by Tracey Thornton
The first day can be intimidating for students and perhaps even more for teachers stepping to the other side of the desk for the first time (I had to stand outside my first classroom for 5 minutes trying not to get sick). What "persona" do I want my students to see on that first day? What can I convey on the first day that will set the right tone for the rest of the semester? What relationship do I want to develop with my students on that first day? How can I create a community of writers at the very beginning of the class?
These are all questions that can be nerve-wracking to answer when you first begin teaching. And you will find that the answers to those questions change every time you step into the classroom, even after years of experience.
Sociological and psychological research on group dynamics has focused on how icebreaking activities can create effective group dynamics in any situation, but especially in classroom environments. These icebreakers can be custom-designed to be relevant in any seminar situation where it is important that the participants interact comfortably with each other; they are flexible and can be easily adapted to different group sizes (to save time), etc. I have found them to be an incredibly successful tool in my classrooms for creating community amongst my students.
One of my most important goals on the first day of class is to get students to start talking to each other, to make them more comfortable speaking to each other in class, to insure that they don't see their classmates as strangers. I have several activities that are designed to accomplish this in formal and informal ways. I use these during the first two weeks of class, generally beginning each class with one:
3 TRUTHS AND 1 LIE
Students write 4 statements; 3 of the statements are truths about themselves or some aspect of their lives, and 1 of the statements is a lie. Students read their list out loud in class and the rest of the class try to guess the lie. This activity ALWAYS works and is a great way for you to get a glimpse of your students as individuals. The process works both ways, i.e., you should also participate in the activity.
THE NAME GAME
Learning your students' names is important (in any classroom, but especially in the writing classroom). The name game is one way of accomplishing this. Starting on one side of the classroom, students say their own names beginning with an adjective that begins with the same letter as their name (Studious Sally, for example). Each succeeding students repeats the other students' names and adds his/her own.
More techniques for learning student names can be found at: http://www.cgap.org/direct/docs/tot/tot2_a.doc
COLOR, CAR, CHARACTER
Each participant writes his or her name on a piece of paper. Under his or her name each participant is to write a color which he or she feels fits his or her personality. Beneath the color the participant is to write the name of a car that he or she thinks is appropriate to his or her self-image. Finally, under the name of the car, the participant is to write the name of a fictional character with whom he or she identifies. Then, one at a time, the group members introduce themselves by stating their names, color, cars and fictional characters. In the introduction, each participant is to provide a brief rationale for each of his or her three choices.
This can be used in two different ways. In my classes, I have students list 10 books they would take with them if they were marooned on a desert island. Students share their lists with each other. (I sometimes use this as one of the first posts to my online class blog instead of in the classroom.) As a group activity, I ask students to gather in groups of 4 or 5 and come up with a list of 5 items they would take with them if they were marooned (the group as a whole can only bring 5 items). Groups read their lists out loud and justify their choices.
This is a good exercise in writing classes for getting students talking to each other and writing. Students are paired with a student (whom they don't know) in the class. In pairs, students interview each other and then write an informal letter of introduction that they then read to the rest of the class (usually requires about 20 minutes for students to interview each other in one class; the letters are written at home and read out loud the next day of class.) Make sure that one student is paired with the teacher.
Bring a deck of playing cards to class. Have each student choose a card without looking at it and place it on their forehead. As if they are at a social gathering, have students walk around the classroom mingling with each other. In speaking to each other, their goal is to get each person to guess what their card is based upon how they are treated by others (a student with a king on their forehead, for example, might be treated differently than one with a 2 on their forehead.) This can also be done with famous people's names taped to students' backs. Students mingle, asking each other questions about the name on their backs, trying to guess who they are.
You can mix and match these activities and tailor them to your class, depending
on the subject. Don't underestimate the effectiveness of these exercises for
reducing tension and getting students talking.
Other Ideas for IceBreakers: