Mingles and circles: Dynamic activities to launch the school year
Monday, August 15, 2016
Take advantage of your new students' eagerness to socialize by setting up fun, interactive exercises that take into consideration important beginning-of-the-school-year objectives, from student introductions and diagnostic assessment to promoting group unity and inclusive behavior.
Grouped as mingles and circles — interaction patterns that promote connection within the group — these activities are designed to move students physically and emotionally.
Mingling activities allow students to move freely around the classroom and engage in brief one-on-one connections with several different classmates.
Clear ground rules such as "you need to mingle with everyone" or "only one question per interaction" help prevent students from being left out. This interaction pattern is exhilarating for students but can get loud, so consider using a bell to pause the game if you need to intervene.
Who am I? is a mentally-stimulating guessing game where each participant is given a famous person's name written on a mailing label to stick on his/her forehead. Students circulate formulating and responding to yes-no questions until they figure out who they have.
Since the teacher selects the content when preparing the labels, it is an excellent opportunity to informally assess retention of material studied in prior grades, such as presidents, historical figures or even important landmarks.
Conducting surveys of peers is fun way to get acquainted with new arrivals to the group or learn more about familiar classmates. Younger students particularly enjoy this activity and can use symbols to record their survey results.
Depending on the grade level, teachers may assign the questions or guide the class in writing ones that illicit intriguing personal facts about each other. By working as a group to develop the survey questions, teachers have an opportunity to discover their new students' interests as well as promote student sensitivity by modeling appropriate questions and fielding ones that may make some classmates uncomfortable. Mapping the results to create charts is an excellent way to extend this exercise.
Meeting newly entering classmates and making new discoveries about old friends gets even more animated with Snowball Fight, shared by Rachel Lynette on her blog. To start, each person writes three little-known facts about him/herself on a sheet of paper and loosely crumples it into a ball. When the teacher gives the signal, all the students throw their ball and engage in a friendly snowball fight until the teacher signals "stop."
Students open and read the nearest snowball, then circulate to figure out who it belongs to. Gathering in a circle, they then share their three facts with the class. The teacher may elect to open this up into a group discussion or to transition into one of the following circle activities.
Circles are ideal for inspiring a sense of unity and fairness within the group early on in the school year. The interaction pattern promotes class sharing and teacher facilitation. Students can see and be seen by everyone in the class so it’s best that the activity is set up to be non-threatening to them.
Spider Web, posted on the blog What I Have Learned, facilitates student introductions, and its surprise ending provides a unique opportunity to reflect on the importance of inclusion within the group. Depending on lesson aims, the selected topic may be personal information such as likes and dislikes or what one did over the summer. For older students, it's a chance to share personal objectives for the school year or life aspirations.
The group begins seated in a circle on the floor. Holding a ball of yarn, the teacher initiates by sharing something personal along the lines of the theme she or he has chosen, then rolls the ball across the circle to a student who does the same and rolls the ball to another until everyone has shared.
Once the yarn has crisscrossed to create a web, the teacher explains how it symbolizes the classroom and guides the students to reflect on how each individual is part of the web and necessary to group's entirety. One is asked to let go of the yarn to demonstrate how the web changes when someone isn't included. This activity provides the ideal opening to further discussion of issues of inclusion and exclusion in the classroom.
A nonverbal ice breaker activates students' bodies, creativity and somatic memory. Standing at arms distance from each other, the first student invents a movement that everyone imitates. Each consecutive student performs the prior students' movements in order then adds his or her own. The only movement the whole group does together is the new one, which keeps everyone alert and moving instead of waiting for his/her turn.
The activity can continue for several rounds in one direction or be repeated in the opposite direction. For multilevel groups of language learners, this exercise serves as a nonthreatening and unifying warmup before a challenging lesson.
Here's a new twist on the popular back to school topic, "What I did over summer vacation." Adapted from an exercise for practicing the conditional with language learners, this chair game begins with students seated in chairs.
Standing in the center of the circle, the teacher starts the game with a conditional statement such as, "If you went camping during vacation, switch chairs." The students to whom this applies stand up and run to a new chair, the teacher quickly sits down leaving one student standing who is the next person to make a command. Brainstorming or modeling ideas for the commands prior to the game is a helpful option for young students or less advanced language learners.
Whether used as the main lesson or to complement what you've already planned, these activities fit into almost any first week curriculum. One or two may be used to activate student reflection or imagination prior to an individual assignment.
A spirited mingling game can flow directly into a thought-provoking circle exercise. Imagine these ideas as little springboards to inspire your own versions, adaptations or inventions of activities that energize and inspire your particular group of students, now and throughout the school year.
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