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Beyond Basic Icebreakers: 9 Fun Ways to Kick Off the School Year

    beyond basic ice breakers

    Tired of using the same old icebreakers to kick off the new year? Shake it up with 9 new activities that will help foster connection, create a positive culture, and promote student engagement in your classroom from day one.

    As another school year begins, teachers everywhere are asking the same question: How can I avoid cheesy and overdone icebreakers? (Or is that just me?)

    Whether you are the teacher who eagerly anticipates those first days or the one suffering from the summer-end blues, starting the year off with fun and engaging activities makes a new school year more enjoyable for everyone. And, yes, that includes students.

    I’m not saying icebreakers can’t be fun, but the same classic icebreakers have been used time and time again as a first-day activity.  I say it’s time to switch it up and get students involved in various other back-to-school activities to help build a sense of classroom community and foster a positive learning culture where students can thrive all year.

    Are you with me? (If so, keep reading.)

    9 Fun Activities to Kick Off the School Year

    Let’s explore some creative and engaging ways to kick off the school year, shall we?

    1. Six-Word Student Memoirs

    This simple activity involves little to no planning and helps you learn so much, with students saying so little. In just six words, ask students to relay who they are, their life experiences, and their aspirations. This creative exercise sharpens their concise writing skills and offers a glimpse into who they are!

    Find tons of examples of six-word memoirs here.

    2. Classroom Crest

    What better way to establish classroom culture and unity than by having students design a collective classroom crest? Start by explaining the history of crests used to symbolize a noble family’s achievements, heritage, history, values, or legacy—or the houses at a school of wizardry! (Hogwarts, anyone?) Then, have students work together to create a classroom crest with four sections, each representing one of the following: classroom content, classroom values, student interests, and student future aspirations.

    3. Four Corners

    If you’re looking for an icebreaker to get your students up, moving, and interacting with one another, look no further! Four Corners turns your classroom into an interactive space where students share their thoughts on various topics. Simply ask a question and designate corners of the room as different response options. To get started, you can start with a simple question like, what is your favorite season? Then, move on to pose more thought-provoking or debate-starting questions. Students will be engrossed in lively discussions in no time!

    4. Would You Rather

    Want a light-hearted and entertaining activity that gets students talking? Would You Rather is a fun question game that presents students with amusing dilemmas. Would they rather abolish homework or get rid of math class? Would they rather give up eating pizza or mac and cheese? Would they rather be able to fly or read minds? The options are endless! Believe it or not, this game of quirky questions sparks critical thinking by encouraging students to weigh options and defend their choices. It also helps students discover shared interests in a lighthearted atmosphere.

    5. Classroom BookTok

    Are you familiar with TikTok’s BookTok community? If not, it’s certainly worth looking into. In the meantime, bring BookTok into your classroom by challenging students to share their summer reading or favorite YA book in a 30-second pitch. After each pitch, give students another minute to engage in the “comment” section, where they can ask the presenter questions about the book. This activity encourages students to explore new reading material while fostering a culture where reading is encouraged and celebrated—just like actual BookTok!

    Teacher tip: Have students fill out a “likes” form during the activity, noting which books they would want to read. Consider adding any high-interest titles to your classroom library.

    6. Collaborative Storytelling

    Want a way to kick off the year with writing, creativity, and collaboration? This is it. Start with a creative story starter. Then, have each student contribute a sentence of two, building upon the narrative. This collaborative storytelling activity promotes creativity, active listening, and student cooperation. As a bonus, this activity can serve as a low-key review of plot structure or story elements. Who knows? You might be surprised at the imaginative story your students create together!

    For a shorter version of this activity, try creating a collaborative classroom poem!

    7. Classroom Playlist

    Thanks to popular music streaming platforms like Spotify, your students are likely familiar with collaborative playlists. Create a classroom playlist where each student contributes one of their favorite songs that they feel is a representation of who they are. Take it one step further by having each student share a particularly significant lyric, explaining how it connects to them.

    8. Back-to-School Learning Stations

    Back-to-school learning stations kill two birds with one stone; they can cover the beginning of the year “housekeeping” basics, like reviewing the syllabus and getting familiar with the classroom landscape, and prompt students to work with one another to achieve the tasks at hand. This multifaceted activity creates the perfect opportunity for students with varying learning styles an opportunity to thrive. Plus, it gets students up and moving as they rotate through the different stations.

    9. Unpopular opinions

    It seems like everyone has a hot take (or several) to share these days. So, why not bring them into your classroom with a silly icebreaker? Allow students to take turns sharing thought-provoking hot takes or unpopular opinions. This simple activity is sure to spark lively discussion and friendly debates. Alternatively, you can start with a broad, thought-provoking question, like, “What’s the most overrated classic novel?” or “What’s the most overrated fast food chain?” and let students contribute to the conversation by sharing (and defending) their unpopular opinions.

    Understanding the Importance of Icebreakers for Classroom Community and Culture

    If you’re tired of the same old first-day activities and are considering skipping right to a syllabus review, think again. While you may be bored with basic icebreakers, breaking the ice with and among your students at the start of the year is imperative. Here’s why:

    It Builds Relationships

    Icebreakers set the stage for forming meaningful teacher-student and peer-to-peer relationships by providing a fun opportunity to interact with one another. Before jumping into the curriculum, these activities allow you to connect with your students on a more personal level. When students feel connected, they are more likely to engage, participate, and collaborate throughout the year.

    It Creates a Positive Classroom Culture

    If you want to build a positive learning community and classroom culture, it’s important to set the tone from day one. By kicking off the year focusing on the students, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging.  When students enter a classroom where they feel welcomed and valued, they are more likely to be motivated, active, and engaged throughout the year. 

    It Promotes Inclusivity, Confidence, and Participation

    We’ve all had those students who consistently participate—as well as those who never do. Icebreakers are a great way to promote inclusivity, inspire confidence, and encourage participation out of the gate. The icebreaker activities mentioned throughout this post allow (and encourage) all students to engage in a low-stakes activity. Plus, these activities help ease students into their new learning community by engaging with their teacher and peers in a fun and low-pressure way.

    Ready to Break the Ice?

    Sure, ELA is all about reading and writing. But, at its core, it’s about communication. While they may seem silly sometimes, icebreakers encourage students to practice communication skills, including listening, speaking, and articulating thoughts effectively. Talk about valuable skills that students can put to use all year long—and beyond!

    In fact, I’d argue communication skills are some of the most transferable skills students learn in secondary education. And what a more fun (and low-pressure) way to encourage those skills while also building relationships, creating a positive culture, and promoting inclusivity, confidence, and participation in your classroom than with engaging and innovative icebreakers? (None.)

    I hope this post gave you some exciting new ideas for breaking the ice with your students this year!

    Looking for more back-to-school lessons and ideas? Check out my Back-to-School Escape Room or my Back-to-School Activity Bundle.

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