I really hate icebreakers. As a participant in PD Sessions I regularly avoid participating if I can get away with it. I am always terrified of saying something stupid and the anxiety leads me to say something, well, stupid. If I hate them so much why would I make a teenager, someone whose social capital is likely the only real thing of value they control, take this same risk. So I tried to develop some get to know you activities that take the pressure off of the student and transfer some of the potential embarrassment back onto me.

Setting the Theme

The biggest “get to know you” I have is centered around my “Superhero” theme. When students start my course they have a “mysterious accident” involving a powerful primary sources that give them “Historic SuperPowers”.

The final “mysterious orb” links to an “Avatar Creation Google Form” where they can determine a number of “game play” options. On this form students:

  1. Create a Superhero Name
  2. Select a Superhero Costume
  3. Determine their super power from a list of 8 possibilities
  4. Determine the city the will “protect” (which also gives a power)
  5. Write a character backstory
  6. Share out their “non-superhero” talents (personal strengths)
  7. Share out their “non-superhero” kryptonite (personal weaknesses)

The goal with each of these questions is to allow students to reflect on their own personal learning styles, their own expectations for the class, and allow them to strategically plan for how they want to structure their experience in my classroom.

Selecting the Super Powers

You can check out the Super Powers and City Protector Powers here.

Some of the Powers have an impact on taking tests. Some of the Powers will impact the class games. Some impact the strategies for earning XP.

“Get to know you” Backstory.

The best part about this activity is the students create a backstory for their avatar character. The key to this backstory is that I allow them to write either a fictional or in real life backstory. This option allows the student an “out” if they don’t feel comfortable sharing yet. Yet, even if they write a fictional backstory I am learning about them – either their creativity or where their interests lie. I also ask them what their non-super talents and weaknesses are. Most of the time the students are brutally honest in all three backstory categories. Much more honest than if I were to do an icebreaker involving the whole class.

Creating a Class Gift

Taking all of this information I make each student a gift.

Using Google Draw created a template card for each of the superpowers. In this image I have created a card for myself with the Super Strength super power template. The card has the student’s name, costume selection, initial city status, their Superhero name, and their backstory. I print and laminate these cards. It takes some time but once I begin handing them out students that missed a day will seek me out to get theirs. It has the added benefit of reminding students of their powers when it gets close to test time. I have also contemplated adding a Plicker QR code to the back for quick check ins.