Breaking the Ice

Facial hair shaved? Check. Tie tied? Check. Lucky watch? Check. Shirt tucked? Check. Stable door closed? Check. Shoe laces tied? My shoes don’t have laces. ¿Estoy listo? Si…pienso. After I gulped the last of my café negro, my pupils expanded like two shiny black balloons being blown into. Looking in the mirror, I had a brief Stewart Smalley moment then departed for my first day of student teaching.

At the school, I immediately noticed a difference: I could wave to people, to custodians, to security guards, to other staff members, and most importantly to other teachers. I owe that small transitioning bit of comfort to Lilliam, my supervisor.

The day after my arrival in Costa Rica, Lilliam brought me into the school and literally stopped into each room and classroom to introduce me to the staff and students. At the time, I was embarrassed. Imagine being in the middle of teaching a lesson and suddenly a teacher-in-training peeks his question-mark-stamped head in and mumbles, “He-Hello.”—absolutely distracting. To the students, I’m sure the scene looked like that game where a gopher’s head pops up, and the mallet beats it back down. I retreated before I saw the mallet.

Despite my embarrassment, Lilliam’s immediate interrup…introductions rid my spine of youthful angst; her methods had worked. Because of this, on my first actual day of student teaching, it felt like my respiratory system had been unclogged and a heavy weight had been taken from shoulders. I could now operate.

I had one objective for my first day: break the ice. To do so, instead of the usual EminemHi, my name is,” I used an activity. This activity requires one small, soft, and squishy ball; the idea is to break the ice, not noses—though, that would be one heck of a primer and a surefire way to memorize a student’s name. Other than the ball, students need paper and a pen or pencil. Besides that, there are no additional material requirements.

Before introducing myself, I explained to the students that we are going to participate in an activity. I instructed the students to get out a sheet of paper (which they can cut in half and share with a neighbor because they will only be writing six words). I explained, “The first three words you write must be adjectives that describe yourselves. However, the first letter of each adjective must begin with the same letter of your first name, for example, benign Brian.” After they wrote the first three adjectives, I instructed students to write three more words, but this time the words must be participles (verbs acting as adjectives, e.g., breathing Brian). The students needed assistance finding words, so I told them to use dictionaries, bounce ideas of each other, and ask me.

After the students had written six words (some had four or five), I instructed them to circle one of their six words. Then, I told students to stand up, rearrange the classroom as necessary, and create a circle. I stood in the circle holding the squishy globe ball, which I specifically selected to point out to students where I’m from (Chicago) and to say to students, “The world is in your hands.” Once the students filled in the circle, I explained the instructions: “I will toss one person this ball. But, before I do, I will say my word and my name followed by the intended receiver’s word and name. For example, benign Brian [I pointed to a student and asked for her word and name]…versatile Vicky [I tossed the ball]. Understand? Okay, before we start, let’s go around the horn and have everyone say their word and name [everyone said their word and name]. All right, ready? Benign Brian…”

Here is an exact representation of the icebreaker activity:

I completed this icebreaker activity in each class, and each class it consumed about 20 minutes. In two classes, I had to prolong the activity; to do so, after the first round of call and toss, I asked students to select one of their participles. Once they had their new word, I informed students that they must act out that word (e.g., for breathing Brian, I inhaled and exhaled deeply).

Though seemingly childish, the students enthusiastically participated. The icebreaker activity was not merely for having fun; it accomplished several practical objectives: one, it afforded me the opportunity to learn the students’ names; two, it provided students a taste of my personality and teaching philosophy; three, it broke through the initial awkwardness and established a small sense of comfort and classroom community; four, it introduced me to the students and the students to me; five, it assisted students with vocabulary improvement; and six, it provided me an opportunity to gauge each student’s vocabulary and speaking ability.

At the end of my first day of student teaching, the ice broken, two cooperating teachers (both for oral English) expressed their willingness to bestow upon me the teacher’s responsibilities of their classes. I envisioned a dubbing ceremony: in the gymnasium, front and center before staff and students, the teacher would ask me to kneel. She would proceed to “knight” me with a gentle touch of a meter stick on each shoulder, and, gallantly, I would rise a teacher. Disappointingly, there was no dubbing ceremony. However, after one official day of student teaching, I had obtained the responsibilities for two sections (five total classes) of oral English. For so long, I had wished for my own class, and now my wish was granted. I needed to plan.


For my first day of student teaching, there were five points that helped me:

  • Asking to be introduced to the school, staff, and students before the first actual day of student teaching
  • Preparing an icebreaker activity
  • Showing confidence and interest
  • Speaking articulately
  • Asking questions (to everyone, students included)

Additional Resources

Icebreakers (page of icebreaker links)

More icebreakers (page of icebreaker descriptions)

Even more icebreakers (index of icebreaker links)

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13 Responses to Breaking the Ice

  1. joey d says:

    Brian! Pam and I are so proud of you. We knew that you would take this opportunity and run with it. Best of luck in your future endeavors.


    Joey D

  2. rdunc says:

    You learned this “icebreaker” game camping at the dells didn’t you?

  3. Vicky Roach says:

    Wow Brian, what an incredibly creative teacher you are. Thanks for sharing, please keep doing so, I love to read what you’re doing and staying connected. Love to You always. Uncle Bill & Aunt Vicky

  4. Ann says:

    Drew & I enjoyed reading your blog. I guess now i know what one is…
    How fun, yet a lot of work and planning. I wish I could see it all happening; especially the ball game. Ann, amazing or anxious, depends on the day or mood….
    This is going to be a totaly memorable few months, you wont want to come home… Go for it. so proud of your courage and sense of adnventure.
    Love, Ann

  5. David Bloomquist says:


    Sounds like a good first day for you and your students. But you forgot to address what was on the minds of all the students….”Please tell us about Ditka!! Is he real or just a myth ? We understand that he actually created the universe. If you touch his mustache will you really have eternal peace? When his blood spills is it really dark blue and orange ? Does he actually walk on Lake Michigan ? What did happen when Ditka met Hurricane Ditka ? Is he God ? ………I am sure my friend that you had their undivided attention. You talk about an ice breaker! Just say the name”Ditka”.

    Hope all is well

    Serenity Now

  6. Aunt Sally says:

    Hi Brian – Ann just emailed me your blog. Loved reading about your teaching adventure in Costa Rica. Sure sounds like you are going to do a great job and having a wonderful experience. Your introduction to the kids was a great idea. Love reading this. Keep the news coming. Love you, Aunt Sally

  7. tina says:

    Brian – Your dedication and passion come shining through this post! You will be a fantastic teacher because you recognize the various learning styles of your students and plan lessons accordingly. Thank you for recognizing that the days of “open your book to page 203″ are long gone. If you ever rely on the dreaded 6 letter word “p-a-c-k-e-t” I will find you wherever you are…….but I know you will rely on something much more innovative – your own creativity as you inspire and touch many lives! Go Brian! Enjoy the experience!!!

  8. Aunt Patsy says:

    Hey, great start up, especially with the icebreaker game! Sounds great Brian! What a thrill to finally be teaching your own students. It sounds like these kids already speak a bit of english – does that mean you are not dependent on Spanish to get around the class?

    Exactly where are you and what ages are your students-class level?
    Every day’s a new day! Enjoy sweetheart! xo Aunt Patsy



  10. DEBBIE HENNING says:


    • Brian says:

      Aunt Debbie, you can find my first post on my blog. Look under recent posts; there are only two posts. You’re looking for the post titled, “Arrival”. Thanks for the support.

  11. I don’t always agree with your posts, but this was dead on, way to go!

  12. Pingback: max

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