Let's Pretend, for Our Teacher's Sake, That This Is Not Extremely Uncomfortable for All Parties Involved
I want to start by saying that I don't want to offend anyone who has done and enjoyed any of the activities I am going to discuss--by all means, if they've worked for you please encourage me to alter my perspective!
But I have to be honest. I dread the typical getting-to-know-you icebreaker activities that are floating around out there. I've done plenty in college and in the trainings I attended for an entirely too long stint in the after school care business. It's not that I personally dread them or have had any type of extreme dislike or distaste for them in the past. I've always participated like a good sport, and made a little adjective for my name or said 2 true (I am a bit of a chocolate expert, I used to be a barista at a sbux in California) and 1 false thing (I'm a concert pianist) about myself. . . I knew that there really wasn't anything to these activities barring the one time I got to discuss something I cared about--namely, my favorite musical group. But otherwise I didn't really get to know anyone any better.
I've been thinking, and I just don't want to make my students feel uncomfortable, alienated or patronized by making them come up with action words that start with the same letter as their names, or by having them do people bingo where they have to find someone else in the room who has a pet with a funny name or likes Coke more than Pepsi. I don't want to torture their weirdo pre-or mid-pubescent selves by requiring them to throw around a string and find some question out of thin air to ask someone of the opposite sex. This one actually worked ok when I was in college, but I was over the I'm going to make fun of you because I like you stage (then again, I only speak for myself). And God help me if I ever make a child come up with an "interesting fact" to share with the class. I usually lie and say I do yoga every day or something, even though I do it like once a month. (Look at that, I'm still lying. I'm down to like every quarter at best.)
It's just that these activities don't feel authentic and I'm not convinced that the uncomfortable feeling, albeit accompanied by the community-building "our teacher is obviously so out of touch that she thinks this is going to help us get to know one another" effect, is worth it or achieves the end I'm looking for.
So I guess that brings me to what I'm looking for. I want to begin the year with some sort of opening activity that honors my students as individuals, creative and unique, with their own perspectives and life experiences. I want them to be able to be silly if they want to, but able to be reserved if they feel like it, too. I want them to feel comfortable asking me questions about myself, but I feel really uncomfortable preparing some sort of speech all about me. I want the things we find out about one another to happen through genuine discourse, not manufactured conversation.
So, I'm kinda stuck on finding my way to that goal. Thus far I'm definitely planning on using George Ella Lyon's poem, "Where I'm From," and an accompanying activity that asks students to imitate a stanza or two (or the whole poem if they're so inclined) to give the class an idea of where they're from, what matters to them, etc. Imitation is a great mechanism for students as it extends them the opportunity to plug in their own original thoughts and ideas while leaning on a solid structure through which to deliver them, and I've found that this poem really works well for helping students get to some of the nitty-gritty about what sorts of artifacts and experiences make up who they are. But this is more of an actual content-based activity and I have it scheduled for day 2 right now. As far as day 1 goes, it will be a shortened day schedule, so I will have them for probably 40 min.
I'd love to hear some ideas if you've got 'em. I'm going to keep asking other teachers and searching the internet for something that seems right, but I'm hoping to hear what's worked for you, and your general opinions on "getting to know you"/"icebreaker" activities in general.
I should mention that my students have presumably known one another for a while now, as there is only one eighth grade team, so it's not as though they're walking into the wilderness here in terms of familiarity.
Ok, people bingo isn't really that bad.