Monday, August 22, 2016

Please Welcome Walton Burns

About Walton
   Hi! My name is Walton Burns and I’m from Connecticut. I started my teaching career in the Peace Corps in Vanuatu, an island chain in the South Pacific. I loved the island life, but I fell much more in love with my eager and enthusiastic students. I’ve been a teacher ever since, teaching in schools and doing private tutoring. More recently, I’ve focused on materials development. I sell some materials on my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. Last year I was on the author team of a textbook series for primary school students, Hang Out! from Compass Publishing and this year I’ve published a book of icebreakers called 50 Activities for the First Day of School.

Icebreakers Aren’t Just for the First Day of Class 

Getting to Know You!

   We all know the benefits of an icebreaker at the beginning of the school year. Students learn better in a friendly environment and helping students get to know each better makes your classroom feel friendly. Also, on that first day when students feel very new, putting them in a small group to share information about themselves is a bonding experience. Icebreakers are also a chance for them to find others that they have something in common with, maybe connect with outside of class. Finally, as a teacher, it’s good to know some of the interests of your students and learn more about their lives at home. You can adapt the class to your students’ lives.But what about after that first day? How many of us go back and give students a structured time in class to reconnect and re-share? It’s easy to get caught up in the rollercoaster rush that is teaching, but here are a few reasons why it’s worth taking time to revisit getting-to-know-you activities throughout the year. I’ll also suggest an activity or two that works well for me.

Changing Life Situations

   Over the course of a semester, let alone the school year, our students’ lives change. In some cases, there are dramatic changes such as getting a new pet, or Mom getting a new job. In other cases, the changes may feel dramatic; As a first-grader, my world was rocked when my favorite climbing tree had to be cut down and as a high-school freshman I felt like my whole identity changed after my best friend moved two towns away and I only saw him on the weekends.Now, we know that students will share changes with their favorite teacher and their friends. But it’s also nice to give them a chance to share with the class, to process how it changes their identity, and find out that others are going through similar changes. An activity I like to do to check in is the 3-2-1 Introduction. It’s easy to adapt this activity by changing the categories of things students share. To check in with students’ changing lives, have them write 3 things that are new in their lives, 2 things that have stayed the same, and 1 thing they are looking forward to in the near future. Then, have them share their sentences with a partner. Finally, have each student share one thing about themselves and one thing about their partner with the class.

Changing Interests

   Along with changing lives come changing interests. I remember a well-read student who was crazy about John Grisham for three months before discovering Stephen King. Well, that led him to horror movies where he discovered John Carpenter. Since I like to tailor my lessons to my students’ interests, it’s nice to let them share those interests. You can use the 3-2-1 Introduction, I discussed above with students sharing 3 things they like to do, 2 things they don’t like, and 1 dream job. Another great activity is a variation of Who Wrote That? Have students write two hobbies or interests on a piece of paper. Collect the papers, mix them up, and hand out two random slips to the students. The students’ job is to find the person who wrote each paper. To do this, they must ask questions such as, “Do you like reading?” or “Who’s your favorite author?” Then have each student report back to the class one thing they learned about a classmate.

Changing Dynamics

   School is a microcosm of society and often the volume is turned up to 11. The kid who bullied you in September is your lab partner in October. Your best friends used to all get along, but now Eva and Logan aren’t talking to each other, so where does that leave your social circle? Obviously, we don’t want to condone idle gossip or cruel comments in class, but letting students “announce” their new BFFship can relieve some tension or put the rumor mill to rest.You also want students to know that regardless of social dynamics, they have to work together as a class. They don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but they do need to be helpful and respectful. Activities where students work together toward the same goal are great ways to practice putting aside social dynamics in class. Have your students do a group project like following a plan to build something out of Legos following a set plan or solving a complicated mystery.

Changing Needs and Goals

   Finally, doing needs evaluations in the first week or so of class is extremely important. It helps shape the class to your students’ goals and objectives. But needs change. I had a student who needed a great deal of business English for his job. However, after studying for 6 months, he decided to pursue a master’s in the US. Suddenly, he needed academic English. So, as you are checking in with your students’ changing lives, interests, and relationships, don’t forget to think about how their needs also change. A great easy evaluation that can be done any time in the year is an Often, Sometimes, Rarely Evaluation. Have students draw 3 columns on a piece of paper. At the top, have them write Often, Sometimes, and Rarely. Now, have them write various things they do in English (or ways they use math, or times they need calming techniques, or whatever it is that you are teaching) in the appropriate columns. You can even have them indicate the really important tasks with a big star!
Have them share their evaluations in a small group, looking for similarities or differences. They can then report to the class what their members need to do most in class. Obviously, make sure that you collect and keep these evaluations. Pay attention to the class needs and also how individual students’ needs change over time.


   I hope this article has convinced you to do icebreakers (maybe we should call them rapport builders or check in activities) throughout the school year and not just on the first day of school. Our students, like all human beings, are works in progress. If we acknowledge that their lives are changing and will change again, we can teach them to be resilient in the face of change.


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