It's important to start building community in the classroom as early in the year as possible and keep it up all year long. 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 getting creative and having fun. At the same time, students can practice their writing skills, hone their math vocabulary, and tell stories using images.
1. Video Introductions
In a classroom filled with 30 kids, there are bound to be some who dread the self-introduction. They’re put on the spot and may go blank when asked to think of something clever to share about themselves. Why not allow them to create a video introducing themselves? Outgoing kids can ham it up for the camera and shyer kids get the chance to practice their introduction before sharing it with the rest of the class. Your class can record and post short videos for free using Flip. Model a good introduction by creating your own video that tells students all about you. You might also provide a structure for students to follow:
- Tell the class your name.
- Describe a hobby or interest.
- Share a pet peeve.
2. Picture Charades
Host a game of picture charades to encourage students to get to know one another. 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. If you’re teaching remotely, challenge students to text emojis representing their favorite book, TV show, or movie. Their classmates can then try to guess the title.
👀 ⬅️ ➡️ (Look Both Ways, by Jason Reynolds)
👆🏼🌅 ⏰ (One Day at a Time)
🏈 🏆 🇺🇸 (All American)
📘 🧠 (Booksmart)
3. 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.
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.
4. Would You Rather...
Here’s a low-stakes way to get high school students talking. The activity allows them 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. Afterwards, have the groups share the number of votes for each option and top reason for the choices with the rest of the class. Then have the groups tackle a different question. Try Google Forms if you prefer to make this an online survey. Here are some “Would you rather” questions to use.
- Would you rather watch a comedy or a scary movie?
- Would you rather shop online or in a store?
- Would you rather play a video game or a board game?
- Would you rather take cooking classes or jewelry-making classes?
- Would you rather listen to music at home or go to a live concert?
- Would you rather take a selfie with a friend or with a pet?
- 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. 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 themselves and name 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. If necessary, remind them that 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.
6. 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.
7. 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?
More Ideas for Icebreaker Activities for High School Students?
Take your icebreakers to the next level with these 5 social-emotional learning activities for high school students.
Find more lesson plans and classroom resources on Shaped.
This blog, originally published in 2020, has been updated for 2023.
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