Activities & Lessons
Icebreakers for Math Teachers
Find new ways to have fun with math in the classroom! There are many times you may need to break the ice in a classroom. It can be during the first day when students are just meeting each other. It can also be later in the year if you want to start a new part of the math curriculum with a fun, interactive lesson. We have curated math icebreaker activities from across the Shaped archives to help introduce students to math concepts and have a good time while doing it.
Elementary Math Icebreakers
#1. Figure Me Out (Grades 2–5)
In July 2020, we put together icebreaker activities for elementary students being mindful of activities that could be done both in person or remotely. In one of them, we suggest having students create an equation that shows off their personality to their classmates.
Challenge students to create equations that represent various numerical facts about themselves. For instance, a child named Brian could write the equation 35/7=____ or 3+2=____ for the number of letters in his first name. Let's say Brian is 10 years old. He might write the equation 100/10=____ as the clue to his age.
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.
#2. Diagram Your Class (Grade 5)
The Venn diagram is more than a math object. It's a way of organizing ideas that span every subject. In April 2021, we put together a list of 5th grade math activities and games, including this one using Venn diagrams, that is a useful lesson to spark student conversation.
- Choose 3 categories that your students would be interested in identifying with, for example "Has Dogs," "Has Cats," and "Has Fish." (You can change these to any three categories your students would like. They don't need to be related for this activity to work, but if they are, it promotes richer discussion.)
- Publicly display a Venn diagram of the categories that the students can interact with.
- Students identify where they fall within the Venn diagram. If completing the activity in person, have students write their name on a sticky note and place it in the spot that represents them. If completing the activity remotely, consider using a digital platform.
- Facilitate a discussion around what you and your students observe. For example, “About what percent of the class has cats?” “What conclusions can be drawn from the data?” “What fraction of pet owners have dogs?
Middle School Math Icebreakers
#3. Museum Exhibit (Grades 4–6)
Many students have been to a museum. But have they ever considered creating one? Give this lesson, taken from our blog full of Memorial Day math activities, a try and let your students have some fun working in groups as they showcase their creativity.
Tell students they get to run a history museum completely out of their imagination. First, have them invent the museum. Encourage creative names and illustrations!
- Name of Museum (example: Jose’s Museum of Iraq)
- Location of Museum (example: Miami, Florida)
Now suppose their museum is planning a special exhibit for an upcoming holiday. What objects would they like to display for the exhibit? Have them think about the different kinds of objects that can tell a story and draw a crowd. Would their museum have art in its collection? Photographs? Letters?
- What objects will the museum feature for this exhibit?
- What is your budget for the exhibit? (example: $1 million)
Finally, have students plan how to get their budget back. This requires not just calculating how many tickets they have to sell but also thinking about questions like how to get people to come in the first place. Encourage students to use mathematical language in their explanations.
- How much would you charge per ticket?
- How many tickets would you need to sell to get your money back?
- How will you attract people to come to your exhibit?
You can pair this with other museum-related activities available on Shaped, such as our round-up of free virtual museum field trips and lessons on teaching math using the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
#4. Design a Parade Float (Grades 5–9)
Find additional inspiration from our Memorial Day activities and get out those markers, crayons, and pencils for this lesson! Your community is holding a holiday parade, and they don't just want you in it—they want you to design a float for it.
Have students draw their float. It may help to show them pictures of other parade floats so they have an idea of what typically goes on them. Will they need costumes? A sound system? Balloons? When they're finished drawing their float, have them measure it, too. How wide is it? How tall is it?
Now students should calculate the cost of building the float. Have them think about every material listed and estimate how much of each material they would need. For example:
- Amount of wood?
- Amount of metal?
- Amount of wire and papier-mâché?
- Speakers and generator?
Have students research the cost of each material online and calculate the total cost based on quantity. How much money would they need to ask the school for in order to build the float?
To extend the activity, tell students to imagine that the principal says, “If you can reduce the costs by 10%, I’ll give you the money to buy everything.” How would they reduce the costs by 10%? Feel free to modify the question by having the principal instead list a different requirement, such as to “divide the costs in half” or “reduce the costs by 90%.” Try to match this activity with the lesson and students you’re teaching.
High School Math Icebreaker Games & Activities
#5. Number Facts Pass (Grades 9–12)
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 each student introduces themselves 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.
#6. Play a Card or Board Game (All Grades)
Who said learning math couldn’t be fun? Icebreakers for math teachers can come from sources outside of math education. While there are plenty of games that have been designed with math learning in mind, so many games can become math icebreakers in the hands of a determined teacher. From our post of summer math activities, choose any game you already enjoy playing that includes points, money, or strategic thinking—which gives you an awful lot of options! Look for ways to layer math talk on top of the game:
- What strategy did you use?
- How would your score change if you had made this move instead?
- What types of game decisions take the most time to decide on?
Find more ideas to teach multiplication with HMH Into Math, a core mathematics curriculum for grades K–8 that inspires students to see the value and purpose of math in their daily lives through rewarding, real-life activities and lessons.
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