As classes begin at many K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions I have seen a number of posts on my social media for ideas about what to do on that first day of school. While I am heartened that so many educators want to avoid the deadly trap of covering policies and procedures on that all-important first day, it also makes me sad to see so many educators at a loss for ideas. I know that so many of my National Writing Project colleagues are armed with a wide array of icebreakers and community building activities and it breaks my heart that there are still teachers who haven’t tapped into that resource. I have written many blog posts on the subtopic of icebreakers alone (see Infographic, Handcrafted, Arguments) and more than I can count about how to start off write! I applaud every teacher who recognizes the importance of building community in their classroom, especially writing classrooms, but want to urge teachers to understand that working smarter not harder is key to our survival. This is a lesson I need to continually remind myself and hope that blogging about it will not only inform others but finally engrave that message on my own brain. For now I want to share three rules I use to help me develop my own community-building icebreaker activities that are so much more and begin the work of our class from day one.
Begin as you mean to go
“Begin as you mean to go” is key marriage and parenting advice that I received from my mother, but even more applicable to teaching. Creative and fun first day activities are great, but they can also be a form of false advertising. Don’t let your students’ first impression be a bait-and-switch gimmick. While my writing classes will begin with a fun exercise clearly tied to our class theme (American literacy) it will also incorporate practices that we will use throughout the semester including small group sharing, reflective writing, six word stories, and snaps. My classes are highly interactive and include a lot of creation and this is clear from day one.
Set the right tone
My writing classes are going to explore American literacy this semester and any glimpse of today’s headlines demonstrates that this is a heavy topic that incorporates some really weighty and fraught questions. I think starting out with some really silly icebreakers would send the wrong message to my students. So while we are breaking out crayons and drawing pictures and sharing our favorite colors, we are doing so to illustrate our personal creeds so we can establish common ground and get to know each other as individuals before we begin our American Creed work.
Keep your bottom line in mind
What is your end game for your students? As I noted in the previously linked blog post, I always tell my students that my goal for them is to become reflective self-regulating writers, but really, in my heart, I hope to teach them to love writing. Sure when I’m talking with my administrators I can use the language of student engagement and critical thinking, but deep down I want my students to have fun with language and to learn that writing is so much more than five-paragraph essays and argument papers. This is one of the important reasons I use themes such as games and comics. Games and comics and heraldry (the basis of my personal creed table tent exercise mentioned above) are fun and engaging but they also set the table for serious rhetorical work. I love when we can build on previous class work and so do my students. Our table tent creeds will play a key role in the first two units of our class as well as help us build class community. Any time we can both have fun and spark some serious thinking then we are winning.
What rules govern your class introductions? How do you determine the shape and function of your first class?
Some examples of how this looked in previous semesters with different themes:
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