The first few days of school are so important—it’s a chance to get to know your new students and set the tone for the year ahead. But finding the right high school and middle school icebreakers can be a real challenge. Older kids can see the usual “getting-to-know-you” activities coming from a mile away. And they don’t want to risk looking silly or awkward in front of their peers. So in order to gain real buy-in, you’ll need to choose activities that are meaningful and fun. Here some of the best high school and middle school icebreakers to try.
Here’s a tip: Before you ask kids to tell you about themselves, be sure to introduce yourself first! We’ve got a great list of ways to introduce yourself to students here, and a lot of these can be flipped for your students to use too.
Now you’re ready to ask kids to reveal a bit about themselves. This is an opportunity to find ways to connect with them in the months ahead, and for them to find new friends too. Here are some high school and middle school icebreakers that really do help teachers and students get to know each other.
1. Flip-Book Intros
Have you tried Flipgrid with your students yet? It allows teachers and kids to record and safely post short videos—and it’s completely free! Record a Flipgrid video to introduce yourself to students, then have them do the same. We love that this is a low-risk way for kids who hate talking in front of the class to introduce themselves.
2. Would You Rather
Would you rather … do math homework or go for a two-mile run? Read a book or watch a movie? Wrestle a gorilla or swim with alligators? No matter what questions you ask, this is such a fun way for kids to mix and mingle. Pose your question, then have kids move to different sides of the room to show their answers. Give them a few minutes to chat about the topic before moving on to the next one.
3. Classmate Bingo
Use this free bingo card generator to create your own Classmate Bingo cards. Give one to each student, then set them loose to find another student who can initial each space. If you have enough kids, make a rule that each student can only initial one space on any card. Offer small prizes to the first student to fill in a row and the first to fill their whole card.
4. Blobs and Lines
Teacher Jenn of Cult of Pedagogy loves to use this one with her students. Students respond to prompts either by lining up (in order of height, birthday, alphabetical by middle names, etc.) or gathering in “blobs” (grouped by type of shoes, hair color, favorite ice cream flavor, and so on). Jenn loves that it’s ridiculously easy, low-risk, and gives kids a chance to find out what they have in common.
5. What Do You Meme?
We found this idea on Mondays Made Easy. Find some popular meme images on the web, print them out, and post them in various places around your classroom. Start class by asking kids to find and stand by the meme that best represents how they feel about the subject you teach. Let them chat in groups for a minute or two, then pose a few more icebreaker questions for them to group together and discuss.
6. Speed Meetings
The old “interview each other and introduce them to the class” bit is pretty played out. Try this twist instead, which is a lot like speed dating. Divide the class in half, and have them sit in two concentric circles facing each other. Ask an icebreaker question, set a timer for 60 seconds, and let each pair discuss. When the timer dings, the outside ring moves one seat to the left. Give the new pairs a new question, and set the timer again. You can continue this as long as you like. Tip: To increase engagement, have kids help you generate the list of icebreaker questions before you start.
7. Safe Social Media
Your students may or may not use social media in real life, but they can all use this classroom-safe form of it. Use this free online Fakebook generator, or try a printable template instead. Kids can personalize these in ways that are appropriate for school. (This also gives you a good opportunity for a lesson on internet safety and using social media responsibly.)
8. Collaborative Playlist
Music is meaningful to each of us, and the songs we love can be a window into our personalities. Ask each student to contribute one song choice to a class playlist, along with an explanation of why they love that song. (Depending on age, you can decide on parameters for lyrics and language.) Create the list on Spotify so all students can listen to one another’s songs. If you allow music in your classroom, add this playlist to your collections.
9. Word Clouds
The words we choose to define ourselves can be really telling, and word clouds are a fun way to see that in action. Kids can create word clouds by hand on paper, or try one of these free online word cloud generators instead.
10. Two Truths and a Lie
This one’s a classic icebreaker, and for good reason. Ask each student to share two facts about themselves and one lie, without identifying which one is untrue. Other students try to guess which one is the lie. Kids always have fun coming up with stuff to fool each other!
Many teachers start the first day of school by sharing their classroom rules, assigning seats, and introducing the year’s agenda. Now, let’s be honest: Most kids tune out when you start sharing your rules. They’ve heard them all before, right? So, try giving your students some ownership over the expectations in your classroom. You’ll be surprised at how this can be a real game-changer.
11. Seating Plan Spin
In the beginning, any seating chart you create is pretty arbitrary. The main purpose is to have students in the same seat each day so you can get to know their names, right? So start out by letting students decide how the initial seating chart works (but they CAN’T pick “sit wherever we want”). They might suggest options like “alphabetical by middle names,” “grouped by birthday month,” and so on. Then, they vote to choose the winner. Finally, kids figure out how to get themselves into the right seats using the rules they chose.
12. Right or Wrong Skits
Here’s an idea from The Teacher’s Prep. First, share your classroom rules and expectations. Then, divide kids into small groups, one for each rule. The group has 10 minutes to prepare short skits showing the right way to follow the rule and the wrong kind of behavior. Kids really have fun hamming up the wrong behaviors, and they’re all much more likely to remember your rules.
13. Classroom Constitution
By middle school and high school, students tend know instinctively the rules they need to follow. Give them ownership by letting them draw up the class constitution. Brainstorm expectations for a good classroom (this pic shows examples from The Teacher Dish), then create the guidelines they’ll need to follow to make that happen. Craft the language and have everyone sign. This is a project that can take more than one day, but it’s especially fun in social studies, history, and government classes. Get a free online lesson to walk you through the process here.
14. Shared Goals
From day one, you’ve got an agenda with lesson plans ready to go, of course. You’ve probably got standards to follow and routine projects you do every year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take time on the first day to find out what your students really want to know. Post a few anchor charts around the room with the following questions. Have kids circulate and write their answers on the charts. Then, look each one over as a class and talk about the responses. Try these questions:
- What do you think you’ll learn in this class this year?
- What do you really want to learn in this class this year?
- How can your teacher help you learn and succeed?
- What are you most looking forward to in this class?
- What do you dread most about this class?
15. Try a Blind Kahoot!
Here’s another fun way to introduce your class to what they’ll be learning. Create (or find) a Kahoot that covers the basic fundamentals of your syllabus. Kids will likely moan and groan over each question, but it will give you a chance to learn what they already know, and help them discover what’s coming in the semesters ahead. Learn how to create top-notch Kahoots here.
Team-building activities can be a lot of fun, though you’ve got to pick them carefully, especially with this age group. Be sure to debrief when you’re done—ask students to think about why you had them do this activity and what they learned from it. And if you’re choosing something physical, remember that not everyone in the class may be able (or willing) to participate, so think about how you’ll handle that in advance. Find a list of our favorite team-building games and activities here, which are great to use for high school and middle school icebreakers, or try some of these ideas.
16. Tarp Flip Challenge
Spread a few tarps on the floor. Get groups of students to stand on them. The challenge? They have to flip the tarp completely over without stepping off of it. Other students can watch to help keep them honest!
17. Scavenger Hunt
There are so many ways to use scavenger hunts as high school and middle school icebreakers. Is this a new school for your students? Send them out to explore it. Want to show them around your classroom? Set up a hunt for different areas and resources. Just want a fun chance to get to know them? Do a hunt to see which group can produce various items (purple pen, hair scrunchie, breath mint, etc.) from their bags or pockets the fastest. The point is to get kids working together in groups and having a little fun.
18. Classroom Escape Room
If you really want to impress and engage your students, start off with an escape room. You can theme it to help them learn more about you, about the school, or the subject you’re teaching. Kids will have to work together to beat the clock, and each student’s individual skills will make the group stronger as a whole. Learn how to plan and set up a classroom escape room here.
19. Common Thread
Divide students into groups of four and have them sit together in these small groups. Give each group five minutes to chat among themselves and find something they all have in common. It could be that they all play soccer, or pizza is their favorite dinner, or they each have a kitten. Whatever the common thread, the conversation will help them get to know one another better. Repeat this activity in new groups as many times as you like.
20. STEM Challenges
STEM challenges are great high school and middle school icebreakers because they get kids thinking outside the box and working together. There are so many you can try, and they almost all only require the most basic of supplies. We especially love the Catapult Challenge from Science Buddies. Looking for more ideas? Find our big list of STEM activities for all ages here.
21. Classification Challenge
Prepare a tray (or a picture collage) with 20 unrelated items—for instance, a spool of thread, an eraser, a juice box, etc. Divide your class into groups and challenge them to put the 20 items into four categories that make sense to them. For example, they may put an earring, a glove, a headset, a sock, and a smile into the category “things you wear.” Have groups work quietly so that their ideas are kept secret. When each group is finished, give each one time to present their categories and their rationale behind each category.
22. Perfect Square
This activity requires strong verbal communication and cooperation. Kids need to be blindfolded, so you may want to allow some students to opt out and be observers instead. Blindfolded students try to take a piece of rope and form a perfect square. It’s harder than it sounds, but if kids master it too quickly, ask them to try a harder shape, like a circle or a hexagon.
23. Follow the Leader
Ask for a volunteer guesser and have them leave the room. While they’re gone, choose a leader and have the group stand in a circle. The leader begins a movement, which the rest of the group must mimic. (For instance, the leader might jump up and down or wave their arms over their head.) Invite the guesser back in to stand in the middle of the circle as the movements continue. Every so often, the leader changes the movement, and the rest of the group follows. The guesser must try to determine who the leader is by watching the group’s actions closely.
24. No-Hands Cup Stacking
So simple and so fun! Students use a rubber band attached to pieces of string to pick up and stack cups into a pyramid. Want to make the challenge even greater? Don’t let them talk while they’re working, limit them to one hand only, or make the strings different lengths.
25. Game Day
Imagine your students walking into class on the first day to find a stack of board game boxes! Games actually make terrific icebreakers, and lots of them help you with team building too. Try cooperative party games like Codenames, Herd Mentality, Pictionary, or Decrypto. Find more terrific classroom games here.