Back to School: Introductions and Team Building

Students at all age levels will benefit from opportunities to be re-introduced to their peers. By structuring positive interactions, you offer students the chance to use in-person conversation skills, get to know one another, and build a positive social environment. These exercises also encourage movement. After more than a year learning remotely, students will need more physical liberties.

Concentric Circles

Clear the desks from the center of the room and divide the classroom into two groups. The first group forms a circle in the middle, facing out of the circle. The second group forms a circle around the first, facing in. Each person should be facing someone in the other circle.
Give students a conversation prompt. Put on music and a timer for 30 seconds to a minute, with each person in the pair taking a turn to answer. When time is up, participants from the inner circle takes a step to the right, facing a new person in the outer circle. You can offer a new prompt or stick with the same.
Consider these prompts:
  1. "What is a fun activity you like to do that is not video games, social media, or TV?"
  2. "What is your most unusual talent?"
  3. "What song(s) are you listening to on repeat these days?"

Yarn Toss

Materials: Large spool of yarn, Masking tape.

Clear the desks from the middle of the room and make a large circle. Ask a benign question that students wouldn't mind answering in front of the whole class, like "How many times do you look at your phone a day?"
Start the activity with one person holding the end of the yarn in one hand. They make eye contact with someone else in the circle, answer the question, and with the other hand, toss the whole yarn ball to that person. Make sure they hold onto their piece of yarn before and after they toss the ball!
The person who catches the ball of yarn goes, and the process repeats until everyone has gone.
There should be a "Cat's Cradle" in the middle of the circle, with the yarn zig-zagging back and forth.
Consider this:
  1. At the end of the yarn toss, when everyone has answered the question (i.e., caught-and-tossed the yarn), it will look like a multi-pointed star. Have everyone tape their point to the floor. Students can sit within the different shapes for reflection questions or a "Calm Moment" of mindfulness after the activity.
  2. The Yarn Toss can also function as a name game. After everyone introduces themselves, see how well students remember their peers' names. Instead of answering a general question, have students look at someone and say their name out loud as they toss the ball of yarn to them.

Silent Communication

Clear the desks from the middle of the room and make a large circle. The goal is for everyone to switch places with someone else in the circle at least once. Both parties will agree on the switch, but there will be no verbal communication. Instead we will use eye contact and a nod.
The activity starts with one person looking at someone else in the circle. They make eye contact and nod "yes" if they would like to switch places with them. The other person can either return the nod "yes" to give permission to switch, or they can shake their head "no". If that is the case, the person whose turn it is must find another person to switch with. Either way, there must be a response.
The person who has given permission to switch goes next: they find another person, make eye contact, request switching places with a nod, and the process continues one by one until everyone has gone. There can be gestures (and giggles!) but no talking.
Consider this:
  1. It may take a few tries to ensure everyone is clear about the rules. Take your time in explaining them, or have a student who understands explain to the rest of the group, even demonstrating a few times. Taking a bit longer to set yourself and students up for success will support a fun environment.
  2. If the activity goes very easily the first time, add a clap. Once players agree to switch positions by nodding, they must silently coordinate a simultaneous clap. Only after they clap at the same time can the person requesting a place change walk over.
  3. Despite seeming simple, this activity can be disorienting for students who find it difficult to make eye contact or control impulses. Offer a "drain-off" afterwards, like jumping in place or "shaking out", and follow up with some reflection questions, such as "How did it feel to negotiate without words?"