Whether your students are adults in a continuing education class at a community college, first-graders on their first full day of school or freshmen on their first day of high school, an ice-breaking activity is instrumental in creating a positive atmosphere. Not only is it important for the teacher to learn what he can about the students, but icebreakers are helpful for starting conversations among students who can establish common ground with their peers.
Give students a grid similar to a bingo board, but instead of numbers and letters in the boxes, fill in things like, "someone who was born in another state," "someone who has three brothers" or "someone who is wearing purple." Tailor these requirements and the size of the grid to the age group you are teaching and make several different sheets so not everyone has the same grid. Allow the students to mingle with one another to find one classmate who fulfils the criteria for each box. If you have a lot of time and things are going well, wait until someone has filled their whole grid; otherwise, stop the game when someone gets a "bingo."
Silly Name Game
Younger children will need a teacher-led game that gets them moving, so play a silly name game. Gather students in a circle and start by saying your name and adding an adjective or a word that rhymes; for instance, "I'm Mrs. Tandy and I love candyfloss" or "Call me zooey Mr. Dewey." Have all the students respond by repeating the name and phrase in unison and at the end add "It's so nice to meet you" to the tune of the Hokey Pokey line "That's what it's all about." They can clap to the rhythm of this line as well. Go around the circle and allow each student to come up with their own adjective, phrase or rhyme and do the call and response with the class.
Finish the Sentence
Prepare some slips of paper with the beginnings of sentences and have each student pick a slip. Go around the room and listen to each student finish the sentence. For example, "The best job I ever had was...," "My favourite teacher was..." or "After school I like to..." Allow two follow-up questions per student. This activity works especially well with smaller groups of students. Alternatively, have students make up the slips with the sentences themselves and put them all in a container so each of them answers a question made up by their peers.