One math icebreaker I've used for most of my teaching career is called, A Handshake and a Question Icebreaker Activity. I continue to use this ice breaker with students because it has a component to it that teaches a basic concept of social interaction...This activity offers the opportunity to teach students how to shake hands and introduce themselves, a skill that isn’t included in most textbooks.
As my new students participate in this math icebreaker I assess their current math skills and observe how students interact with each other. This activity allows me to see which students are initially shy and which are naturally more gregarious.
You can also continue to use this icebreaker throughout the year as a way to review and assess students' fact-based knowledge.
To assist you in implementing this icebreaker activity in your classroom, I've created a printable download with instructions and directions to cycle students through a set of interactions!
Before you dive into the details of how it works, I want to inform you that the process of this activity is a bit challenging. This icebreaker math activity is worth the initial confusion, so hang in there!
How it works:
You will need a set of flashcards with a problem on one side and its answer on the other side. You can use almost any math content that can be put on a flash card. You will need one flashcard for each student.
For a beginning of the year icebreaker, I often make a custom set of cards, using material students have covered in the previous school year.
Pay careful attention to how students progress through the lines while you assess their progress.
Step 1: Students face each other in two lines. They should look at the student across from them and give them a firm handshake, introducing themselves. This is a skill students will need to be able to do with school visitors, people they meet, and—eventually—on their first job interview.
Step 2: Students take turns asking and answering each others’ questions from the flash cards.
Step 3: Students exchange flashcards. This step is very important, so they can be exposed to more math facts. If done correctly, the cards stay in the same place as the students progress through the lines.
Step 4: Now this is the hard part—they need to “progress” to the next partner. You can download a diagram that shows you visually how the progression works.
Step 5: You now are back at Step One. Remember that the handshake has two functions: 1) teaching how to shake hands and make introductions, while 2) making sure that after each progression you use the handshake to be sure every student has a partner.
In addition to planning icebreaker activities so you can get to know new students, the beginning of the new year can be stressful with teaching classroom routines, establishing a classroom community, assessing students’ previous knowledge, and diving into content-area instruction.
Download the Math Back-to-School Kit filled with resources that will help relieve some of the stress and ensure teachers, academic coaches, and administrators lay the foundation for strong math instruction! Kit includes:
First Week of School Activities
- Tell Me What You Think About Math Survey
- Figure Me Out Math Activity
- A Handshake and a Question Icebreaker Activity
More Ways to Enhance Math Instruction- Ideas to Make Math Class More Fun Survey