Chanel back-to-school energy and prepare your students for an exciting year of reading and writing.
The first day of middle school has a special kind of energy.
Channel your students’ big feelings with these high-energy, low-stress icebreakers guaranteed to soothe nerves, create community, and start building the literacy skills you’ll be working on all year.
1. Snowball Fight!
This icebreaker is great for middle schoolers with a little too much energy. Studies show that movement benefits learning, and Snowball Fight combines reading, writing, and listening with short bursts of vigorous physical activity.
Distribute notebook paper and have students write down three school-appropriate facts about themselves that they don’t mind sharing. Students should not write their names when they make their lists.
Ask students to crumple the paper into balls. When you call out “snowball fight!” students can hurl the balled-up paper at each other (avoiding faces) and keep picking up new ones and throwing those. After a minute or so, call out “grab a snowball!” and ask each student to grab the ball closest to them.
Ask for a volunteer to read aloud the statements on their paper and guess which student wrote them. They can keep guessing until they are right, or you can move around the circle and have the next student guess. When the correct student is selected, it is their turn to read their list aloud.
Before moving on to each new student, use follow-up questions to get everyone talking a little more. For example, if a student wrote, “I went to the beach this summer,” ask them which one. If they wrote that they have a dog, ask what their dog’s name is.
Note: Students might struggle to decipher the handwriting and spelling of their peers, especially on crumpled paper. Be ready to step in and help read aloud so that neither the reader nor the writer feels embarrassed.
2. Speed Meetings
Speed Meetings are a fun way to get students conversing while, once again, incorporating movement. And they let middle schoolers be a little goofy, which, as you already know, they love. Jokes aside, research suggests that students retain more in lessons where humor is present, so give them leave to laugh during this activity.
Start by having the class brainstorm a list of school-appropriate questions they would like to answer and ask each other. Encourage open-ended, creative questions, like, “If you were to design a video game, where would it take place?” or “If you could only eat one country’s cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?”
Post the questions on the board, divide the class in half, and have them sit in two concentric circles facing each other. Ask one of the questions, set a one-minute timer, and let each pair discuss. When the timer dings, the outside ring moves one seat to the right. Give the new pairs a new question, and set the timer again. Play until students are back in their original seats.
Note: If you see conversations losing steam, don’t be afraid to step in, ask one question to inspire more discussion, and then step away again.
3. Oldies But Goodies
Two Truths and a Lie and Never Have I Ever have been around so long that teachers sometimes skip over them, thinking, “My students have played these so many times they’re probably bored with them.”
True, maybe, but that doesn’t change the fact that both games get students writing and employ techniques like persuasion, clarity, and basic scene building.
For Two Truths and a Lie, hand out notecards and, as the name suggests, have students write down two school-appropriate true statements about themselves that they don’t mind sharing and one lie. Have each student read their card aloud while their peers guess which statement is the lie. As with Snowball Fight, use follow-up questions to get students talking a little more.
For Never Have I Ever, pass out notecards and have each student write three school-appropriate things they have never done before. When they read their list, other students can remain seated if they have also not done these things or stand up if they have (or walk to either side of the room). Again, briefly question each student to learn more before moving on to the next student.
Bring the Science of Reading to Your Classroom
Even with the best icebreakers, returning to school can be stressful for students, especially those struggling with reading.
Want to learn more about how to use research-backed best practices in your ELA classroom? Watch our webinar, “Connecting the Sciences of Reading & Learning: Building Language, Literacy, and Cognition for All.”
In this free webinar, you’ll learn how to use science of reading principles to make literacy equitable and accessible to all your students—not just the ones who already love reading.
Here’s to another great school year. We know you’re going to crush it!
Before joining Carnegie Learning’s marketing team in 2021, Emily Anderson spent 16 years teaching middle school, high school, and college English in classrooms throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, and Minnesota. During these years, Emily developed a passion for designing exciting, relatable curricula and developing transformative teaching strategies. She holds master's degrees in English and Women’s Studies and a doctorate in American literature and lives for those classroom moments when students learn something that will forever change them. She loves helping amazing teachers achieve more of these moments in their classrooms.Explore more related to this author