Establish positive student interactions with icebreakers

What is an icebreaker? 

An icebreaker is any exercise designed to help students get to know the members of their class. 

Why use icebreakers?

According to AITSL Professional Standard 4.1, teachers should support student participation in the learning environment.  I have noticed that high school students, particularly girls, can take a while to ‘warm up’ to a new class dynamic at the beginning of the year, particularly if they are starting their first year of high school.  I implement icebreakers during the first lessons each year in order to establish positive interactions between students with the intention that these activities will result in students engaging in classroom tasks and interacting with a range of their peers (not just their besties) from the beginning. 

My favourite tried and tested icebreakers are:

Guess Who? 

Each student completes a Guess Who card containing questions about their personality and interests.  At the conclusion of each lesson, I take out two or three of the Guess Who cards and read out the student responses.  The class must ‘guess who’ is the owner card.  This never fails to be a popular and incentivising activity with younger students. This activity is my own invention; although, I am sure countless others have used similar tasks. 

 Histobingo/geobingo/personality bingo

Regardless of the topic, the concept is the same.  Students must find someone who can answer to each of the statements on their bingo card.  The aim is to fill in all squares first, with a different student name in each square (i.e: the same name cannot be used twice).  The activity is a great way to get students moving and involved.  It is also a very basic diagnostic testing tool to gauge the level of student knowledge about academic subjects.  I first learned about this activity from Dr. Deborah Henderson at QUT and have since adapted it to suit various topics and age groups.   

If I ruled the world

The first person in the circle announces their name and makes a statement about what they would do if they ruled the world. For example:

Person A – ‘My name is Sarah and if I ruled the world, I would give everyone free marshmallows.’

Person B – ‘Her name is Sarah and if she ruled the world he would give everyone free marshmallows. My name is Amy and if I ruled the world I would cure cancer.’

Person B – ‘Her name is Sarah and if he ruled the world he would give everyone free marshmallows. Her name is Amy and if she ruled the world she would cure cancer. My name is Rosheen and if I ruled the world I would make everyone wear blue hats’.

This continues round the circle. If the circle is large, you can start the game again half-way round the circle so not to put too much pressure on the pupils at the far end of the circle.

This activity encourages listening, memory and quick thinking.  It comes from my toolbox of debating activities but it also works very well in the classroom.  I was first introduced to this activity in 2011 by my mentor teacher. 

The small amount of time taken to facilitate icebreakers is well worth it. Students are energised and more confident to participate in class discussions and collaborative learning.

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