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English Department Writing Resources / First-Year Composition / The Inkwell / Ice Breakers

Ice Breakers

Exercises:

 

You Know What They Say About Assuming…

 

Purpose of Exercise: To ease students into your classroom and the setting, including having a teacher who is young. This emphasizes stereotyping and assumptions as possibly being inconclusive or false.

Description: Instructor begins with a bit of role-playing and then students are led into a free write about their basic info then introduce themselves to the class.

Suggested Time: about 30 minutes

Procedure: This activity should be done on the first day of class and works well if you can blend in with your students, if just for the day. When you get to your classroom, sit down in a desk with your students. Wait maybe two or three minutes after class begins, ask a few surrounding students if they know anything about the TA and possibly say something to the effect of, “I can’t believe they’re late on the first day!” Wait until about five minutes after then get up and head to the front of class. Typically, this leaves students in shock because they never would have guessed you to be the instructor. Lead into an ice breaker wherein the students have to come up with three interesting things about themselves but they cannot write: their major, where they’re from, their favorite color or the sport they play. After everyone has introduced themselves and said their three things, discuss how we assume so many things about people based on looks or information like major etc. This works well to get them accustomed to the type of writing we do in FYC and the atmosphere we like to create for our classrooms.

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Guess Who?

 

Purpose of Exercise: The purpose of this exercise is three-fold: to introduce students to each other, to show the variety of experiences and backgrounds each student brings to the classroom community, and to address stereotypes or preconceptions we may have about one another on first meeting.

Description: Distribute an index card to each student. Ask her or him to write a fact on the card that separates her or him from the rest of the class. This activity will help each student to connect a face to a name and a fun fact.

Suggested Time: 30 minutes

Procedure: Divide the class in half, and distribute an index card to each student. Have him or her write a fact down that makes them unique: an experience he or she might have had, a talent, a hobby. Alternate between teams in reading the other teams’ cards, and ask each team to guess which member of the opposing team wrote that card. Award one point for each correct guess, and encourage students to elaborate on what they wrote on the card.

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Would You Rather…

 

Purpose: This ice breaker is a great activity for students and I have found that it gives students a chance to get to know more about each other and text creativity without having to be forced into group situations that can be uncomfortable on the first day of class.

Suggested Time: 20-35 minutes

Procedure: You will need to ask the students to either take out a sheet of paper, or you can have slips of paper already prepared for them and pass them out. Then, you ask each person to create a “would you rather” question of his/her own on the slip of paper. Go ahead and lay out any ground rules for the questions. For example, make sure that everyone knows the questions need to be appropriate for the classroom setting. Give them an example of a “would you rather” question (I have copied and pasted some examples from the internet below). Give the students time to come up with questions and write them down. Then, there are a few ways you can go about sharing the questions/answers: 1) you can have the students go around and share their question with the class, and give time for a few responses or 2) you can collect the slips of paper (or sheets of paper) and randomly select ones to read for the class and allow for student responses. This exercise is great for ENC 1000-level courses where students are going to be challenged to be creative and use imagery and detail. Approximately 10-15 minutes should be allotted for explaining the exercises, passing out slips of paper and letting students write down their “would you rather” question. Then, the amount of time you spend going through the questions and getting feedback can vary between 10-20 minutes, depending on how much time you wish to spend on the activity.

Sample “Would You Rather” Questions...

  • Would you rather run your tongue down ten feet of a New York City street or press your tongue into a strangers nostril?
  • Would you rather be forgotten or hatefully remembered?
  • Would you rather have a missing finger or have an extra toe?
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Alphabet Lists—Getting to Know Your Classmates

 

Purpose: The aim of this exercise is to get students to introduce themselves and to initiate collaborative working relationships immediately. It emphasizes writing as a collaborative process that requires input and feedback from others. This exercise works well as an icebreaker in the first week or prior to the first peer workshop.

Description: Students exchange ideas with each other to complete an informal writing assignment.

Suggested Time: 20 minutes

Procedure: Ask every student to take out a loose piece of paper and write the letters of the alphabet vertically down the left side of the paper. Next, choose a topic; sometimes I ask students to suggest potential topics or I often simply choose “writing” as a way to start a discussion about it. When you’ve got a topic, give students only one or two minutes to write words they associate with the topic that start with every letter of the alphabet (i.e. for “writing”, A for “argument” etc). When the time limit is up, students will have incomplete alphabets. Next, ask your students to get up and introduce themselves to another student and trade with that person one missing word before moving on to someone else. After some time, students will eventually have completed their alphabets and met almost everyone in the class. Ask for a few volunteers to read their alphabet lists. At this point, I often talk about how writing is a collaborative endeavor and segue into an explanation of the peer workshop.

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TV Personalities: Trying on Voices

 

Purpose: This icebreaker makes a great first day introduction, getting students interested in and excited about writing by exploring well-known TV voices and personally interesting topics.

Description: All you need is a whiteboard, and your class will need paper and pen. This discussion and exercise gets students thinking about who they see in the media, and analyzing what makes those people/characters what they are by mimicking those elements unique to their TV “voice.”

Suggested Time: 15 – 20 minutes

Procedure: Start out by asking the class if they like writing. You’ll probably get a roomful of “Noooos!” Ask them if they ever write on their own. Again, most will insist “Never!” Then, of course, exclaim “Excellent!” Throw them for a loop. Ask them if they ever email anybody, or use IM – isn’t this writing? This should cause a bit of a shift in classroom thought, so take the opportunity to have the students come-up with a topic – any topic – that they’ve been dealing with in their first days at FSU and that they might IM, email, or text about. You might write some on the board, and choose from among these, or get a group consensus on one topic. For example, if someone yells out, “Parking!” go with that.

Then ask the class to come-up with some different TV/Movie Personas to add to the board in another column: The Terminator, Paris Hilton, etc – you can throw in something off-the-wall, like Wylie Cayote. When you’ve got about 3 or so characters down, set the students to writing about their chosen situation at FSU from the perspective of EACH character, one at a time, in 2-4 minute shifts. Encourage them to write in the ‘voice’ of that character - how would that person/think talk, think and behave?

By the end of the exercise, the students should have 3 brief descriptions of a single situation in 3 different voices. Take some time to share a few, depending on the time that you have. Discuss how writing offers us the opportunity to explore our own, and various other voices, as well as those topics that are most important to us in ways that may be further-reaching than text, IM, or email.

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Looking Beneath the Surface

 

Purpose of Exercise: This exercise accompanies “In Case You Ever Want To Go Home Again” by Barbara Kingsolver (published in On Writing). It is designed to ask students to apply specific parts of the reading to their own lives and examine their experiences beyond surface-level.

Description: This exercise engages students in conversation with one another about personal topics, but it allows them to do so without the risk involved in sharing “too much.” Sometimes students are shy to share in class because they don’t want to reveal too much of themselves; however, this exercise allows them to be personal while maintaining some distance. Kingsolver’s essay is an excellent starting point for personal engagement in the classroom, especially for first-year students who have just recently left their homes.

Suggested Time: 50 minutes

Procedure:Have the students read “In Case You Ever Want To Go Home Again” before class. In class, show the following quotes and writing prompts on the projector. Read through each quote and prompt as a class, and then give the students 15-20 minutes to think about and write a personal response to one of the quotes/prompts. Collect the papers and read some of the responses out loud anonymously. Use the student responses as the basis for a conversation about surface-level perceptions, the truth behind situations, and honesty.

Additional Information: Below are the quotes and writing prompts:

 

 “It’s human, to want the world to see us as we think we ought to be seen” (Kingsolver 471).

  •  If the world could see you, your families, your memories as they authentically are on the inside, what would they see? Would this be different than the “you” shown on the outside?

 

“Imagine singing at the top of your lungs in the shower as you always do, then one day turning off the water and throwing back the curtain to see there in your bathroom a crowd of people, rapt, with videotape. I wanted to throw a towel over my head” (Kingsolver 472).

  •  If the world read your personal journal, what would it find? Would people be surprised? Embarrassed? Upset? Happy?

 

“I had written: ‘Pittman was 20 years behind the nation in practically every way you can think of except the rate of teenage pregnancies…we were the last place in the country to get the dial system. Up until 1973, you just picked up the receiver and said, Marge, get me my Uncle Roscoe…I’ve photographed my hometown in its undershirt” (Kingsolver 473).

  •  What is the real description of your hometown? (Not the “Visitor’s Guide” description) What do only people who live in your hometown know about it? How do the insiders describe it? What does your hometown look like it its “undershirt?”

 

“I was a bookworm who never quite fit her clothes. I managed to look fine in my school pictures, but as usual the truth lay elsewhere” (Kingsolver 474).

  •  What is the truth behind your photographs? Choose one specific picture and tell us what people see and then the truth behind it.

 

“Before the book signing was over, more than one of my old schoolmates had sidled up and whispered: ‘That Lou Ann character, the insecure one? I know you based her on me” (Kingsolver 476).

  • Do we all have insecurities and uncertainties? Do we consider other people’s insecurities or just our own? Do we try to hide our insecurities from other people, and why or why not?

 

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