Don’t break the ice: Melt the resistance

This month many teachers are thinking about how to get a new school year off to a good start. If you are one of them, instead of trying to find ice breakers for opening week, think about ways to involve students that will melt their resistance to your course.

In my writing classes, I use an activity I call I’m a writer.” I ask students to begin by putting their names in this sentence: “I’m ____ and I’m a writer.” I have them explain what they do that’s writing, which means defining what they think writing means, and discuss their strengths and weaknesses as a writer.

I do this activity through informal writing, but you could use it with small groups as oral activities or through a combination of informal writing (to aid in gathering ideas) and oral presentation to small groups.

Teachers in other subjects with whom I’ve shared this idea have adopted it to other disciplines, with openers like these:

  • “I’m ___ and I’m a mathematician.”
  • “I’m ___ and I’m a scientist.”
  • “I’m ___ and I’m an historian.”
  • “I’m ___ and I’m a visual artist.”

Introducing themselves as practitioners of the course content puts all the class members on the same playing field. Some may be better players than others at the start of the school year, but the wording of the activity forces students to identify themselves as individuals who are already participants in the discipline of the course.

Students may not believe they are writers, mathematicians, etc., but just saying they are makes writing or doing math a bit more palatable. If you can start the year without anyone saying flat out “I hate writing” or “I hate maths,” you’ve already won a victory.

[Updated 2/27/2014 to remove links to material no longer available.]