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Activities & Lessons

9 Back-to-School Icebreakers for Elementary Students

6 Min Read
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Tired of the traditional "say your name and one thing you did over the summer" icebreakers? We've got you covered with a fresh new spin on "get-to-know-you" activities that you can use in person or remotely. The activities are designed to help students connect and see what they have in common while giving you a window into their hopes, dreams, anxieties, fears, and even their academic skills. And you and your class will have a great time along the way. Kickstart community building in your classroom this fall with these fun back-to-school icebreaker activities for elementary students.

Fun Elementary School Icebreakers

1. Book Talk (Grades Pre-K–5)

A read-aloud of the right book can calm first-day jitters and ease students into making friends. Try Pa Lia's First Day (Pre-K–Grade 3). Students will relate to Pa Lia's worry over her first day at a new school. In the first six pages, the author paints a vivid picture of how Pa Lia feels:

  • "Her mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton . . ."
  • "Her stomach felt like it was filled with a thousand fluttering butterflies . . ."
  • "Pa Lia felt like a teeny-tiny minnow in a huge giant ocean."

Challenge students to describe how they are feeling on the first day using similes, just as the author does in Pa Lia's First Day. Tell students a simile uses "like" or "as" to compare two unlike things. For example, the author compares Pa Lia at school to a tiny minnow in an ocean. Have students complete one of the following prompts to help them write a simile describing their first-day emotions:

  • My mouth feels like ___________ .
  • My stomach feels like ___________ .
  • The first day makes me feel like ___________ .

A couple other first-day-of-school picture books: The misadventures of everyone's favorite monkey in Curious George's First Day of School (Pre-K–Grade 1) will get kids giggling. A fairy's fun-filled experience in Fairy's First Day of School (Pre-K–Grade 3) will help reassure the littlest learners.

And here are more back-to-school themed picture and chapter books that are sure to get kids talking:

2. Describe Yourself With Emojis (Grades K–5)

Invite students to introduce themselves using emojis. If you’re teaching online with Google Classroom or Zoom, students can share information about their families, pets, hobbies, and more using emojis in the text feature. See example below. No computer access? Have students design their own emojis.

Family: 👩🏻👨🏻💁🏻‍♂️🙋🏻‍♀️

Pets: 🐶🐢

Hobbies: 🏄🏻‍♀️🎿✍️📓

Favorite foods: 🍕🥑🍦

Loves: ☀️

Dislikes: ☔️

Future goal: 👩🏻‍🚒

3. Take a Travel Poll (Grades K–5)

Take a class poll by a show of hands (or using free online survey technology, like Mentimeter). Ask: How did you get to school today? Raise your hand if you traveled:

  • By car
  • By bus
  • By train
  • On foot
  • Using another mode of transportation

If you're taking the poll manually, show the number of students using each mode of transportation with tally marks. Then have students partner up to create graphs using the poll data. They can draw the graph with pencil and paper, or use an online tool. Remind them to include a title for the graph, a scale, and labels for the x and y axes.

4. Would You Rather… (Grades 2–5)

Here’s a low-stakes way to get your elementary students debating. The activity allows students to share their interests and views without getting too personal. Separate students into groups of four. Provide each group with a different “Would you rather” question. Tell them they have five minutes to share their responses and explain their reasoning. Then have the groups tackle a different question. Here are some “Would you rather” questions to use.

  • Would you rather read a book or watch a movie?
  • Would you rather rake leaves or shovel snow?
  • Would you rather swim in a pool or, a lake, or the ocean?
  • Would you rather own a pet turtle or snake?
  • Would you rather watch a comedy or a scary movie?
  • Would you rather take cooking classes or painting classes?
  • Would you rather stay inside on a snow day or play in the snow?
  • Would you rather listen to music at home or go to a live concert
  • Would you rather have a phone that doesn't allow you to text, or a phone that doesn't allow you to watch videos?
  • Would you rather have the ability to read minds, or the ability to move things with your mind?

5. Figure Me Out (Grades 2–5)

Challenge students to create equations that represent various numerical facts about themselves. For instance, a child named Pranav could write the equation 42/7=_____ or 3x2=____ for the number of letters in his first name. Let's say Pranav is 10 years old. He might write the equation 100/10=____ as the clue to his age. See the example below for more ideas. Classmates can solve the equations and use the clues to figure out whose stats are shown. This back-to-school icebreaker activity will help students get to know one another while providing you with valuable insights into their math skills.


6. The Line-Up Challenge (Grades 3–5)

Here’s a fun and simple way to get upper-elementary students talking to each other on the first day of school. Challenge students to line up in alphabetic order of their first or last names, or in order of their birthdays. In addition to helping kids get to know one another, the activity will build soft skills like communication, management, organization, and collaboration.

7. What’s Your Superpower? (Grades Pre-K–5)

This icebreaker not only allows students to see what they have in common with classmates, but it can also give you a window into their hopes, dreams, insecurities, emotional state, and more. Ask: What superpower would you like to have? Have students draw a picture of themselves using their superpower. As students share their pictures one by one, the rest of the class can guess the student’s desired superpower.

8. Create a Time Capsule (Grades 3–5)

Have students write answers to these questions:

  • What is your favorite TV show? Movie? Song? Book? Food?
  • What goal do you hope to accomplish by the end of the school year?
  • What skills would you like to improve by the end of the school year?
  • What is one wish you hope will be fulfilled by the end of the school year?

If classes are virtual, gather student responses and upload them to an online capsule (you have the option of making it private) or simply save students’ responses in a folder on your computer.

If you are doing this activity in class, you could create a folder for each student that includes the completed questionnaire, a selfie, a drawing, and a string cut to the child’s height. Hide the folders away.

On the last day of school, throw a time capsule re-opening party where students can compare the preferences, goals, and wishes of their younger selves. If you’re in a classroom, students will have their selfies and height strings on hand to compare how much they’ve grown and changed over the course of the year.

9. Dear Future Me (Grades 3–5)

Have students write a letter to their future selves. Use an online platform like (free for teachers) or simply collect and save the letters yourself. The online platform allows you to set the letter to private and to choose a delivery date (one year, three years, five years, or you can choose a specific date). This gif breaks the process down.

Students can complete the following prompts to start their letters:

  • Life right now is _______________ .
  • I feel _______________ because _______________ .
  • One thing I would like to improve by next year is _______________ .
  • By next year, I hope to accomplish _______________ .

More Icebreaker Games for Elementary Students?

Got any ideas for fun first-day-of-school icebreakers for elementary students? Know some funny icebreaker questions you can share? Or maybe you have great music or math elementary icebreakers? We'd love to hear your ideas! Share them with us via email at or reach out on Twitter (@HMHCo) or Facebook.


Find more lesson plans and classroom resources on Shaped.

This blog, originally published in 2020, has been updated for 2023.

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