Non-Cheesy Icebreaker for First Day of School

I hate name games. Painfully awkward, these games have never magically connected me to people just because they’ve repeated, “Her name’s Laura and she likes llamas.”

Nope. Not happening around here, people.

For the first day of school, I usually start with a one-minute welcome and intro. of my background, have students make name cards they post on their desks (a half-sheet of colored paper folded hot dog-style), give a meme-based lecture covering my classroom expectations with a bit of humor, and model our first MUG Shot (mechanics, usage, and grammar) whiteboard activity to throw a little something academic at them before our first class wraps.

This year, though, the meme lecture’s starting to feel stale and I’m always open to fresh ideas. In a Facebook group for ELA folks that I follow, first-day stations were kicked around and I thought, Oh yeah, that’ll work.

Here’s my new first-day plan:
1. One-minute welcome/intro.
2. Make name cards
3. Stations activity
4. You are Here worksheet
(The MUG Shot and meme lecture have been slid to Day 2 on my calendar.)

Here’s how Stations & You are Here will roll:I’m on a block, so I might even be able to squeeze in that first MUG Shot. We’ll see how it goes.

And here’s all the same info in a video:

If you’d like a free set of the 38-page Stations/You are Here materials, just go here to grab a copy. There’s also a second version in the download with generic, non-ELA wording, meaning our friends in all subject areas can enjoy some cheese-free fun on the first day of school. Hope this helps start the year strong!

Special thanks to my talented teacher friend Madeline Alyce for the inspiration! Click here to check out her free annotation tools.

Teach on, everyone.

62 thoughts on “Non-Cheesy Icebreaker for First Day of School

  1. Nancy Kasee says:

    I love this idea to start the new year, and I can’t wait to use it! Thank you, Laura.

  2. Julie Hayes says:

    I love this and look forward to using it this school year. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Love this! I’m at a new school this year, and I love the idea of starting fresh with something different. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks, everyone, for the kind notes. I love the love!

  5. Laura,
    I cannot thank you enough for all of the amazing posts, videos, advice and information you provide!! I am a “career changer” teacher and I just got my first gig teaching 9th grade English. I am over the moon!

    I had been telling all my friends and family that I was “more excited than nervous,” but the anxiety was definitely there. You have alieviated practically ALL of my nervousness. Your enthusiasm for teaching and helping other teachers is a true inspiration. You GAVE me my first bulletin board (Epic Opening Lines)! You helped me figure out my seating chart, how to deal with a troublemaker… and now – you’ve helped me figure out my plan for day one! I am crazy about this idea!

    You have become my first teaching mentor. I hope one day I can reach out and help other teachers the way you have helped me.

    THANK YOU!!!

  6. Ah, Kris, thanks for taking the time to drop me this note and CONGRATULATIONS on launching your first classroom! You, along with all of our other new colleagues, are the real reason I spend so many hours building and sharing these things. I had so many wonderful mentors who helped me launch nearly 20 years ago; it’s a thrill to be able to pay it all forward now.

    Definitely check in as your year rolls along and let us all know how you’re doing. It’s sure to be a wonderfully nerve-wracking ride – enjoy it! 🙂

  7. I love you, Laura. 😄 That is all.

  8. Laura,
    Your creative and helpful posts are a lifesaver! After 6 years of teaching middle school, I’m on to high school, and some nervousness is creeping in. With your ideas, I feel more confident. Thanks for all you do!!

  9. As I start my 13th year of teaching, I’m always looking for a new way to start it. THANK YOU so much for sharing this lesson and so soon – I can now schedule it in and ease some anxieties:)
    I always look forward to seeing an email telling me you’ve posted on your blog:)

    Thanks again!

  10. Thanks, Nellie and Chantel! So glad I can help ease some of our nerves/anxieties. (I still have those, too.) Let’s keep enjoying summer as long as we can! 🙂

  11. Wow, Laura! Every teaching concept that you tackle is fun and engaging! The kids roll their eyes on that first day when I tell them to get in groups or pairs, depending on which activity I decide to pull from my files. Sadly, that first day sets the tone (first impressions and all).
    A HUGE thank-you for offering these activities free of charge. You are creative and kind.
    I am PUMPED to use these invaluable activities! Thank you!

  12. Nancy Robinson says:

    Looking for a lot more “they do” time in my class this year, so this is perfect. Also, just a quick thanks – last year I had chattiest juniors and the naughtiest freshmen ever, and so many of your ideas saved my bacon. /bows in appreciation

  13. Right on, Michelle & Nancy! I’m always here for you. Anything we can do to avoid the dreaded teenage eye-roll is a major win in my book, too! 🙂

  14. Wow, this really takes my day one anxiety and shows it who’s boss (you, not Tony Danza, thankfully). 🙂 Great work…you are so inspiring!

  15. Ohmygosh, Beth, I always had a little crush on Tony Danza! Thanks for the smile with my coffee this morning. 🙂

  16. Hi Laura!

    So, for this activity, are you going to have students write their names on their post-its and the index cards or do you want them to remain anonymous?

    Thank you! 🙂

  17. Hey Santos! I’m going to keep the sticky notes anonymous. Less risk will be better to ease first-day jitters. The worksheet, of course, has their names on it, though.

  18. I see, what about the index cards the students are submitting at the end of the activity?

  19. I suppose, Santos, that you could have each team write their number on the index card, but I doubt I’ll bother with that. A quick glance at each card as it’s handed to me will be all I need to see that the team took the task seriously.

  20. Heather Hollands says:

    Thanks, Laura! I used your meme activity for the first day of school last year; it worked great, but the students I had in 10th grade will be in my 11th grade class this year, so I really appreciate this new activity. I like that the students are moving around and talking to each other. Have a great year, and I look forward to buying more of your products. Still hoping you’ll create some Escape Classroom activities. 🙂

  21. Ah, thanks, Heather! I, too, still like the memes, but they’re starting to feel dated and I, like you, want to give my kids something they haven’t seen before. Don’t you feel like the memes are every-w-h-e-r-e now? And, sadly, you’d be amazed at how much time I’ve spent trying to build a grammar-based escape room, but it is just. so. hard. I haven’t given up on the escape room concept; I just allow myself to be lured away by other tasks, like this icebreaker alternative. I like what does, though those games tilt toward the younger set and most require a lot of expensive boxes and locks, something I know we don’t have. Someday I’ll get it together… 🙂

  22. Trying to say thanks without sounding too much like a groupie! THANKS! I am a newly minted teacher who is anticipating her first posting. I’ve found all of your videos and ideas interesting and immensely helpful. Thanks for sharing your talents.

  23. You’re more than welcome, G. Reilly. And the idea that we’re building a world where teachers can have groupies is kinda, sorta awesome. Enjoy your first ride on the rollercoaster! 🙂

  24. Great addition to the discussion, Robert! You’re getting my mental wheels rolling… There’s gotta be a way to do this without having to buy all of that stuff. Locks + boxes + flashdrives + blacklights = Oh my!

  25. It may be possible to have students decipher word puzzles or something, which could be clues that will help them go to the next step. They shouldn’t be able to advance without first deciphering the puzzle.

  26. Sounds good to me, Robert., here we come… 🙂

  27. An escape room activity would also be an amazing unit review activity, especially for a novel like Lord of the Flies or something similar!

  28. Thank you. I’m hoping to get a teaching position this year and am trying to prepare.

  29. I love this idea!!! I’m going to use it on the first day. I feel like it will give me a good gauge as to what to expect from class personalities going forward. Since you said you don’t want groups of more than three, should I change to nine topics if I have classes that all hover around 30 students?

  30. Totally your call, Sarah. I’m going to just stick with the 8 stations as they are even though my classes are usually larger than 30, too. I was just speaking in general about my group work philosophy and experience in that part of the video. I’m hopeful that the bright shininess of Day One will prevent those “fourth” kids from checking out. Whenever possible, though, group work runs best for me with three kids. Just my experience talkin’ there. 🙂

  31. Laura,

    You are my English teacher hero, and I believe you must be a descendant of Superwoman. Your lessons are always creative and imaginative; your blog is detailed, eye-catching, just unbelievable. Your lessons on tpt are phenomenal. I keep telling myself that maybe one day when my five daughters are grown and out of the house, I’ll be able to do all of those things too. So until then, I have no problem borrowing ideas from you.

  32. Um, Darcee, with five daughters in the house, you certainly qualify for superhero status yourself! Thanks for this sweet note. You just made my day! 🙂

  33. Thank you for sharing, Laura. I love this, and I will definitely be using it on Day 1! Anyone have a tip on where to find the cheapest post-it notes in bulk? (By my count this will use around 1,500!)

  34. Great question, Delia! My dept. has a generous supply cabinet (lucky, I know), but I’m also thinking of cutting the larger ones, you know the full palm-sized ones, into thirds. And, of course, you could just cut colored paper into strips and set up the stations at desk clusters. Any secret sticky note hook-ups, folks?

  35. Big Lots! had packs of 400 for $2. Problem solved 🙂

  36. Hi Laura,
    I used this on Friday, our second day of school, with my HS kids. Our first day was spent trying to fix the schedules of EVERYONE because last year, a newbie guidance counselor (she’s gone after one year) made schedules that she thought kids should have, not what they actually requested. There were kids put into classes that do not and have not ever existed in our school, and seniors who didn’t have the needed classes for graduation. For some reason, she scheduled 9th grade first (NO NO NO Seniors First!). Anyway, our current and former counselor and two helpers did outstanding work and we were able to have our first day on the second day!
    I used your materials and my kids did a great job and had fun. I have many new students this year and it helped me get an idea of how they interact. We had some great discussions and they got to know me a little, too. I liked that they were up and moving. Thanks for the ideas!

  37. Hey Rho,
    Glad this helped to play a small role in salvaging a wild launch to the year. Things can only improve from here!
    🙂 Laura

  38. I have been racking my brain trying to think of an ice breaker I had experienced/used in the past that wouldn’t be too cheesy for my students. Thank you so much for sharing this. It gets the kids talking, starts to shift the focus to English and goal setting, and would make me happy to have a walkthrough on the first day of class. Thanks again!

  39. That’s awesome, Ms. Kimrey! Glad these materials mean one less thing to worry about this week. Success! 🙂

  40. Love your post-its idea but unfortunately I have large classes and each student x 8 post it notes is a lot for my pocket book ; any alternatives?

  41. A reasonable concern, Benny. Our department supply cabinet is stocked, so I’m definitely lucky there. Word on the street is that you can buy a 400-pack for $2 at Big Lots. If that’s not available, you also could side-step the sticky-note part and place the stations on tables and countertops around the room. Kids would write the sentence endings on slips of sliced up color paper and then just leave the slips at the station table before moving to the next one. I’d just make sure every team picks up every slip before the end-of-class bell rings; otherwise, you’re room will be covered with confetti by the end of the day. Hope this helps! 🙂

  42. Nicki Newton says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your resources! I can’t wait to use it in the fall. Thank you again.

  43. And thank YOU, Nicki, for reading and commenting. So glad you found the blog! 🙂

  44. Melodie Wick says:

    Thank you so much for your kindness!!! God Bless!!

  45. And thank YOU, Melodie, for commenting! So glad you like the materials. 🙂

  46. Elizabeth Roy says:

    Absolutely loved this activity! It resonated well with my grade 7 students and kickstarted our English class.
    Thank you for this awesome resource!

  47. Hooray, Elizabeth! Glad to hear this worked so well for your kiddos. 🙂

  48. Deborah Santagata says:

    Hi, Laura,

    I love this idea and used it last year. This is a great activity, but I was disappointed in the “level” of discussion, particularly from my grade 10 honors class. Overall, I feel that the level of group work has declined. How do I get my students to understand the difference between just going around and saying your answers and having a true discussion? Before you reply please know that I have tried the following: setting group norms, modeling, watching other students have discussions from The Teaching Channel, given rubrics, self-assessments on the quality, etc.

  49. Wow, you’ve tried a lot, Deborah! I’ve seen this same phenomena on occasion and it’s almost always with a section of honors students. Sometimes, the personality mix of a particular group of 34 kids is off and they take much longer to warm up than other classes. The cause? Our honors kids tend to “do school” well, but they don’t really express their ideas in risky ways, debate, mix things up, or (gulp!) risk getting fewer than perfect points. I don’t have a solution, only the ongoing effort to make things relevant and engaging for each particular group in our school day. Maybe you could tailor the question stems to be more reflective of the issues those particular kids are facing? Not sure, but I know there’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

  50. Hi!
    Love your videos and blog! As a slightly singed English (EFL) I certainly appreciate and recognize some of the life saveing strategies. In Sweden almost every teacher have at least to subjects and I trained as a Swedish literature and language arts AND dito English teacher. Suicide! What the heck made me decide that was a good idea I have no clue! Particularly at high school level, when the levels are pretty high and the students are expected to deliver to academic standard at the end of it. Cheeeeez!

    Anyway, bottom line is that this coming year I’m just going to mentor a class and teach two classes of Swedish. I am going to use this station activity on the first day of school, and I hope you won’t mind that I will translate your PP and adapt it to a Swedish classroom.

    Keep up your brilliant work!

  51. Go for it, Lotta! Hoping the activity sets the right tone for all of your classes. And don’t worry – you’ll soon find your groove with those preps. Hang in there. 🙂

  52. Beverly Coleman says:

    Where can I get the questions you mentioned for History, instead of English?

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