To create positive engagement with new classmates; to demonstrate and celebrate the variety of students’ experiences and backgrounds; to ensure centrality of student voices from the first day of class; to give a taste of and curiosity about class themes; to connect class themes to students’ experiences and lives.
Icebreaking; modelling welcoming of diverse backgrounds; learning something about students’ biographies and tastes and skills.
Prepare a list of items/categories in a grid on a Google doc. Design categories to suit the subject and students, or simply surprising topics.
Create a grid with blanks.
Make sure the Google Doc is shareable and editable; keep a blank copy for yourself to reuse.
Created a 2-page 3-column table in a Google Doc that asks students to find a classmate who had a particular characteristic (it can be 17 x 3 boxes but can be fewer).
Susan Blum’s reflection on doing this activity online for the first time: For an anthropology course, many of the items celebrated can be cross-cultural, international, multilingual backgrounds, as well as student responsibility and schooling, because this [Susan’s course] is an anthropology course, and the topic is concerned with childhood and education. Nothing was too terribly personal, and students could volunteer if they had characteristics of one of the more personal boxes.
I also wanted them to chat very briefly and introduce themselves because it was the very first day of class. At my university there is a familiar “script” involving dorm, hometown, and major. I asked them to brainstorm, in the chat, questions they wanted to know more about, but to avoid these overused topics. (This also makes the class theirs, not mine.)
The instructions were:
- Open the Google Doc before they arrived in the randomly generated breakout room (link sent in chat)
- Enter the breakout room
- Introduce themselves by name
- Ask one of the questions they’d generated in the chat
- Fill in as many of the blanks as possible
The first breakout room took the longest–about 10 minutes–because they were becoming familiar with the categories. I could see, on the Google Doc, when they were still writing and when they seemed to be pausing.
They had 3 rounds, which in this class means they got to interact with about half the students.
I filled in a few squares, just to be fun, though I didn’t join any of the rooms.
I had initially lamented the lack of physical activity and the energy of people moving around a room together, with their physical sheets and pens in hand, but the affordances of writing a collective Google Doc were also beneficial.
Preparations: 1 hour
Class time: about 15-25 minutes
ADAPTATIONS AND EXAMPLES
In-person: give printed pieces of paper and have students physically circulate.
Asynchronous: have students fill in their own names, possibly with an image. Or ask them to contact random students in the class (taking care to protect identities) and see what students are willing to reveal about themselves.
Redo on the last day or in the last week of class, but have the students generate the categories.
Breakout rooms, Google Doc.