Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Teacher Tuesday - Ice Breakers

Back in 2014 (which seems like forever ago!) I shared a little bit about my "road" to becoming a teacher (spoiler alert - it wasn't a career path I set out on but I'm so glad I'm here!) as well as my philosophy on education.  You can read that post  HERE.

Part of that post detailed why I feel so strongly about building relationships with my students...

I love getting to know my students – I like to ask them what they did on the weekend, find out what their most embarrassing moment was and what they like to do off campus.  I share funny pictures and stories, we laugh at the occasional Tim Hawkins video and I engage in their community.  What I've learned is that by giving my students an opportunity to know me and by showing interest in their lives in and outside of school, they work harder for me and feel more invested in performing well in my class.  When I started teaching nine years ago, the Headmaster used to talk often about “the informal curriculum” being the moments that aren't in our lesson plans that impact students the most and how something we say or do outside of a lesson might be the most impactful thing a student takes away from our class in the entire year.  I hope that through their experiences in my classroom, students will grow academically, personally, socially and spiritually.

Today I thought I'd share a few quick and easy ways that I get to know my students on a daily basis.  I think sometimes as teachers we think it has to be a big, grand lesson plan or activity when a lot of times it's just a simple question.  My class runs pretty similarly every day - kids come in, we go over homework from the day before, review any material we need to touch back on and then - typically while I'm passing out the notes for the day - I'll pose a question like...

- "Who wants to tell us about your pet?"
- "Raise your hand if you've ever been somewhere really cool"
- "What's the best movie you've ever seen"

Occasionally I'll have a question written on the board for them to think about (I know some kids aren't great on the spot and like to formulate their answer before speaking up in front of the class) and then ask them when we're passing back homework paper.  Sometimes at the end of a lesson we'll do a good "would you rather" session where I'll ask something like...

- "Would you rather break an arm or a leg?"
- "Would you rather live on a farm or on an island?"
- "Would you rather be able to teleport or have the power of invisibility?"
- "Would you rather always be hot or always be cold?"
- "Would you rather have a dragon or be a dragon?"

... and I'll have them stand for one option and sit for the other.  Then I'll ask for a couple of people from each side to explain their choice.

I've also had kids email me pictures to share of them doing something they love and I'll pick a few to show on Fridays or after a test.  At school, kids who are involved in sports, successful in academics or a standout in the fine arts available get a chance to showcase their talents in front of their peers, but lots of kids spend hours outside of school in things like piano lessons, gymnastics, horseback riding, skateboarding competitions, flying lessons, etc. and their classmates may not even know it.  Giving them an opportunity to talk about it allows them to proudly share something that they take a lot of pride in and give me a little bit of insight as well.

I've learned so much about kids over the years through asking these simple (often silly!) questions and often times kids who didn't think they had much in common have found common ground that they didn't know they had.

I don't do this every day (sometimes there's just not time!) and have to differentiate the questions I ask and amount of conversation we have as a class based on the maturity level of that particular group of kids (which can vary even within a grade level depending on the mix of kids I have in a period).

Yes - we have homework, notes, in-class activities, critical thinking exercises, math competitions, tests, quizzes, standardized assessments and about a dozen other "housekeeping" type things (attendance, makeup work, etc) to do in class on a daily basis and sometimes the 45 minute class period doesn't seem like enough time to fit it all in, but I'm yet to regret the few minutes (if that!) that I spend getting to know my students.

The other piece of the puzzle for me is letting kids in on little bits about me as well.  Showing them an embarrassing picture of me in middle school (YES!), walking them through my most embarrassing moment before asking them to share theirs or chiming in on the "would you rather" game has helped me build relationships and rapport which I've found leads to easier classroom management and better academic performance. 

I'd love to know what you do to build rapport with students and how you get to know them better throughout the year OR (if you're not a teacher) I'd love to know what a teacher did during your academic career that let you know they cared about you and how that affected you in the classroom (for me it was when my 4th grade teacher came to my piano recital unexpectedly - I already adored her, but to this day that still means so much to me!)

Happy (teacher) Tuesday, friends!


  1. Love this, Andrea!! I have no doubts your students love those minutes as well!

  2. I love your teacher posts and reading more about this part of your world!

  3. When teaching a new lesson, I throw in examples from my family. I think my students know my family about as much as I do. LOL For example, I was recently teaching vertical and horizontal lines. Even though he has now graduated a few years ago from their same school, the students know my son is 6'7 and was a basketball player and a high jumper. I used Kyle's jumping as an example to talk about vertical. Now all I have to say is, "What did I tell you to remember about vertical?" They yell out "KYLE!" When I say so how does vertical go, they show me with their arms pointed skyward. They then know that horizontal is the other way. I also make sure to remember to ask about important things that I know are going on in their world, even if I have to jot a note to myself in the plan book. How was vocal contest this weekend? How did you play in your travel bb game? How your driver's test? Just taking a notice of something important to students shows them you do care.

  4. I’ve take the responsive classroom training. If you look at my Pinterest board under that name I have a ton of activities. I teach fifth grade and spend the first 6 weeks building community and teamwork and trust in my room. The theory can be modified for middle school. It’s hard for people to give up time daily for morning meeting, but the rewards overcome the time taken!

    1. Kindergarten teacher way up in Canada and I agree whole heartedly!

  5. That relationship building is one of the things I loved about being a classroom teacher. I am a media specialist now and my first year at a school is definitely the hardest because I am trying to connect with 400 students in one year. But, once I get through the first year, building relationships with students is my FAVORITE part. I get to teach kids for 6 years and watch them grow as readers, friends, athletes, musicians, and wonderful little humans! Like you, I work at my kids' school so I get to see a lot of students outside of school and I absolutely love it!

  6. Your students and parents are so blessed to have a teacher like you in their lives! I had a teacher in high school that got to know us through very similar practices and to this day I realize how much of an impact she made on my life. Sadly she passed away a few years ago but I'll never forget how many students were at her funeral- we all loved her!

  7. Love the idea about emailing you pictures! I teach at an international Christian school in Kigali, Rwanda. We just moved here last summer, and after working at a public school in the States what I especially love is the emphasis on all the "extra" stuff that we just didn't have time for in the States, which allows us to get to know these students beyond the classroom. (For example, on Valentine's Day next week we'll be doing a service project at a local Rwandan school - I'll be there right alongside my middle schoolers!) One thing I do at the beginning of the year to start building relationships is having them fill out a get to know you survey where I have a spot at the end for questions they have for me, and then I go through and answer each question on a post-it note to hand back to them. (These range from "how much homework will there be?" to "how old were you when you got your nose pierced?" << from an 8th grade BOY.) I feel like this sets the tone for the kind of interaction they can expect from me throughout the year!


  8. One thing we do down here in my 6th grade LA class is "tell me something good" time. They get 10 minutes to share anything good that's going on in their lives. I love hearing about what they did over the weekend, what movies they've seen, and what they're doing with their families. They usually give me a chance to share, too, and they love hearing stories about my baby niece or my cat. ;)

    I also think it's so important to teach them early to look for the good and positive things in life, even if things are challenging. If they look for the good things, they're bound to find them! 10 minutes out of our week (we have 70 minute class periods) is nothing when it comes to relationship building and learning about my students. :)

  9. Not a teacher, but as a total introvert, I cannot tell you how much I would have appreciated some of these ice breakers as a student!

  10. There are so many things I have read or learned in the past few years that would have made me a better teacher when I did that. Makes me sometimes wish to go back.

  11. When I was in high school, my grandfather died, and my 5th grade teacher attended the funeral. Her kindness will always stay with me.

  12. I have the joy of teaching Floral Design to 10-12th graders in the Houston area. We get to do a lot of fun hands-on lessons and I try to give my students the opportunity to personalize each design. This could be through color selection, adding a monogram, etc.
    But one of the best things I've been doing is a questionnaire at the beginning of each semester. Some of the questions are simple, like your favorite candy. And others are more complex like, do you struggle with anything that I can help with? I get a lot of students that say they struggle with confidence. So i try and have a lesson over confidence or work it into a floral design. Students wanted to be noticed and praised and they need to positively build their confidence in a good environment!
    I decided to become a teacher after my FFA/agriculture science teacher from the Plano area encouraged me to try things out of my comfort zone. He said that I had leadership skills and a personality to be a great teacher, and that's all she wrote :)

  13. I love this! I am not a teacher, but my oldest daughter is a junior in high school and she often tells me about funny stories her teachers have told her or other fun or special things they do in class. It's great from a parent-perspective as well as it gives kids something "easy" to talk about after school!

  14. I LOVE this post! I taught 2nd & 3rd grade for 9 years. I just adore your ideas and am saving them for when I return to the classroom one day. I used to start school days off by asking my students to share Good News with the class. Anyone that wanted to could share something good that was going on in their life. It was short and could be anything. I learned so much about my kids! Occasionally someone would ask to share Bad News instead and tell the class something sad/hard that was going on in their life. It was the best way to start the day and really helped us all feel connected. I shared silly stories about myself, my cats, my family and we talked a lot of sports. Thank you for all your hard work in the classroom and for your teacher inspiration.

  15. Love this! I am a former Kdg teacher and teach Pre-K now. I do "Would you rather" questions and also have parents send in pics of kids "practicing at home" and the pics go on a bulletin board that I have. The kids LOVE to have their pictures up there and all of them beg to practice at home so they can go on the wall - win! I teach at a Christian preschool so I take their prayer requests each day which are very cute & entertaining. I also try to involve the parents too. I read a book awhile ago about engaging parents and how some parents don't feel wanted/needed in the classroom and have no connection with their child's teacher which made me sad. I plan a boutique night out for my Mom's during Mother's Day where we have an after-hours shopping night and the boutique gives us all 20% off purchases. My moms always love this! I have done pottery with moms and pedicures also. It gives me a chance to get to know their families better. In the winter I plan a family ice skating night out and/or bowling. I always have great attendance and it is fun to see everyone outside of school having fun! Another fun idea is to have a freezer meal party with my class parents. I have parents sign up who want to make meals and we get together and put all of the freezer meals together and then take new ones home. I love your teacher posts!

  16. Math does not come naturally to me or my kiddos. We would have benefited so much from a teacher like you. I hope your students and their parents realize how blessed they are to have Mrs. McAnally as their teacher!


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