The start of school is right around the corner, and I know you are all working diligently to prepare your classrooms for your new arrivals and spending most of your time bent-backed over lesson plans and materials, so here is one less thing you have to worry about: a fun and engaging ice breaker that gets everyone up and out of their seats. The focus of this activity is getting to know your students on a very real level; it’s not about the last book they read, how they feel about writing, or anything even remotely academic, really. It’s about them—the activity is designed to get them talking about themselves and telling stories, making connections with their classmates and with you, and establishing a classroom environment of sharing and acceptance.
What you’ll need for this activity:
- Black film cannisters—classroom set (I ordered mine from Amazon)
- Small objects to place inside the cannisters
- Examples: pennies, broken crayons, paper clips, cotton swabs cut in half, beads, rice, pieces of cut straw, elbow macaroni noodles, etc.
- Questions to tape onto the outside of the cannister
- Anything you want to know about your students: What’s your favorite cereal? Would you ever bungee jump? What’s your favorite cartoon from childhood? What super power would you choose? Have you ever helped a stranger? Where do you usually do your homework? Have you ever cut your own hair? Do you sing in the shower? Do you believe in ghosts? Do you have any nicknames? Etc.
How it works:
- The first thing you want to do is prep the film cannisters. Print out your questions and tape them to the outside of the film cannisters—order or grouping here isn’t a concern. Create groups of four by placing the same small object in four separate containers (i.e. four containers should all have 3-4 elbow macaroni noodles).
- At the start of class, take a count of the number of students and adjust the number of cannisters to allow a fairly even grouping (this way you avoid having a student wind up all alone).
- Ask students to come up and select a cannister at random, telling them not to worry about the questions on the outside and NOT TO CHEAT AND OPEN THE CANNISTERS!
- Tell students that inside each cannister is a random small object and that three other students have cannisters with the same objects inside. They have to find their group by listening to the sounds made by shaking the cannisters (which makes kids get up close and personal with each other and is a hoot to watch!). You can give them a time limit to organize into groups, or you can choose to make it a contest (which is WAY more fun!). The group that assembles first and is correctly grouped wins—sometimes the victory is enough motivation, but you can sweeten the deal with candy.
- Once everyone is in the right group, have them ask and answer the questions on the cannisters. I usually let folks talk for a bit, while I wander in and out of conversations.
- Finally, I pull the whole class back together and ask for students to share the most entertaining questions and invite everyone in the class to answer (the haircut question usually gives rise to some hilarious stories).
I let them direct the questions to me, as well. Students love to hear stories like this from teachers, and I have some whoppers to tell—from cutting my own bangs once to stealing a backpack full of books I couldn’t afford from a Scholastic Fair when I was in the first grade. It lets them see us as a real person, and one that can and has made mistakes and learned from them. When we ask them to write for us or tell us their stories, we are asking them to be vulnerable before us; when we share our stories with them, we are showing students that we are willing to be vulnerable before them. Again, this activity is not really about content, it’s about getting to know one another as people rather than as students and teacher; it’s about creating trust, and that might be the most important thing we do in our classrooms.