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.


Anonymous said...

In my milieu familiarity breeds contempt especially since there's a fairly small pool of kids in the highly restrictive behavioral program we teach. We're more inclined to squash their wistful walks down bad memory lane like Hey Ya'll remember in 3rd grade when Tay's Mom came to school and beat his butt in fronta the whole class ? Shut up fore I whip your butt... Children, now now... Best of luck but after day one they'll be succumbing to your pedagogical mastery anyway, so why sweat it..?

Anonymous said...

I have my students write "Where I'm From" poems and they turn out amazingly well! We usually start on the second/third day. It's a great way to get to know the kids.

enc said...

Icebreakers are difficult, because though we all secretly love talking about ourselves, we can really feel like dorks doing it.

I run Spinning classes, and the first thing I like to do with a new class is make a joke, usually one that reminds them that I'm a human being.
"How many people ate breakfast?" [hands go up] "How many people ate Chips Ahoy for breakfast?" [laughs] Then I go around and ask what each person ate for breakfast. If they tell the truth, fine. If they lie, fine. But they're talking, listening to each other, and getting into the task at hand.

I don't know if that helps, but hey, I got to talk about myself! ;)

MR style said...

hahha u'r blog's funny

teach people not books said...

justice--i see what you mean. why worry so much about those first couple days? i'm going to do me, and they're going to do them. and i'm in no rush for them to feel like they know all about me and i all about them--that's artifice, and that's not how human relationships work. you know, you're making me miss my k-3 kids! have to take that k-5 praxis...

reading--i'm so glad to hear this works well for you, and that you usually schedule it right around the time i do. thanks for the backup on this one! i will definitely be using it.

enc--i like your idea of starting with a question that warrants an unintrusive and non-threatening response, one that everyone (most hopefully!) will have an answer for. i'm going to think on this. i can see how this would put everyone at ease and release some first-day stress/pressure.

mr.--i like yours too!

Anonymous said...

Hey I thought of one from a grad class that was cool : slips of paper with this written on top : One thing nobody knows about me is

naturally you encourage them to avoid the my mom strips at the flaming monkey on wednesdays answers but in colleg eit was pretty cool the group had to figure out whose slip was whose and it was a good lesson in avoiding initial judgements based on appearance or perceived appearance

SSCaldwell said...

This is probably too late, sorry. I don't do any getting-to-know-you activities because I hate them as well. I introduce myself, then we get working. And I really mean working. Whatever type of things we're going to do on the 78th day of school we do on the first day of school. Some of the other teachers think it's too much too soon, but it works for me.

S. said...

One of my favourite getting to know you activities was "The Most Important Book".

I had students bring in a book that was important to them. We had a community circle and the students explained why it was so important. While I didn't learn something about every student I did learn about a lot of them. I learned how comfortable they were speaking in front of the group. I learned which students were willing to take something like that seriously. I learned about some of my students favourite current books. I learned that my big tough guy grade eight boy had really fond memories of his mom reading "Runaway Bunny" to him as a kid (awww!). I learned that one of my students was really into learning about the paranormal. I learned which ones like non-fiction more than fiction (and vice versa).

And some of them told really touching stories about how their favourite book was the one their grandmother gave them right before she died. That tells me something, too. :)

I like to do some team building activities - though not necessarily getting to know you. I think of it more as "getting to TRUST you". I need my kids to feel comfortable to learn in my classroom. And if that means taking 20 minutes to go outside and have them untie a class human knot - then so be it.

Most importantly - don't do ANYTHING that YOU think is lame. Because the kids will know it.