Saturday, August 25, 2012


I love using Icebreaker activities for the first few class periods to help the students get back in to the school groove and for us all to get to know each other better. The challenge for doing this with band classes is not using the exact same activity each year since I have the students for multiple years. Sometimes they really like the activities and constantly ask throughout the year, "Can we play that game again?" However I do like to keep things fresh and exciting for myself as well as them.

So this year I mixed and matched activities I have done in the past to create 2 activities that aren't necessarily new: they just have a new spin.

I purchased 4 types of patterned card stock at the dollar store to use as note cards. I could very well have used plain note cards, however the patterns are used as part of the next activity. I chopped the card stock into note card size and then mixed them all together to get an equal amount of each pattern for each class.

As the students arrived at the door, I handed them a note card and invited them to select a seat in the classroom. This is one of the few times that band students get to choose their seat instead of sitting in sections... they love it! Once everyone arrives, I verify that they all have a card and then give them 5 seconds if they want to trade patterns ("Pink is for girls!" "I want the stars!"). The next instruction is to have a writing utensil in their hand.

On one side of the card, they write: instrument played, favorite food, and favorite color. Yes, they can do multiple answers if they play many instruments, love all sorts of food (one student wrote: "anything edible"), and have a set of favorite colors. On the other side of the card they are to write one interesting detail that makes them unique. I give them a list of suggestions to get the mental wheels turning: sports, vacations, awards, activities, and "special" talents (aka Stupid Human Tricks, like wiggling ears). THEY DO NOT PUT THEIR NAME ON THE CARD.

I collect the cards and then randomly distribute them to everyone. While I am distributing, the instruction is to silently read the card they are handed and begin using "deductive reasoning" skills to narrow down who the card possibly describes. When I say GO they have 60 seconds to locate the owner of the card and return to their seat still holding the same card.

The final step is to go down the row and have each student share one detail from the card ("Evan's favorite food is Sushi") and then hand the card back to the owner. Even when I've known the student for multiple years, I still learn something new about them from this type of activity.

Using the same note cards, the student form teams of 4 based on the patterns of the note cards (cannot have 2 pink polka-dot cards on the same team). We clear the chairs to the perimeter of the room and the teams sit or stand in a circle. Each team receives a tennis ball. The goal of the game: create a pattern of movements using the tennis ball that progressively gets more challenging.

EXAMPLE: Student A gently tosses the ball up and catches it. A passes to B. Student B does A's motion and adds to pass around the back. B passes to C. Student C does A's and B's motions and adds switch hands. C passes to D. Student D does the entire pattern (toss, around, switch) and adds under the leg. D passes to A... and the game continues until someone completely gets lost in the pattern.

I leave them to work in the small groups for a few minutes, wandering around to check out the creativity and see how "long" they can get the pattern (such as 9 different motions). I add a little competition by calling out updates: "This group is up to 13!"

When they seem to have a pretty good grasp on the game, then I call "FREEZE" and ask the teams to combine with one other team to form groups of 8. We repeat the same process, now having to work with more people. Again, I leave them to work for a few minutes, calling out updates as I wander.

If time allows, we form one circle with all members and try to get a pattern all the way around the circle. Usually, it only makes it to about the 10th or 12th person before it's totally confusing or someone refuses to play. I don't make a big deal about it; I ask the students to grab a chair and sit approximately where they were before we cleared the chairs.

Now we discuss the game. What was easy about the game? What was most challenging? And the best question of all: Why did we play this game? I LOVE the connections they make between the game and playing an instrument in band: progressively gets more challenging, following directions, memorizing patterns, working together, helping each other, small versus big groups, doing the same motion over and over is easy but boring, and how the actions of one person can affect the whole group (remember the kid who refused to play?)

I took pictures of this activity, however I still need to verify the "permission status" of the students in the photos before I can post any. I will update when I have some I can use :)

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