The first day of school can be daunting. Students are curious about the new faces around them, intimidated—even frightened—by the prospect of so many strangers.
As a teacher, you might feel the same way. You knew everything about last year's students, got excited when their baseball team won the playoffs, cried with them when a favorite pet passed away, cheered when they got an A in math. Those details—that intimate knowledge—helped you understand what motivated them so you could successfully differentiate instruction to meet each of them where they were.
Now, you're starting over. On the first day of school it would be easy to go around the room and have everyone introduce one another, but you want the first-day icebreakers to be more enriching and fun to set the tone for the rest of the year. You want students to quickly get comfortable with each other and bond as a group, without turning the classroom into a party room. And, you want an activity they haven't done in their other classes.
One truth never changes: Students love talking about themselves. There's no better icebreaker than one where students share something that matters to them. It’s also a great way for kids to discover commonalities amongst each other without having to have a direct conversation.
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Another truth: Kids love technology. This year, try a get-to-know-you activity that uses free online tools. How about these ideas:
Have students upload a favorite picture of themselves into Thinglink, then add hotlinks that take visitors to websites, videos, more pictures, or text that share details about the student.
Use a free infographic creator (Easel.ly) or a mindmap like Pearltrees or iMindMap to create a story of the student's life, summer, or goals. This can include videos, text, images, links, or even the Thinglink above. As students work, they learn how to use previously unfamiliar programs or polish rusty knowledge from last year.
For a quick project, use an image editor like Lunapic or PicMonkey to spice up a picture. No text, audio, video—all the information is communicated with a picture and how the student formats it.
Share an audio story using Voki or Tellagami. Be creative with backgrounds and character details. These take minutes to set up, use, and stream from the web or embedded into student digital portfolios or blogs.
Create a collaborative timeline in Google spreadsheet or Google Draw (or Office365 if you have a class account) that you can display on the smartboard. Have students create an account, add their birthday, and important events to the joint timeline—they'll love watching as it populates over the class period. When done, embed it to the class blog or website. This introduces students to each other while reviewing/introducing the online tool.
Have students share information about themselves through Google Forms. Embed the form into the class blog or website, or share the link with students through their GAFE account. As they complete it, populate the results on the class smartboard for all to see.
Have students play an Excel game with a partner. Spreadsheets become important as students develop the need to analyze, compare and contrast, and find evidence to support conclusions. Turning spreadsheets into games makes that daunting six-syllable phrase (data analysis) into just one—fun. Here's a link to six of them, everything from Monopoly to a maze to an arena.
For the picture-intensive projects above, older students can access their Flickr or Facebook accounts while youngsters use pictures from Google Images. Use this opportunity to teach or review safe search skills.
Once the projects are done, upload or embed them to the class website or student blogs to share with others. Give the students class time to add comments and/or field questions to their new classmates. Not only is this a great ice breaker for the first day of class, it's also a fun introduction to web-based tools students will enjoy incorporating into projects throughout the school year.
For icebreakers that use mobile devices, check out Jackie Gerstein's article. For other greater school starters, see Catlin Tucker's work.
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Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of dozens of technology training books that integrate technology into education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB.