Ice Breakers and Team Building for Social Distancing or the Virtual Classroom
By Mary Montero
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Back to School 2020 is sure to be one for the history books. Desks 6 feet apart, plexiglass dividers, classes split into 2 rotations, in-person and online classes. What is a teacher to do when it comes to building a family in a classroom unlike any they’ve been in before? Coming up with appropriate ice breakers will present unusual challenges.
Like most things this year, many of our favorite classroom icebreakers and team building activities won’t work because they won’t be social distancing friendly. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Here are 10 social distancing and virtual classroom-friendly activities that will help you and your students get to know each other and set the foundations of a class family.
Ice Breakers for Social Distancing or the Virtual Classroom
1. Hello, My Name Is . . .
This is a fun game to play with your students in order to help them learn the names and some fun facts about their classmates. The idea is to use this game every day for 3 – 5 days in a row or play 3 – 5 rounds on one day. All you need are some “Hello, My Name Is . . .” name tags.
Each round will build on the last round using a different theme or question.
Round 1: Your Name
Have students write their name at the bottom of the white box on the name tag. They will need space to add other words in the white space in front of their name.
Round 2: Your favorite food
Have students write the name of their favorite food right above their name.
Round 3: Your favorite color
Have students add their favorite color on the name tag right before their favorite food.
Round 4: Your favorite hobby / activity
Have students add a favorite hobby or activity right before the color.
Round 5: Add an adjective that starts with the same letter as their name
Have students write an adjective that starts with the same letter of their name before the hobby.
To play, take turns going around the room introducing yourself according to the theme or question for that round. Each introduction should start with the words “Hello, my name is . . .” After each introduction, the class responds with “Hi ________!” repeating what the student said.
Here’s a Round 1 example:
Student 1: Hello, my name is Mary.
Class: Hi, Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is Jonathan.
Class: Hi, Jonathan.
For Round 2 each person will add their favorite food before their name. It might sound like this:
Student 1: Hello, my name is sushi Mary.
Class: Hi, sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, taco Jonathan.
For Round 3 each person will add their favorite color to their name like this:
Student 1: Hello, my name is green sushi Mary.
Class: Hi, green sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is blue taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, blue taco Jonathan.
For Round 4 it’s time to add a hobby to the mix.
Student 1: Hello, my name is singing green sushi Mary.
Class: Hi, singing green sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is reading blue taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, reading blue taco Jonathan.
For Round 5 each person will add an adjective that starts with the same letter as their name.
Student 1: Hello, my name is marvelous singing green sushi Mary.
Class: Hi, marvelous singing green sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is jovial reading blue taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, jovial reading blue taco Jonathan.
You can make this game last as many rounds as you want by simply adding or taking off themes or questions. However, it is the repetitive nature of the game, and the silly answers, that help students remember each other’s name and facts.
2. Two Truths and a Lie
This is a fun, classic ice breaker that allows students to share some little known facts about themselves while trying to stump their classmates too. Each student will write down two true statements and one lie about themselves. Let them know that they can put these statements in any order as the goal is for the class to try to figure out which one is the lie. Although this can be done without writing it down, I have found that with elementary-aged students it is very beneficial to give students thinking time first. Otherwise, you end up with students who try to think when it is their turn and it makes the truths and lie very obvious.
After everyone is done writing down their sentences, then go around the room having students read their 3 statements. The class will then vote on which they think is the lie. After the vote, the student will reveal the lie and can explain the truths if there is time.
This game could also be spread apart over many days. After students write down their three statements, have them turn in their papers. Then as time is available, the teacher will choose a paper, have the student stand, and then the teacher will read the 3 statements. The class votes on which they think is the lie. After the vote, the student reveals the real lie and can explain the truths.
3. Playdough Power Ice Breakers
For this ice breaker activity, each student will need their own small container of play dough. Since students are most likely not able to share supplies, they can keep this in their desk or with their supplies to use again and again.
This is one of my absolute favorite first day of school activities. I love to have it on the students’ desks ready for them to start when they first arrive. Having an activity that they jump right into that doesn’t require them knowing anyone is a great way to ease the first day jitters.
Have students build something out of playdough that represents them or shares something about them. Here’s some examples of what could be built:
● Your favorite animal
● Your favorite food
● Something that shows your hobby or something you like to do
● If you were an animal, what animal would you be? Build it.
● Build something that represents your favorite TV show.
● Build something that shows what you did over the summer.
● What you ate for breakfast.
After students build, then have a share time where students show what they built and tell how it relates to them. This activity could easily be repeated every morning during the first week of school, or longer, using a different build prompt each time.
4. Would You Rather
Get to know your students, their likes, dislikes, personalities and more with the classic ice breakers that is Would You Rather. Grab some Would You Rather questions from the internet and you are ready to begin. All you have to do is ask students the question and then give them a way to respond. For social distancing choose actions they can easily complete at their desk space like stand or sit. This makes for a great movement break to use throughout the first few days of school, too!
Let the students know that you are going to ask them to choose between two options. It’s okay if they like both or don’t like either, their job is to make a choice between the two. Let them know that if they like the first option best, they will stand up. If they like the second option best, they sit in their seat.
Then ask the Would You Rather question and give the students time to respond with your chosen signals. After each question, call on 2-3 students with each answer and have them explain why they chose their answer.
5. Quiz Time Ice Breakers
Make your first pop quiz of the year about the class. Keep notes of the things you learn about your students during your ice breakers and get-to-know-you activities. Then at the end of the first week, create a pop quiz asking questions about what you learned. Your students will love being the stars of the questions!
You can make it a paper and pencil quiz or use an app like Kahoot or Google Forms to make a digital pop quiz. This is a great way to introduce a new type of digital activity that you will use during the year too!
Getting to Know You and Ice Breakers Activities for Remote Learning:
Are you looking for a fun and engaging way for students to learn about each other? I have made my Getting to Know You back to School Task Cards DIGITAL! But these aren’t just task cards… They now include a to-slide Google Slides activity so students can put together an ebook all about them! It is possibly one of my favorite creations. If you still want to go the traditional task card route but don’t want to play SCOOT, I have also provided Google Slides versions of each of the cards so that you can project them at the front of the class.
Social Distancing or Virtual Team Building Activities
6. Secret Handshake
Build a sense of classroom community with a class secret “handshake.” Tell the class that you are going to create a secret handshake or motion that you can use with each other during the year. Let the class brainstorm some motions and then put together a simple secret handshake.
Some possible motions include:
● Air High 5’s, fist bumps, handshakes
● Touching a body part like the shoulder, nose, or head
● Wiggling or Moving a body part
● Turning Around
Try to develop a series that is about 5 movements or 5 seconds long. After you decide on the class secret handshake, then practice it a few times. Continue to practice it multiple times a day so that students can learn it quickly. Then use it as you say good morning, when you pick the class up from lunch or before you say goodbye for the day.
7. 20 Questions
Play a game of 20 questions (or use the number that is the same as the number of students you have so that each person can ask 1 question). Choose 1 person to pick a secret word (nouns usually work best) and have them write it down or tell the teacher. Then challenge the class to work together to figure out what the person is. This will require students to listen to each other’s questions, the answers and thinking about related follow-up questions that might help to narrow down the secret word.
After everyone has asked a question, then let each student take one guess.
8. Race to 100
This is a fun ice breaker that takes teamwork, cooperation and listening skills. Challenge the class to count to 100 as quickly as possible without two people talking at the same time. Once the game begins, they are only allowed to say the numbers from 1 to 100. If two people talk at the same time they must start over with 1. If the numbers are repeated or said out of order, the counting must start again at 1. It adds an element of competition if you time them or if you set a time limit.
This game works really well as a discussion starter for teamwork. After playing a couple of times, stop and talk about the difficulties and what could make it more successful. Then give the students 1-2 minutes of planning time allowing only one person to talk at a time during the planning time too.
After planning, let the class try the Race to 100 again. Then talk about how this attempt was the same or different from the other attempts. If it was more successful, have the class discuss the reasons why. Hopefully, these reasons lead back to planning and teamwork!
9. 5 Word Story
You are going to tell a story as a class. The catch, each student may only say 5 words at a time. Before you begin, make sure that everyone knows the speaking order so that you don’t have to stop your story to figure out whose turn it is.
If you have space for students to spread out and sit in a circle around the room, this is probably the easiest option. If students are at their desks, make sure that everyone knows who they speak after. You can also list the names of the students on the board and use that order. Just have a plan and make sure everyone knows it.
Then start the story. As you say the first 5 words of the story, hold up your hand and raise one finger for each word. Then look at the student who is next so they can continue the story. It might sound like this:
Teacher: Once upon a time a
Student 1: dog was running in a
Student 2: park. The dog was brown
Student 3: and white with a black
Student 4: spot over his left eye.
Student 5: A giant green and yellow
Student 6: lizard was chasing the dog
Student 7: through the park as it
Student 8: ran and looked around for
You can finish the story as a class or let it be the start of writing prompt. After everyone has a chance to add 5 words, challenge the students to finish the story in their writing journals.
10. All Linked Up Ice Breakers
So have you ever heard of the ice breaker game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”? You know, that game where you can connect any actor or actress with Kevin Bacon with 6 or less connections. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a sec and Google it. And, if you have no idea who Kevin Bacon is, well, just forget you read this paragraph and keep reading because Kevin Bacon really has nothing to do with this entire blog post, but I digress.
The idea of All Linked Up is to see if you can connect everyone in your class through common names, interests or activities. To do this, students will need to know things about each other, so this one might be best played at the end of the week or during the second or third week of school.
To start out, make the connections anything that the students have in common.
It might be something like this:
Mary is connected to Mike, Margaret and Matthew because all of their names all start with M. Matthew is connected to Sarah because they both have 2 brothers. Sarah is connected to Kim, Jennifer and Lola because they all like the color pink. Lola is connected to Jonathan because they both like to read. And so on . . .
Once you can connect the whole class in a few different ways, you might try limiting the connections to one or two commonalities like favorite foods or members of the family. Or challenge the class to see if they can connect everyone in 10 or less links.
There’s something about knowing that you are in some way connected with your entire class that helps you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself. You could also build a paper chain as a representation of these connections and keep it hanging in the classroom.
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.