Building friendships and community from day one.
The start of the school year is a terrific time to get to know your students and encourage them time to get to know one another. Here are 25 of our favorite elementary icebreakers to start forming positive relationships and building community in your classroom.
1. The Book of Me
Have your students create a book jacket cover and table of contents about themselves. Encourage them to come up with a clever title and embellish the front cover with an illustration that represents who they are. On the back cover, have them write a mini-biography like an ‘About the Author.’ For the table of contents, have them name each chapter something that is important to them, like their family, their hobbies, their favorite things, etc.
Have your students draw three concentric circles on a blank piece of unlined paper. Choose a category (for instance, food, sports, tv shows, etc.) and have students write that word in the smallest center circle. In the adjacent circle, have them write “love,” and in the next circle out, write “like.” Have them write “don’t like” on the outside of the circle.
Students will circulate and find a partner. They will ask each other to tell them one thing to fit into each circle (except the center) and write their classmates’ responses on their paper. For example, one sport they love, like, and don’t like. Once they’ve recorded each other’s answers, they mingle around and find another partner. The goal is to speak to as many classmates as they can in the allotted time. Change topics midway through if you’d like.
4. Spider Web
Gather students in a large circle. Take a ball of yarn and, holding tight to one end, toss the ball to one student. Ask them a question, such as “What is your favorite type of birthday cake?”. Once they answer, they will hold onto a piece of yarn and toss the ball to another student. They will ask them a different question and so on. Once the ball has been tossed to every student, you should have an impressive web in the center of your circle. Take a moment to admire it and remind students that it took everyone’s effort to create this beautiful work of art.
Using masking tape, divide a bulletin board or empty wall in your classroom into “window panes,” one for each student in your class. Assign two students each day to bring in a small artifact that represents who they are. At morning meeting, ask each student to present what they brought. Later, label one of the panes for each student and mount their item in the middle. When everyone has had a turn, you’ll have a lovely display for your class, and your students will know each other a little better.
Pass out a 2″ x 4″ mailing label to each student. Instruct them to fill in their label with the following:
- Center: name
- Top left corner: one word that describes their personality
- Top right corner: favorite subject in school
- Bottom left corner: a hobby
- Bottom right corner: favorite place
Or tailor the topics to fit your particular set of students. Once everyone is finished with their label, set a timer for three minutes and have each student pair up with a classmate to talk about their labels. When the timer goes off, everyone switches partners, and the process repeats. Continue mingling until students have had a chance to get to know many of their classmates.
7. Inside, Outside Circle
Divide your class in half and line them up in two circles, one inside (A) and one outside (B). Have students in each circle turn to face the classmate adjacent to them in the other circle. Choose a topic, such as “my favorite thing to do on weekends,” and have students in circle A talk and students in circle B listen. Then switch so that B talks and A listens. When everyone is done, have the students in the outside circle rotate one student to their left. Pick a new topic and give each student in each pair a chance to share. Repeat.
Pair students up and have them form two lines, partners facing each other. If your class has an odd number of students, you can play the game, too. Give students 30 seconds to look each other over, paying close attention to all the details about their partner’s appearance. Ask students in one line to turn around and face the other direction. Students in the other line will now change one thing about their appearance. For example, one student might put their shoes on opposite feet, and another may remove a clip from their hair. When the students in the first line turn back around, they have to guess what their partner changed. Now switch and let the first line make the change and the second line guess the difference. If you have time, have students change partners and play again.
To prepare for this activity, write the following information on a large piece of chart paper, then cover it until after the activity begins.
- Red—a favorite summer memory
- Green—your favorite thing about school
- Blue—a favorite sport, hobby, or activity
- Yellow—one of your favorite books
- Black—free choice (share anything)
Now, put together a bucket of colored pipe cleaners with the same colors. To begin the activity, pass the bucket around and ask each student to take five pieces, each one a different color. Now, reveal the chart. Give each student a turn to introduce themself and give one fact for each pipe cleaner. After everyone has had a chance, let the students twist their pipe cleaners together to make a bracelet, necklace, or headband.
This is a great activity if you are teaching online. Give students a list of topics and ask them to share information using only emojis in the text feature. See the example below. If you are teaching in person, have students answer on paper and design their own emojis.
- Family: 👩🏻👨🏻💁🏻♂️🙋🏻♀️
- Pets: 🐶🐢
- Hobbies: 🏄🏻♀️🎿✍️📓
- Favorite foods: 🍕🥑🍦
- Loves: ☀️
- Dislikes: ☔️
- Future goal: 👩🏻🚒
Pair two students up and set a timer for three minutes. When the timer starts, one student will interview the other, asking as many questions as they can think of to get to know the other student. When the timer goes off, switch. After both students have had a chance to interview and be interviewed, call one set of partners up to the front of the class at a time. Each partner will introduce the other student to the class, recounting as much information as they can remember. This is a great activity to teach students how to ask questions, remember information, and speak in front of others.
12. Would You Rather
With students seated at their desks or tables, ask a series of “would you rather” questions, like these. For example, “Would you rather fly like a bird or swim like a dolphin?” Have students give a thumbs up for the first option or thumbs down for the second. Make sure to pause for a few seconds to give students the chance to look around and see how everyone votes.
13. Build a Tower
Divide your class into groups of four or five students. Give each group a bag of drinking straws and a roll of duct tape. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Explain to the class that the goal of the activity is to build the highest tower, using only the straws and tape, that remains upright. Observe carefully to see how well students work together. Circulate through the room and offer tips, if necessary.
14. Flash Sign
Ask each student to come up with a unique movement or sound. For example, two claps, a whistle, a curtsy, a high kick, word, or gesture. Circle up and start by saying your name followed by your sign. Go around the circle, giving each student a turn to say their name and flash their sign. Circle through a couple of times so students can remember each other’s names.
Ask your students, “If you had a superpower, what would it be?” Then give them each a paper doll template to decorate what they would look like as a superhero. On the back, have them list what their superpower would be. When everyone is finished, invite students up, one at a time, to share their picture and pick three students to guess their superpower.
Label the four corners of your classroom with paper signs reading Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. Students begin seated at their desks. Call out a statement such as “Math is my favorite subject in school” or “Cats are better than dogs.” Students get up and move to the corner that best represents their opinion on the topic. This is a great activity for students to see what opinions they have in common with their classmates. It can also be adapted as an outside activity.
A popular icebreaker, Get to Know You Bingo is a great tool to help students learn more about their classmates. Download a blank Bingo card, like this one, and fill in each square with statements such as “has a dog,” “traveled this summer,” “plays soccer,” etc. Hand out a card to each student, with a pencil, and then send them off to find one person that meets the criteria in each box. Players can only use their classmates once on their sheet. The game is over when someone fills in every box on the entire grid with a different name.
Divide your class evenly into small groups. Give them five minutes to talk among themselves, trying to find three things they all have in common—the stranger (or funnier), the better. When time is up, have each group tell the class their three things. After everyone has gone, have the class vote on which group has the strangest (or funniest) three things in common.
19. All My Friends
Gather your students into a large circle. Stand in the middle and say “All my friends like…” and fill in the blank with anything you like—pepperoni pizza, swimming, kangaroos, etc. Any student who also likes that thing has to leave their place and switch places with another person in the circle. Just like musical chairs, anyone who doesn’t have a spot to switch to then goes in the middle, and “All my friends like…” starts all over again.
20. Guess Who
Pass out an index card to each of your students and ask them to write three unique facts about themselves. Make the first fact fairly common, like “I have brown hair.” Make the second fact a little trickier, such as “I am left-handed.” And then make the third fact something that you don’t think anyone else will have in common, such as “My grandmother is from Italy.” Gather the cards and throughout the day, pull one out and read it aloud to the class. Call on three students to guess whose card you just read. If no one guesses, ask the student who wrote it to stand.
21. Blobs and Lines
This engaging icebreaker from Cult of Pedagogy is sure to get your students moving, talking, and finding things they have in common. For lines, ask students to line up in a particular order, for example by birthday, height, shoe size, etc. For blobs, ask students to gather in groups based on something they have in common, for example, favorite dessert or movie or number of siblings. Students will really need to communicate with each other to form their lines or blobs.
22. Music Mingle
Give each student an index card and have them write a question they would like to ask the other students in class. For example, “What is your favorite movie?” or “What is your favorite animal?” Next, put on some music and have the students get up and mingle around the classroom. When the music stops, students have to stand beside the person closest to them and ask each other the questions on their cards. Both students have to answer both questions. When the music begins again, students mingle once again and pair up with a new classmate when it stops. Repeat.
23. Three Words
Brainstorm a story topic with your students—anything from a soccer game to a snowstorm to a day at the zoo. Now start the story for the class with just three words. Each student will take a turn, contributing three more words. Try to say the first three words that come to mind, whether they make sense or not, and move quickly from one person to the next.
24. Where in the World
Ask students, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” Have each student write their name and three clues about their chosen destination on an index card, but not the name of the place. Collect all the cards, then one by one read the clues to the class. Allow three people to make a guess. If no one guesses correctly, have the person who wrote the card reveal the destination. Once the destination is revealed, have the student explain why that is where they would want to go.
25. Never Have I Ever
Have your students sit in a circle and hold up both hands in front of them, spreading their ten fingers. If students have done what the statement says, they put one finger down. For example, if the statement is “Never have I ever seen a shooting star,” you would fold down one finger if you HAD seen a shooting star. At the end of the game, the person/people with the most fingers still standing win.
About the Author
Elizabeth Mulvahill is a Contributing Editor with WeAreTeachers. She has taught elementary, literacy and small group intervention. She currently resides outside of Boulder, Colorado and loves learning new things, hearing people's stories and traveling the globe.
25 Elementary Icebreakers To Start the Year Off Right