Deirdre Moore | August 2017

4 Arts Icebreakers for Back to School

If you are starting to plan your first 6 weeks of school, in addition to helping the students learn the routines of the classroom and the school you will want to plan activities that: are highly engaging; let you learn about your students and help the students get to know one another; let students start playing with the arts before you start trying to integrate them with content later in the year.  Here are a few ideas to help get students engaged, connected and ready for arts integration.  And these icebreaker activities work for adults too!  The resulting artworks can be shared if you so choose but just the act of creating will help facilitate connections between people.  If you have the artists name their work that can be shared with the whole class with an explanation of why they gave the piece that name.  This would allow everyone to get to know a little more about the presenting artists.

Theatre:  Tableau – I know, I know, you may feel tableau-ed to death but it really is a great accessible and non-threatening way to start building that classroom community.  Just hear me out….

  • Human Sculpture – One way to start is to talk about negative and positive space. Have one student create a large shape at a high level that creates lots of negative space.  Show how you can build on that space at another level using the negative space so that you are connecting to that student in space without actually touching them.  Allow students to begin to build on the shape until it feels “done”.  Remind them to create a shape where they are holding their own weight and choosing a body position that they can maintain for a number of minutes as others build onto the sculpture.  Anyone not involved in this human sculpture can suggest a name for the sculpture.  Repeat this process several times in a row to allow those who are more hesitant time to warm to the activity and start to feel safe with it.
  • Picture This – Another way to inspire tableau is with images. Pictures of inanimate objects that have interesting spatial relationships are best (like a tangle of yarn).  Have the students break up into small groups of 3-5 students, give them an image and let them at it.  You can have them name their own tableau or, if you choose to have the groups share the tableau, the audience could suggest a name.  You may wish to photograph the resulting tableaux and share them immediately via computer or phone or iPad under a document camera or with a smart board so all the students may see the results including the performers.

Visual Art:  Collaborative Drawing – This can be done in partners or in small groups.  Have the students work for a limited time (adjust it depending on the size of the groups but 2-5 minutes should be plenty).  Each student chooses a color of marker, crayon or colored pencil.  The first student makes a mark of some kind on the paper – a dot, a line, a shape (organic or geometric).  The next student uses her/his color and adds another mark to the piece.  Have the students name the piece and be prepared to explain the name.  You may wish to extend this activity to make further use of the art pieces created.

  • Have the artists select one portion of the piece that is their favorite and, you guessed it, have them create a tableau of the section. Both the art piece and the tableau can be shared along with the name.
  • Have a gallery walk of the resulting art pieces. Give the students sticky notes and have them walk around and put down a word or phrase that describes the piece.  Then have the artists collect the sticky notes about their artwork and create a poem by arranging the words and phrases suggested by their classmates.

Dance/Movement: Cooperative Improvisation – Have the students work in pairs (if you don’t have even numbers 3 students could work together).  Give them a physical challenge, put on some music and let them improvise together.  You can have this work like freeze dance so when the music turns off, the dancers need to freeze and wait for the next set of directions or challenge.

  • Stuck on You – Tell the partners they must move connected to one another in some way and cannot disconnect from their partner(s). Tell them the specific way they must connect (link elbows, palms touching, shoulders touching, index fingers touching, backs touching, etc.).  You may just let them experiment with moving together or you may add to the challenge but having them change levels, add a turn, do a particular locomotor movement like hop, jump, slide, etc. or axial movement (non-locomotor) like melt, rock, stretch, shake, twist, etc.
  • Stuck with You – If you want to try a different approach or if you have students who might be uncomfortable physically connecting to another student, have a prop connect the partners. Use a scarf, a piece of yarn, a ball, a hula-hoop (if you have lots of space), etc.  Give similar challenges to ones above but add spatial relationship words like around, under, between, etc. to help inspire movement.  Having the students turn under while both or all 3 stay connected to the prop is always a fun challenge!

Music:  Conduct a Chorus – Singing together is always a bonding experience.  Creating a chorus where you don’t actually have to be able to sing can be even better!  You can begin being the conductor but depending on your students, they may be able to take on the role after some practice.  Teach the performers hand signals for getting softer (diminuendo) getter louder (crescendo), speeding up (accelerando) and slowing down (ritardando,) cutting off, and coming in.  Have the students stand in vocal sections just like a professional chorus with all eyes on you for your direction.  Then your chorus is ready to sing!

  • Animal Chorus – Choose a popular song that all the students might know and have them sing it using animal noises. It ups the silly factor so there is no self-consciousness about the singing but still allows them to do something together and your conducting can keep it from getting too silly.  Imagine “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” sung by chickens.  You could even make a round with each new group voicing a different animal!
  • Emotional Chorus – This approach truly requires no singing. Brainstorm some different emotions with the class.  Split them into small groups and assign them one of the emotions.  The groups need to create a sound and a movement to express that emotion. Stand the students with their vocal/emotion section and begin conducting.  You can get really fancy with this, directing one emotion to become louder as another is getting softer, having one section have a solo or bringing all the emotions together getting faster and slower.  This can be really fun but it actually requires great focus and cooperation too.

Allow yourself and your students to have some fun, get to know one another, and learn some great arts strategies through these arts icebreaker activities!  Enjoy your first 6 weeks of school and beyond!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.