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13 September 2021

Top 10 icebreaker activities for getting back in the classroom

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Laurel Bibby

Assistant Content Marketing Executive, Digital Theatre+

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After a long – and well deserved, might we add – break from the classroom over the summer months, it’s no surprise that students might be feeling a little rusty during the first week back at school. 

As they’re settling in and readjusting to life in the classroom, take your pick from a range of fun, engaging icebreaker activities designed to ease your class back in. Fostering key skills in collaboration, creativity and confidence, these activities should help you to focus your students, build ensemble and galvanise your group, and start creating a safe space in your classroom where students feel comfortable and confident to participate and perform.

And whether you’re actually teaching in person this back to school season or still juggling a hybrid classroom, you’ll find activities suited to both in person and online teaching.

BEST FOR… TEAM-BUILDING

1. Holiday Facts

In Person / Remote; 20-30 minutes

Get students back on their feet with this fun, holiday-based exercise. This activity is a brilliant way to get your class warmed up and having fun, and also helps you assess each student’s confidence levels when speaking and presenting to the group.

Start with the group simply walking around the space, then shout out different numbers and ask students to get into a group of that number. Have 2 be the final number that you shout out, so you end up with the group in pairs.

In their pairs, each student should tell the other ten facts about their holiday. Once they’re finished, invite each student to present their partner’s facts to the group. If they forget their partner’s facts, they should improvise new ones to make their partner sound like they had the coolest holiday ever. Bonus points for the most inventive improvisations! 

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2. The Marshmallow Challenge
In Person; 15 minutes

What you’ll need: 

  • A pack of dry spaghetti
  • A roll of tape
  • A ball of string
  • A bag of marshmallows (giant ones work best!)

For this activity, split your class into teams of 3-5 students. Each team should be given 20 sticks of dry spaghetti, a metre each of tape and string, and a single marshmallow from the bag. Using only these materials, challenge the teams to build the tallest structure they can in 10-15 minutes. Encourage your class to think creatively and try new ideas to see what they can come up with! 

This is a great team-building activity to get your class communicating with each other and working together on something that’s both practical and fun. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to sort out the register and start getting to know your class while they build!

BEST FOR… RHYTHM

3. Group Counting

In Person / Remote; 5-10 minutes

This one’s a super simple activity – the only thing you need is yourselves! The aim of the game is for your group to count to the highest number possible, starting from zero and taking it in turns to randomly shout out the next number. The only catch: if more than one person shouts a number at the same time, you’ve got to go back to the beginning. Once you’ve exhausted the game, try it with jumping instead of speaking!

4. Rhythmic Counting

In Person / Remote; 10 minutes

Start introducing rhythm to your class with this little exercise – which is deceptively more tricky than it sounds! It’s a great one for building confidence and works well virtually too, so you can use it whether you’re teaching in person, remotely, or in a hybrid classroom.

Working in pairs, get your class started off by simply counting “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3...”, taking it in turns to say each number. Once they’ve got into the rhythm of it, replace the number 1 with a clap, so the new sequence will run “clap, 2, 3, clap, 2, 3...” Next, replace the number 2 with a stomp: “clap, stomp, 3, clap, stomp, 3…” Finally, replace the number 3 with a double clap! The final sequence should run “clap, stamp, double clap, clap, stamp, double clap...”, with each pair alternating who does each action. 

Once your class has mastered the sequence, try reversing it, reintroducing the numbers until you’re back counting “1, 2, 3” again.

5. Circle Clapping

In Person; 10 minutes

Have your class sit in a circle on their knees, then start off the rhythm by tapping your hands on your knees one after the other. As the first person does their second tap, the second person should start their first, so the class is creating a constant rhythm around the circle. Once you’ve got used to the exercise, see how fast you can do it!

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BEST FOR… MOVEMENT

6. Mirrors
In Person / Remote; 5-10 minutes

If you’re looking to introduce physical theatre or movement into your classes, this mirror activity is a great place to start. Arrange your class in pairs, then ask each pair to stand facing one another and assign themselves either ‘A’ or ‘B’. Invite ‘A’ to begin moving in any way they like, which ‘B’ should mirror back to them.

Encourage students to be creative here – they could play with levels, speed of movement, and moving different body parts to try something new. The aim is for each pair to be moving simultaneously, so an audience may not immediately be able to tell which member of the pair is leading the movement.

At some point in the exercise – perhaps a couple of minutes in – ‘B’ should take over leading the movement, but without saying aloud to their partner that they are taking over. This silent exchange encourages students to really tune into each other’s movements, building trust and communication between the pairs.

7. Sound and Motion

In Person / Remote; 10 minutes

Get started playing with sound and movement in this simple exercise! Stand in a big circle and, starting with yourself as the teacher, go around the circle clockwise each making a sound. After each sound is made, the whole class should repeat it back, call-and-response style. 

Once you’ve gone around the circle with sounds, repeat the exercise using just motion; one after the other, each person should act out a movement for the rest of the class to copy. On the third time round, each person should bring their sound and motion together, resulting in a final call-and-response performance combining both sound and motion!

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This is a great activity for helping students focus and get out of their heads, especially if they’ve just come from a classroom-based lesson. Encourage your class to be imaginative in the sounds and movements they choose – you’ll notice that the more creative the sound or motion is, the more fun and interesting the activity becomes!

8. 60 Seconds

In Person; 5-10 minutes

Play with speed and movement in this quick and easy activity. Line your class up at one end of the room, then challenge them to cross from one side to the other in exactly 60 seconds (be sure to hide the classroom clock!). Give them a few tries, then play around with speed by changing the amount of time they’ve got – try the exercise with 30 seconds, then 15, and finally just 5!

BEST FOR… PERFORMANCE

9. Scrap Paper Artists

In Person / Remote; 20 minutes

Unleash your students’ inner artists with this scrap paper challenge! Present each student with a single piece of scrap paper, then – holding the paper behind their back – challenge them to rip the piece of paper into a specific shape (for example a flower, tree or specific animal). You could either write down a selection of different shapes for students to draw out of a hat, have them select their own shape, or ask other members of the class to choose a shape for one of their peers. 

Once the students have finished with their paper, invite them each to present it to the class as if it’s a piece of world-class art in a gallery. This is a fantastic activity to start developing presentation and performance skills – bonus points to the students who really get into the character of their artist!

10. Group Rap

In Person; 30-40 minutes

Saving the best ‘til last… build trust and confidence within your class and get them used to performing in front of each other as they write and perform their own group raps!

In groups of 4-5, set your students the task of creating their own short song or rap introducing themselves to the class or sharing what they got up to during the holidays. You could give them a well-known song to adapt, or for more advanced classes have them start from scratch!

Assign five or so lines to each member of the group, and ask them to write out their lyrics on an official ‘lyric sheet’. If there’s time, invite the groups to create choreography or movement to their song or rap which they’ll perform at the end of the class!

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Whether you're heading back to school in person this year or your teaching set-up still looks a little different, we hope you'll find something to get your students excited about Drama in this selection. For more fun starter activitiesget in touch with a member of our team today.