Secondary All – Back to School Icebreakers

With the start of a new academic year fast approaching, now is a good time to be thinking about what to do in those first lessons back. Despite how busy you will inevitably be and how little time you will have to teach everything your students need to know, it is always worth dedicating part of the first lesson to some icebreaker activities. They have the following benefits:

  • Helping a new group of students to get to know each other.
  • Diminishing any first day nerves.
  • Encouraging cooperation and listening skills.
  • Building a good rapport between teacher and students.
  • Helping both the teacher and students to learn names.

None of the suggested activities below claim to offer anything particularly new; they might instead be a reminder of activities you used to do, but have since forgotten about. In addition, they all require little or no preparation time. A word of warning: if you are meeting a new group of students on the last lesson of the first day back they have possibly had a whole day of icebreakers so save your most exciting activities for that class!

Truth and Lies
This is my favourite icebreaker and it requires no preparation. Ask the students to introduce themselves and then to tell the class two statements about themselves, one that is true and one that is not. (Give the class a few minutes to think about their choices). The rest of the class then vote on which statement they think is true before the truth is revealed. It is a good idea for the teacher to join in too. Over the years, this activity has revealed some very interesting facts about my students. For example, in recent years I have discovered that a very shy female student is a weightlifting champion and that another holds a black belt in karate!

Every student has a grid on a piece of card with a different statement in each box ( for example, find someone in the room who… is not on Facebook/ plays a musical instrument/ can speak French/ has a tattoo). The students need to talk to everyone in the class to try to complete their card. The first person to write a name in each box is the winner. It is then interesting to ask the students to share their answers to learn more about the group.

Five facts about my new friend 
Ask students to get into pairs with someone they don’t know and have a conversation. After five minutes, ask them to reveal five facts about that student to the rest of the class.

Name chain
This is a very simple way of learning names, but it requires a lot of concentration! Sitting in a circle, each student introduces themselves and every other student in the room who went before them. This is of course very easy for the student who gets to go first and far more challenging for those who go last. After the students have done this I find it very useful to then have a go myself at attempting to name everyone in the room correctly.

Guess who
Everyone writes down one interesting fact about themselves on a slip of paper. Put the slips of paper into a box and read them out (discarding any obscene ones if necessary!) The class need to guess who wrote it. After three incorrect guesses the student should identify themselves. (This activity works best at the end of the first week when the class knows a little bit about each other.)

Spin the bottle Q&A
A classroom appropriate version of the teenage party game! The students need to sit in a circle. Spin the bottle to select the first student. They will then spin the bottle and ask a question to whomever the bottle lands on. It is a good idea to have a box of suggested questions, but the students can come up with their own. Questions could include: if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? If you could live in any period of history, when would it be? If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Coat of arms 
Give the students an outline of a shield on coloured paper divided into four or six segments. In each segment the students can draw something that is important to them or that tells the class something about themselves. For example, their favourite food, band, or book, where they have a part time job, where they went on holiday, their favourite subject or anything that they are interested in. Ask for volunteers to explain what they have drawn. This can make a nice classroom display for the start of term.

Emily Painter
Sociology Teacher, Cadbury Sixth Form College

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