group. You can make this as short or as long as you would like. This is also a great activity to use once in awhile to ensure that all students get to interact with one another at some point. 
  • Ice Breaking BINGO: An oldie but a goodie. Create a 5×5 table with some fun facts or statements in each cell of the table. You can create a theme with each table or find some random statements that you know the class can relate to. For example, if you want travel or global as a theme, you could have lines such as: been to a theme park, have been to a national park, have visited family in another country. Better yet, tie the table to a particular subject you’re covering in class. Share the table with your class by either printing it out or if remote, share digitally. You can even do the activity in real-time with the whole class by using Padlet or Flipgrid.

Whether you are in the classroom or working with your students remotely, these icebreakers can be adapted to fit your situation with some creativity and some modification. Not only will you learn a thing or two from your students, but it will help everyone feel like they are part of your class community by providing different ways to connect and feel heard from one another. And don’t forget, icebreakers don’t have to be reserved for just the beginning of a new school year – they are great to use throughout the year by sharing parts of one another.

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