Welcome to the first day of the new semester! Everyone is excited, the room is filled with promise. You don’t want to kill the mood by spending the entire first day going over the syllabus, but when you enter the classroom and look at 25 new students, you wonder how you are going to get this ball rolling.
Take a SIP of This: Ice Breakers
First-day ice breakers may seem trite or overly enthusiastic, but they can go a long way toward setting the tone for a class and establishing your parameters while allowing students to get to know each other and know you. Community building starts on the first day and can often be that key element that shapes up a successful teaching and learning experience.
Here are two favorite icebreakers:
Listen to my name. Arrange students in pairs (in case of an odd number, you can pair up with the remaining student). Give each student two minutes to tell the story of his or her name—how was it chosen? Does it have special significance? Is it attached to a nickname? Etc. The student who is listening can’t say a word. After two minutes, the two students switch roles. Finally, each student “introduces” his or her partner to the rest of the class.
This icebreaker is a great demonstration of how to listen—what it feels like to be truly present without jumping in and replying. It is an excellent way of building confidence for students—their story, opinion, and point of view means something. It helps students to recognize how long two minutes really is (have you ever had that student who goes on and on, probably without realizing how much he or she is talking?). And by the end of the exercise, every student in the class knows each other’s name—a fabulous first step toward community building.
Set common goals or learning outcomes for the class. Using your syllabus as a point of departure, take a look at your learning outcomes or course goals and expand to create objectives for classroom behavior or community experience. You may ask, for example, “How does this class feel about late arrivals?” This usually inspires a good conversation around how we feel when others arrive late, what we would like them to do when they arrive late (sneak in quietly and sit down, or publicly apologize?), or if it is even an issue. You may be surprised—little details that can drive a professor nuts might not be an issue at all to the students in the community. Other topics may include use of technology, food and drink, side conversations, etc. By setting common goals around these community behaviors, you can learn a lot about the personality of the class and also take some of the “policing” responsibility off of yourself.
Still Thirsty? Take Another SIP of Ice Breakers
- Primary and secondary school models can easily be adapted for more mature students in higher ed. Also look to business models for community building.