I’m a big proponent of getting to know you activities, not only on the first day of class, but beyond. However, you should definitely do icebreakers or warmers mindfully. Getting to know you activities are really for building community in the classroom. Sometimes that means you have to tweak your planned icebreaker to turn it into a classroom community building activity. That’s why I love this article with a good set of questions for choosing and implementing classroom community builders or other icebreakers. Or if you’re like me, you love to create your own activities. In that case, this article is a great guide to creating a classroom community builder of your own. I’m adding the article to my list of resources for great icebreakers and warmers.
Questions to Consider
Among the things to consider when creating a classroom community builder, according to the author, is:
“What do you want to achieve with an icebreaker? Do you want to set the tone for the learning community or lead into course content in engaging ways?”
This is a really important thing to think about. A lot of times we deploy an activity on the first day of class expecting community without thinking it through. It feels like that South Park episode about the underwear gnomes
- Step 1: Activity that looks fun/went well for us before/students enjoy
- Step 2: ?????
- Step 3: Classroom Community
Why Are We Doing This?
So it’s worth taking a second to sit and think about exactly what we want to do here! I’d add some other purposes for using community builders, such as building rapport among students, learning students’ interests and needs, and learning names. No one activity is going to do all these things. So it’s good to know why you are doing the activity you are. Sometimes I also find an activity that teaches me student interests can also help me learn names. Because each student has to go around and speak once or twice (for example), I ask them to say their name first. So thinking about purpose can help you adapt an activity and make it more useful or dare I say, purposeful?
I also love that the authors recommend explaining the purpose of the activity to students. I often forget to explain to students why we are doing the things we are doing. And some icebreakers may feel like empty fun if we forget to explain our purpose to our students. A fun activity done in the first few minutes of class can go wrong if students aren’t quite in classroom mode, as well.
Creating Your Own Community Builders
In addition to the advice in this article, if you’re looking for a chart that can help you creating a classroom community builder or icebreaker of your own, I’ve created a DIY creating a classroom community builder chart that outlines the four major steps of an icebreaker activity. In writing 50 Activities for the First Day of School, and then Classroom Community Builders: Activities for the First Day and Beyond, I tried to identify some of the typical steps that go into an icebreaker. Although this doesn’t apply to every activity, here’s what I came up with.
- Students usually acquire information from each other or the classroom or teacher. From the other side of the coin, they are sharing or giving information
- Then they usually have to record that information somewhere, and usually as they record it, they are manipulating it, doing something with it.
- Then they share or distribute the information.
- Finally, they use that information in someway. This step can be as simple as reporting back to the class or as complex as writing a biographical essay about a partner.
Reverse-Engineer a Community Builder
For each step, the chart has a number of examples of how that could be done. You can also think back on your favorite icebreaker and reverse engineer it to see how it accomplishes each of these steps. For example, Instant EFL Lesson Plans starts with an activity called “Circle of Life”. I’ve used it as grammar practice, but the author, Cristian Spiteri, uses it as an icebreaker. Let’s take a look at how it works:
In this activity you write some important information about yourself without telling students the meaning. Students have to guess what it means. I might write Victor, 1995, 20, Minecraft. Students ask questions or make guesses to figure out what those words and numbers mean. In this case, I have a good friend named Victor. I graduated university in 1995. I have been teaching for 20 years. I love to play Minecraft.
Circle of Life
Does this fit the pattern?
- Students acquire information that you write on the board.
- They manipulate it by guessing the significance, which takes some logic and critical thinking skills. (They don’t really record it though, do they?)
- They share it by asking questions.
- And they use it to figure out what the words mean!
Check out my other Back to School Tips or share your own advice for icebreakers, warmers, or classroom community builders in the comments. You can also browse our Back to School titles in our catalog of Teacher Tools.