Back to School: Creating that Positive Learning Environment

by SPARK


Group of little girls and boys in front of blackboard

By: BJ Williston, SPARK Trainer and Curriculum Development Consultant

The beginning of the school year is always a fun time for leading some icebreakers with your students. Icebreakers are meant to “break the ice” that might exist when a group of people, in your case, your students, don’t know each other. They are also helpful when kids do know each other but may be too shy or embarrassed to open up and work to their potential. Icebreakers done well can really help get your school year off to a great start. Here are five tried and true icebreakers that are fun, involve everyone, help students get to know each other better, and help break down barriers that may exist. Enjoy!

  1. 3, 2, 1
  • Find a partner. You have about a minute to come up with three UNIQUE things you have in common. E.g. You both swim on a team. NOT: You are both girls. (Have three pairs share their commonalities and give them time to discuss.)
  • Now, you and your partner join another pair to form a foursome. This time find two UNIQUE things the four of you have in common. (Have three groups share their commonalities and give them time to discuss.)
  • Finally, your group joins another to form a group of eight. Your task is to find one thing you all have in common! (Have three groups share their commonalities and give them time to discuss. Then discuss how they came up with their commonalities and how it helps to know things we have in common with others.)
  1. The Name Game
  • How quickly can we form a circle touching elbows?
  • In the Name Game we will start with me and move clockwise around the circle. When it is your turn, step forward, say your name loud and clear, and the physical activity you like to do best. When you say your activity, also act it out.
  • After each person, the rest of the circle calls out their name and acts out the activity while saying it. E.g. Joan likes to jump rope!
  • Continue around the circle, stopping to review every 5-7 students, until everyone has gone. Then we’ll do one final time around to review.
  1. Workout Buddies
  • Mingle, mingle in our activity area at a walking pace. Stand thumb to thumb with a partner. This is your Thumb Wrestling Buddy. Whenever I call “Thumb Wrestling Buddy!” find this person and begin thumb wrestling. (Explain and demo thumb wrestling. Allow them to practice for 30 seconds or so.) Say goodbye and thank you, then jog away.
  • Stand elbow to elbow with a new partner. This is your Rock, Paper, Scissors Buddy. You will be partners when I call “Rock, Paper, Scissors Buddy!” (Explain and demo rock, paper, scissors. Allow them to practice.) Say goodbye and thank you, then side-slide away.
  • Stand knee to knee with a new partner. This is your Knee Tag Buddy. In Knee Tag the object is to tag your partner’s knees while they try to tag yours. Use only one hand; the other hand wraps around the wrist of the hand you are using. (Allow them to play.) Say goodbye and thank you, and then skip away.
  • Stand back to back with a 4th This is your Secret Handshake Buddy. You will have one minute to create and practice a secret handshake that has five moves. (Allow time to create and practice.)
  • These Workout Buddies will be used for the first few weeks of school. Let’s do a quick review so we remember who our four buddies are and what to do when we meet them! (Call each buddy name and allow time for students to find their specific buddy and begin the activity. Once all have found each other, quickly move to the next buddy.)
  1. Change Three Things
  • Find a partner. You have one minute to look at and memorize what your partner looks like.
  • On “Turn away” both of you turn away from your partner (you’ll be back to back) and change three things about your looks; they can be subtle or obvious. On “Turn back” both of you turn to look at your partner and guess the three things they changed.
  • Turn away! (Give them about a minute to change things around.) Turn back! (Allow time for partners to figure it out.)
  • Now we are going to do it again! This time you will have to get even more creative! (Repeat at least one more time.)
  • (Discuss what it takes to be observant. Also, how were you able to change things and get creative?)
  1. Rock, Paper, Scissors Fan Club
  • Find a partner. On signal, play rock, paper, scissors with this partner. The lucky one raises their hand and looks for another lucky one with their hand raised to play again. The unlucky partner becomes the biggest fan of the lucky partner, cheering their name and following close behind them.
  • Then, after the next game, the lucky one repeats and this time all three of the unlucky partners are part of their fan club, which is now a growing fan club.
  • Continue until there are only two lucky ones left and half the class is cheering one name and half cheering for the other. These two will play one final match.
  • When there is one final lucky one, the whole class cheers for that player!
  • (Because it is based on luck, it is fun to see kids who have never been the center of attention or on the “winning side” of things. It is a nice way to end a class.)

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