Sunday, 19 September 2010 17:45

Tip #4: Icebreakers & Team-builders

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This week I continue to present ideas that connect to the four beginning-of-the-year priorities introduced in Teaching Tip #1.  This tip addresses the second priority: begin to build a cooperative classroom culture through icebreaking and team-building activities so students feel safe and comfortable and see one another as friends and assets, not rivals.


Below you will find the names and descriptions of four of my favorite icebreaking and team-building activities.


1) Compliments - In this activity students brainstorm a list of compliments to use throughout the year.  During this process we are helping the kids build the type of positive vocabulary we wish to promote in our classrooms.  (Time: approximately 15-20 minutes)

Step 1: Students fold a piece of blank drawing paper into 16 squares.  Independently, the kids think of all the different “compliment words” and “compliment expressions” they know and write them on their papers, one word/expression per square.  Students can use the back or fold the paper to create more squares, if necessary.


Step 2: The kids circulate throughout the room and participate in a “Give 1, Get 1” activity where, in pairs, each student shares one idea with a partner and receives one idea from that partner before moving on to a different person.  Students write these new ideas in blank squares on their papers.


Step 3: The kids return to their seats for a whole class share.  As volunteers share their ideas, the teacher or student recorder lists everything on a chart for future reference while everyone else adds ideas to their papers.


Step 4: Each student circles his or her three favorite compliments, memorizes them, and commits to using them in the coming months.  Follow up with these compliments as opportunities arise.


2) High Fiving - In this simple 5-minute activity students walk through the room “high fiving” their classmates.  Each time the students give a high five, they tell the other person their name.  A terrific idea when you have a few spare minutes and want the kids to learn one another’s names in an active, novel way.


3) Human Health Hunt - A variation of the well-known “People Hunt” activity found in Jeanne Gibbs’ book Tribes, the Human Health Hunt contains a list of sentences that connect to various healthy habits and behaviors.  Presenter Jeff Haebig (1994) created the first Human Health Hunt that I ever saw.  The object of the activity is for students to walk around the room and collect the signatures of classmates who exemplify one or more of these behaviors.  I stipulate that each student can only sign a given paper once, thus ensuring that everyone mingles with as many people as possible.  The Human Health Hunt promotes positive social interactions, creates situations where students need to help one another, and raises awareness of important health concepts.  I like to end the activity with a whole class debrief so that everyone has a chance to share the items which they were able to sign.


I have uploaded a sample Human Health Hunt into the “Classroom Resources” section of the website.


4) Cooperative Handshake - A variation of an activity presented by Melanie Champion at the 2008 Cal Poly Elementary Physical Education Workshop in San Luis Obispo.  Partners start on opposite ends of any indoor or outdoor space.  The teacher calls out the first command, such as a left-handed fist bump, and the partners walk towards each other to perform the task.  They then return to their starting positions to await the second command.  If the second command is “touch right elbows,” the partners again walk toward each other, perform the fist bump, and then add the elbow touch.  Progressively add moves to the sequence until you reach a number that you believe is appropriate for students of that age.  Other potential moves include “high tens,” “low tens,” “toes to toes,” and “shoulder to shoulder.”  You can even challenge your students to create their own moves.  According to Champion, this activity builds listening skills, challenges short-term memory, and improves cooperation.  A great icebreaker.

New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.