Wednesday 7 September 2011

Back to School Ice Breakers

This is a great moment in the life of my blog because I am having my first guest writer!
Natalie Hunter grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. As a result she is grateful for the invention of the internet because it allows her to spend some time outside, rather than just poring through books in a library. She is fascinated by the different methodologies for education at large today, and particularly by the advent of online education. She also loves to travel and learn via interaction with other people and cultures.

September has started, and if the school year hasn't begun already for you it soon will. Teachers and students everywhere can dread coming into a new class and meeting new people, whether they are in a real classroom or in online school. Some worry that they don't have the kind of skills they need to stay on par with the class, which can be quite daunting. Acclimating to new surroundings can be difficult for everyone, but with the right kind of introductory exercises, it can be easy to relax students and teachers alike and get the school year off to a good start.

Ice breakers can be as simple as the teacher wants them to be. Almost everyone has experienced the one where everyone introduces themselves by telling everyone their names, where they are from, and an interesting fact about themselves. If the class is large or if you think it may be easier on some students to not speak in front of everyone, the class can be broken up into small groups. The important thing about ice breakers is to not only situate students in a class but also help them to relax so that the class might be fun for everyone.

A more elaborate ice breaker that can be used for any age group would be to have each student write down a given number of questions. They should be questions that anyone can answer, and that can't be answered with a yes or a no. Students learning English should be monitored during this process to see how their formation is doing, and students at higher levels can be asked to form more complex questions. When everyone is done, introduce the activity by asking the students to put enough blank spaces to fill in with every other student's name. Then everyone could stand up and wander around the room, making sure to ask everyone one question, writing down their names as well as their answers. At the end, hand out sheets of paper for everyone in the classroom with one student's name on it to pass around, and the class can collectively fill out little biographies about each student that can be shared or posted on the wall. You can also ask students to volunteer what interesting things they learned about one another, and talk about some fun questions that may have been asked.

Another fun ice breaker is to hand out notecards to everyone and ask them to write a few things about themselves, like what they hope to learn over the school year, their favorite ice cream flavor is, or what is the one thing that everyone should know about them. Put them in a hat and then shake them around, and then draw them out to read to the class one by one. Have everyone guess who the person is if they can, explain why they guessed so, and when the name is found write that name on the back of the card and save it. At the end of the year, you can pass the cards out to each student and they may be excited to see what has changed in the intervening year.

These are just a couple of examples of what can be done to help students get to know each other and to start verbalizing during the first few days of school, and to help the teacher begin to get used to their new students and their needs. Just remember, it's a new experience for everyone, and in the end the object is to help everyone feel at ease and comfortable with one another as learning begins.

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We both would appreciate a comment or a question from the readers of this blog.


Ann said...

Hi Natalie and Baiba,

Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you'd like to check for comments.

Please feel free to post there whenever you have anything you'd like to share.



Baiba said...

Thanks, Ann, for spreading the word!

Aina Simonova said...

Hello Baiba and Natalie,

Thanks for sharing ideas about ice breakers. On Monday I`m having my first class with adults so I was trying to think how to make my students more at ease and feel relaxed.


Selga Goldmane said...

I have always considered ice breakers to be a big deal :)

I like the idea of a card being kept until the end of the year and then given out. I think it makes a nice link or connection for students :) Thanks for reminding about it :)

Joe @ Oxbridge said...

I think it's really useful to have ice-breakers. In our classes we have a kind of ice-breaker activity at the start of every class. We ask 'Quick Questions' of all the students, which use a common format e.g. we ask one student "Have you ever been fishing?" and the student answers either "Yes I have" or "No I haven't". It's a really simple way of letting them know that the class is beginning and getting them to 'break their silence' by saying something right from the start. We give each student 4 or 5 of these Quick Questions and then move into the proper class.