You're starting a school year under unusual circumstances, and it's important to rebuild a sense of community among your students—whether you're meeting in person or remotely. What better way to do that than with some fun high school icebreakers for the first days of school?
Try These High School Icebreakers
These back-to-school activities will help students get to know one another while having fun and getting creative. At the same time, students can practice their writing skills, hone their math vocabulary, and tell stories using images.
1. Say It in Six
“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” This was author Ernest Hemingway’s answer to the challenge of writing a complete story in just six words, or so legend has it. The result is a master class in using just a few words to pack a big emotional punch. Of course, six-word stories don’t have to be sad, they just need to be succinct. They can be inspirational (“From migrant worker to NASA astronaut”); funny (“Married by Elvis, divorced by Friday”); instructive (“Look mean; be nice to everyone”); and so on.
What real-life story would your students tell in six words? Tell them they can try writing a tiny memoir that aims to be inspirational, funny, or instructive, like the examples above. They might also express a state of mind (I feel ________.) Or they can construct a brief narrative (a sequence of events or a brief scene). Students who need more inspiration can find plenty of examples on the Six-Word Memoir Project website. You can also get free teaching resources on the site, including new teaching guides on writing six-word memoirs about the pandemic.
Once their memoirs are complete, have students read them aloud, or display them for the class to read. If classes are remote, make the memoirs available to all in a shared folder.
2. Number Facts Pass
Begin this high school icebreaker by modeling it: State your name, and then name a number and one of its features—for example, "49" followed by "perfect square." Have a student introduce him or herself and share a different number that shares the feature (for example, 64). The next student must think of a different feature for that number (for example, "even number"), and the next student must name a different number with that feature (for example, 12). Continue passing from student to student until everyone has named both a number and a feature; they should also be introducing themselves when it's their turn to speak.
Depending on students' skill levels, consider requiring that every number be a fraction, decimal, expression, or imaginary number. If playing in person, students can randomly choose the next classmate who must name either a number or a fact about a number. This method can be adapted virtually by placing everyone’s name on a list and randomly generating names, one at a time.
3. Vocabulary Categories Game
Tell students that you're going to hold up a card with a math category—“2-D Geometric Shapes,” “Math Symbols,” or “Types of Functions”—and they each have two minutes to brainstorm a list of related terms. Make it a fun competition to see who can make the longest list. For an added challenge, require that students only think of terms that begin with a specific letter. After time is up, have students introduce themselves to one another and compare lists, circling the words that only they thought of. Who thought of the most unique words? If your students struggle with vocabulary, provide them with a list of categories and challenge them to name one vocabulary term for each category.
4. Picture Charades
Host a game of picture charades to encourage students to get to know one another. If you’re teaching remotely, challenge students to text emojis representing their favorite book, movie, or TV show. Their classmates can then try to guess the title. If your classes are in person, students can draw the emojis on chart paper, Pictionary style. If students have trouble finding emojis that hint at the titles, suggest they use emojis to represent characters, scenes, and prominent images.
- 👀 ⬅️ ➡️ (Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds)
- ☝🏼 🌇 ⌚️ (One Day at a Time) OR 🏈 🏆 🇺🇸 (All American)
- 📘 🧠 (Booksmart)
5. Dear Future Me
Have students write a letter to their future selves. Use an online platform like futureme.org (teachers get a discount) or simply collect and save the letters yourself. The online platform allows you to set the letters to “private” and to choose a delivery date (one year, three years, five years, or you can choose a specific date). This GIF explains the process.
Students might consider including responses to the following questions in their letters:
- What keeps you up at night? Explain.
- What do you hope next year will be like for you?
- What is one thing you would like to accomplish by next year?
- What do you hope to be doing in five years? In 10 years?
- How do you expect the world to change in the next year? In the next five years?
Have any more ideas for icebreaker activities for high school students? We'd love to hear them! Share them with us on Twitter (@LeadAndLearn) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.
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