Icebreakers work

All classes should provide students the opportunity to share about themselves


Illustration by Mikaylah Du

An illustration of a student shedding their mask and revealing their identity to others.

Ishaani Dayal

Every school year brings a new set of people into every class, and with it, a new set of names to learn and personalities to discover. Students are often given the chance to familiarize themselves with the people around them through icebreaker activities. These name games and get-to-know-you activities permit students to become more comfortable with each other and recognize others in their class, establishing a less rigid and more effective learning environment.

However, there are certain educators who go a step further in their efforts to familiarize students with their classmates. In Contemporary Literature, for example, seniors participate in activities that let them share different aspects of their identities and personalities beyond just their names and favorite colors. Topics such as race, gender, sexuality and socioeconomic status are discussed in depth in activities at the beginning of the year. 

Identity and related topics play a large role in some of the units covered in Contemporary Literature and other English classes at MVHS, but this shouldn’t restrict classes of other subjects from hosting similar conversations. All classrooms should work to foster an atmosphere in which students are able to feel comfortable with each other, which can be achieved through introducing activities that allow students to open up about their identities.

Organizing activities that specifically affirm identity and spark in-class discussions on race, gender, sexuality and other topics can help cultivate a safe classroom environment according to Edutopia, an online resource for educators. The goal of icebreakers is to create “identity safe classrooms,” environments in which students are not at odds with their sense of self and are comfortable with their knowledge of others. By opening up the floor for everyone to speak on their individuality and experiences, students have the opportunity to acknowledge and support their peers, who would otherwise be unaware of the unique circumstances that set students apart. 

To foster more identity-safe classrooms, educators should encourage students to elaborate on their own experiences and hear others’ perspectives as well, which would allow for more open mindedness and diversity of thought. Educators should refrain from diving straight into the coursework on the first day, with no time dedicated to icebreakers, because it can be difficult to feel a sense of community or comfortably collaborate with classmates in those classes. Teachers should take measures to promote inclusivity in the classroom, despite how rigorous or academically intense the class may be. That investment will, in turn, contribute to an environment that will actually lead to more productivity as well, through a stronger sense of community and more willing communication between peers. 

Educators who are in charge of day-to-day curriculum in classes are responsible for hosting a classroom environment that supports students no matter their identity. Regardless of the subject, it’s necessary for people to feel comfortable in whatever environment they are in to create a place for growth and learning. By allocating time at the beginning of the year — and a few times each semester — for students to speak about their identities and personalities, students and teachers will be able to take a step forward in ensuring that MVHS remains a place where students are comfortable sharing their identity with others.