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My First Day Icebreaker

September 2, 2012

One of the misconceptions that my college students bring to their first developmental math class is that they are alone in not “getting” math.  (These are students who on paper meet the entrance requirements for their technology programs, but did not score high enough in their math assessment to enroll in the diploma level math course. )

My first day activity helps them connect with each other, and it is usually engaging for all students, once they get over the initial shock of having to talk to strangers on their first day on campus and not sitting quietly in seats.

I give them each a blank piece of paper and ask them to make a name card tent and then fill it out using a  template. Students put them out at the start of each class for the first 2-3 weeks or so, until I have mastered most of their names. The underlined word topics keep changing with each group of students, and  I am always looking for new ideas to add to these.  Some topics work better than others.

First step: find a partner who shares the first three digits of their postal code, introduce themselves and chat for a minute or so.  (If they run out of steam, there are some conversation starters for each topic displayed on the screen at the front.)

Round two: Find another (different) partner whose favourite movie is the same/similar, make the introductions and chat.

Round three:  Find two other students who have a similar hobby, and chat in a foursome about that hobby.

And lastly, they split up and recombine into a different foursome to come up with their group’s consensus on qualities that make a hero.  Each group posts a few of those qualities on the board at the front.

While they are doing this, I time the discussions so we don’t get carried away, circulate to bring the reticent students into the groups and drop into as many groups as I can to pick up info about each student.

The  noise in the room gradually gets very loud.  Later in the semester, when we get into mathematical discussions, I want them to feel free to really go at it, and they do.

I like this icebreaker for several reasons:  I can use the info again  to make pairs or groups, students get comfortable talking with each other and finding common ground, it paves the way for building consensus, writing on the board, watching the screen at the front, having discussions, learning names, etc.  It also lets them know this is not your usual math class and lets me know informally and quickly the level of ESL issues.

Once we are done this part, I ask them to discuss a few more questions:  how was their first day on campus, what tips they would like to  know about life on campus, qualities of a good teacher and a good student.  Overall, it takes about 30 minutes or so, depending on the group.

This semester my new challenge is to learn how to integrate tablets into the classroom (using DyKnow software) , when there are not quite enough to go around.  I am hoping this ice breaker will help us all to be supportive and encouraging.


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