Back-to-School Icebreaker Activities for Students
Walking into a new classroom can give you butterflies, no matter how old you are. Even if your students already know each other, it’s important to encourage positive relationships from the first day.
Set the tone for a positive year by choosing a few fun first week of school activities to help everyone get to know each other better. Icebreaker classroom games and read-alouds help students to become familiar with each other and develop a classroom community in an enjoyable way.
Create A Classroom Community
Although our focus is often on students’ academic needs, their emotional needs are equally as important—and often intertwined. Studies have shown that a strong classroom community has a direct positive impact on students’ achievement.
For our students to feel safe, comfortable, and have a sense of belonging, we need to prioritize community-building activities. Tailor these activities to your grade level to build a positive classroom community.
Benefits of a positive classroom community
- Cooperative and group learning become more productive.
- Student participation increases.
- Classroom conflict is reduced.
- Student academics improve.
How to Use Icebreaker Classroom Games
When you’re planning to use icebreaker tasks for students, there are a few key factors to take into consideration to maximize effectiveness.
- Consider your grade level.
Many icebreaker tasks ask students to share personal information—a huge social risk for most middle schoolers and high schoolers. At this age, most students don’t want to be seen as “different.” As a result, they usually share something that they feel is safe—and nobody actually gets to know anyone.
- Evaluate your students’ needs.
Before the school year begins, review your students’ records to familiarize yourself with their background. If you have English learners or students with special needs, you will want to plan ahead to make sure everyone is able to participate in your icebreaker activities.
- Think through the logistics of your icebreaker activity.
If you need a large amount of space to be able to do your icebreaker, you may have to take your class outside or rearrange the furniture. Make sure you factor these things into the icebreaker you choose.
- Prepare for the unexpected.
You may find yourself with a new student during the school year. Make sure you have a few icebreaker activities handy to help your new students become a part of the classroom community that you’ve built.
- Keep it fresh.
While it’s good to keep a record of tried and true activities that you’ve used in the past, the internet is a great source for new ideas. If you’re a new teacher, or new to your grade level, you may want to ask your colleagues for ideas that they’ve used and loved.
Grade-Level Icebreakers to Build Community
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best icebreaker activities for students to begin a new year. Many of these activities can be adapted to different grade levels, whereas others may be best suited to a specific age.
First Day of School Icebreakers for Elementary Students
- Name Ball Toss
Instruct your class to sit in a circle. Give a student a small ball to pass to another student. When the student receives the ball, they share their name. Once everyone has passed the ball around once, practice having the students say the name of the student before they pass the ball to them.
- Candy Pass
Give each student a small handful of colored candy (such as Skittles). Assign each candy color a question and write them on the board. Tell students to eat all their candy except for one piece. The color that is left is the question they will answer.
- Sit Down If…
With the class in a circle, ask them a series of quirky yes/no questions. If students answer “yes,” they sit down. The last student standing is the winner.
- Create All About My-Selfies
Using a phone template, have students draw a picture of themselves showing something about them that makes them unique. Then, tell them to write a caption and hashtags to match. This also makes a great bulletin board display for a back-to-school night!
- Show and Tell
An oldie but a goodie, this activity has lasting appeal for a reason. Give each student a paper bag with a note, explaining that they should bring in an item from home that will fit in the bag to share with the class. If you have ELL students, this is a perfect opportunity for your class to learn about each other’s cultures.
- Scavenger Hunt
Put students in pairs or small groups and send them on a scavenger hunt around the classroom (or school). Consider including key functional items or locations (such as the pencil sharpener or the bathrooms). This is a great activity to help them become familiar with their environment and start team-building.
First Day of School Icebreakers for Middle School Students
- Make Words as a Team
Divide students into teams and give each team a bag filled with letters. Ask the students to make as many words as they can in five minutes.
- STEM Mystery Bag Challenges
With students in groups, give each group a bag with a description of what they are required to build using the materials in the bag. This is a great way to introduce STEM concepts as well as build collaborative skills.
- Blobs and Lines
For this activity, students will listen to prompts and organize themselves into a line (for example, in alphabetical order of last name) or in blobs according to something they have in common (birth month). Examples of prompts:
- Line up in chronological order of your birthdays
- Create a blob with those who have the same colored clothing
- Line up in order of how many siblings you have
- Gather in a blob with those who traveled by car, bus, etc.
- Classmate Bingo
Create bingo cards with prompts for students to ask each other questions. The goal is to have students cross off all the squares.
- Venn Diagrams
After reviewing the purpose of Venn diagrams, put students in pairs and have them discuss their similarities and differences. Have them complete a Venn diagram based on their discussion.
First Day of School Icebreaker Activities for High School Students
- Concentric Circles
Arrange the class in two circles: an inside circle and an outside circle, the inside facing out, forming pairs. Ask the students a question and have them discuss it before rotating for the next question, forming a new partnership. Here are some sample questions:
- Do you play any sports? If so, which ones?
- What was the last movie you saw? Did you like it?
- What would you do with a million dollars?
- What is one thing you’re good at?
- This or That
Ask students to choose between two options for light topics, such as “Which animal makes a better pet…dog or cat?” Designate each side of the room for each answer (i.e., one side is dogs, the other is cats). After students choose a position, they physically move to the side of the room that represents their opinion.
- Four Corners
Four corners is a variation of “This or That.” Instead of giving students two options, give them four choices for a question. Each corner of the room is designated for each option. After students choose a position, they move to the corner that represents their opinion.
- Name Pictionary
Have students write their names by drawing pictures of objects that start with the corresponding letter. Then, have the group try to spell and guess each person’s name.
Read-Alouds To Build Community
While read-alouds provide many benefits in the classroom, they’re especially useful for creating community. When you read aloud to your students, you create a shared literary experience that becomes a launchpad for class discussion.
During the first week of school, read-alouds can help your youngest learners become more comfortable with their brand-new environment. There are many excellent picture books to choose from that promote belonging and encourage familiarity at the beginning of the year.
Here are a few of the best picture books to read during the first few days of school:
- The Circles All Around Us by Brad Montague
- Our Class Is a Family by Shannon Olsen
- The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! By Mo Willems
- School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex
- All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman
While read-alouds are often associated with younger grade levels, students of all levels can benefit from the use of read-alouds. Read-alouds offer an opportunity for you to connect with your older students emotionally as well as academically.
Consider reading these middle-grade books to begin the school year:
- The Best School Year Ever by Barbara Robinson
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee
By using icebreakers and read-alouds in the classroom, you’ll help your students through those first day butterflies—and build a strong community along the way.For more ideas on how to plan for a successful school year, check out Our #TEACHERLIFE Pinterest board.