Ice-breaker activities on the first day of class pay big dividends for students and instructors alike. I currently use a strategy that involves list-making in rotating groups of three or four students. The first rounds ask each group to compile a list of “5 Best Movies of All Time.” Subsequent rounds might ask for best or worst foods, best vacations spots, or another nonacademic category. Once everyone is comfortable, the topics change to “Worst Types of People to Have as Classmates” and “Best Ways to Tackle a Tough Subject Like A&P.”
For students, the exercise allows them to meet one another and, at my urging, to choose someone who seems like a safe person with whom to share contact information in case of missed classes. Students also realize that I am going to expect them to be flexible and to work together.
The icebreakers also provide a quick sense of the kind of people I have in this class. Are they Titannic or Fast and Furious? Who takes charge and who hangs back? Do they embrace the task or complete it only with coaxing? Who knew that so many millenials hate cottage cheese? And what’s wrong with asparagus?
This term offered some surprises. My students listed items on the last two questions that haven’t appeared in previous years, and I was encouraged by both. First, the “bad classmate” question brought forth the typical responses: know-it-all, smelly, whiners, and pen-clickers. However, three of four groups included “late people” (meaning tardy, not deceased!). I asked the group why latecomers made the list.
“They’re distracting. Just when you get settled down to learn, and the teacher is explaining the topic for the day, they come wandering in and disrupt everything”
The how-to-succeed-in-class query also brought a new response: drawing. Students noted that drawing or sketching an idea helps them to understand and retain it. They may have never heard of Felix Frankel, but our GEN 102 and FYE 105 instructors are doing something right. (Madolyn Rodgers “Learning by Drawing” offers a good summary of the science behind the strategy.)
The ice is broken. No one has been late. I’m seeing a lot of drawing. Things are lookin’ up.