Kick-Start the School Year With These Icebreakers for Teachers


The first day of school is still a ways off, but many teachers—especially those of us who just received our fall assignments—are already beginning to think about it. The day usually begins the same way: Our new students trickle in and find a desk where they can carefully guard their tongues for the next week. We feel for our students not only because we’ve been there before, but also because we always have some nervous energy ourselves. To ease the first-day jitters, we’ve started using a few icebreakers from LouAnne Johnson’s book,
Kick-Start Your Class.

The Adjective Game (10-30 minutes)
Create a list of adjectives that might be used to describe students (happy, energetic, worried, musical, lovable, and so on). Post your list on the board or project it onto a screen so students can see it.

Place chairs or desks in a circle, semicircle, or some other arrangement where everybody will be able to see each other.

Instructions for students:

  • Take a few seconds to think of an adjective that describes you today; take a look at the board if you need help thinking of a word. This isn’t a test and you aren’t stuck with this adjective forever. It’s just for the purpose of getting acquainted.
  • I’ll start by introducing myself and giving an adjective that describes me. Then we’ll go around the room. When it’s your turn, your mission is to repeat all the names and adjectives of the people who went ahead of you. If you get stuck, we’ll all pitch in and help.
  • Just for fun, feel free to choose an alliterative adjective—one that begins with the same letter or sound as your first name—such as “Musical Malik” or “Jumpy George.”
  • After we complete a full circuit, I’ll ask for volunteers to see if anybody can remember every name and adjective.

Collecting Autographs (10 minutes)
Create a template with 20 to 25 boxes. Inside each box, type a different statement. For example, “I have been to the Grand Canyon”; “I have eaten calamari”; “I have lived in another state,” and so on.

Make copies of your template, one for each student. Students now have 10 minutes to walk around the room and find a student who has experienced each statement and write down his or her name in the appropriate box.

I Have To & I Can’t (10-20 minutes)
This activity is especially effective for reluctant learners and at-risk groups, because it reminds them that they have the power to choose their own school experience. In a nonthreatening way, it places responsibility for their learning and behavior on their own shoulders.

Create a handout that includes the following two complete sentences:

I have to____________________________________________.
I can’t______________________________________________.

Place one copy of the handout on each desk.

Instructions for Students
Today we’re going to do a short exercise to help you take control of your experience in this classroom. This exercise is for you. It isn’t graded and you don’t have to put your name on it, hand it in, or share it with anyone else.

On your handout, you will see two incomplete sentences. Fill in the blanks with the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.

When you are done, go back to your first sentence. Cross off the word, “have.” Replace it with, “choose.” Now go to your second sentence. Replace “can’t” with “don’t want.” Now read your two sentences and see if they are true.

We often tell ourselves that we can’t do things, but there are actually very few things in life that we can’t accomplish if we are willing to commit ourselves to the goal. And most of the things we think we have to do are really choices—because we don’t want to face the consequences of not doing them. There are only five things we truly have to do to stay alive: breathe, drink water, eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. Everything else is optional.

Me In A Bag (5-10 minutes for first session; 10-20 for the second)
Collect enough paper bags to offer one bag to each student. Write your own name on the outside of your bag and draw a simple design. Inside the bag, place three small objects that have meaning for you. When students are seated, show them your bag. Then show each item and tell them why you placed it in your bag: “I brought this photo of my dog because he’s my best friend. I brought this blossom because it comes from an apple tree in my backyard; every year, I use the apples to make apple butter and homemade pie,” and so on. Distribute the paper bags to students.

Instructions for Students
After I pass out the markers, I’d like you to print your first and last names on the outside of your bag in large letters. You have 10 minutes to decorate your bags.

Tomorrow, I’d like for you to bring your bag back with three items in it that mean something to you. We will share our bags with the class so we can learn a little about each other.

Following up
On the second day, students take turns showing their bags and the items they choose. This can be done as a class, or in small groups.

Photo credit: stevendepolo / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)


15 Ways to Kick Start the First Day of School

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