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A Safer Icebreaker that Serves Many Purposes

The interviews

All teachers are familiar with icebreakers-activities you do with students to create a sense of community and help everyone get to know one another.  My first week has often included icebreakers.  One of my "go to" activities was a Scavenger Hunt.  Students  answer questions about themselves to complete a bingo sheet. They then wander around the room and find other students who have the same favorite color, same number of siblings, same phobia (you get the idea) as they do.  Most kids relished the opportunity.  A few cheated by signing people's names, rather than actually meeting someone new.  Most smiled or laughed.  However, a few students always looked terrified and downright miserable.  After reading an article this summer about why NOT to start the year with these types of ice breakers, I rethought my practice.  You see, the kids who enjoy them don't need any help "breaking the ice."  It's the kids who are miserable and don't participate,  who do.  Therefore, I began  my first week with student interviews.

First, students write five  ended questions about favorite things, five about least favorite things, and five free choice questions (think-if you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?). All questions must be OPEN ended.
Questions and Answers written by one of my students

Student examples
 I practice open ended questions with students, making sure to emphasize that the point of the activity is to have a conversation with the person they will interview.  I also remind them to write questions that anyone would be comfortable answering.  I give them TONS of examples, and they are welcome to steal mine or borrow from their table mates! As I call out a pair of names, I ask students to raise their hands so they can "see" their partners.   Many of the students don't know many people in the class. I  wait for them to move seats until I have called everyone's name.  I partner them with someone of the same gender.  If it's an odd number, I may have a group of three.  My goal is for students to feel comfortable and safe.  Seventh-graders feel more at ease with someone of the same sex.
Conducting Interviews

I model for students how to be a good interviewer and interviewee.  I encourage them to ask additional questions-like a real conversation.  Of course, they take notes!  I love listening to  students conduct their interviews.  They are so respectful of each other and such good listeners!

This week students will use this information to write a two-chunk paragraph.  This is a beefed up version of  the  basic Schaeffer chunk-paragraph. 
First, I will show them the rubric and two examples.  Before writing their own paragraphs, they will discuss and score the examples.  We will then debrief as a class.

This assignment helps students get to know someone new (or find out new things about someone they already know), lets them be creative, allows them to practice listening and speaking, forces them to take notes,  and provides a springboard for me to teach a paragraph format we will use throughout the year.  At the end of the year, many students tell me that the person they interviewed in August ended up becoming a really good friend! Mission accomplished!

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