This is part of an ongoing series of “What’s Working” posts that highlight something good in education at any level (policy, school, classroom).

As many schools do, my school has an advisory class, in which teachers work with a group of about 12 students to build relationships, study habits, and social-emotional skills. I always want my advisory to be this cohesive “family-like” group, but I often find the regular social divisions that exist among early adolescents to be a barrier to this cohesion. This year, I’ve committed to starting the advisory period with good icebreaker activities that would help build a positive group dynamic among the members of the advisory—whether or not they identify with one another or are part of the same friend groups.

One of the best ice-breakers has been “speed socializing,” something I imagined pretty randomly around the start of school. I tried it out and found that it worked. I shared it with the other advisors on my grade team. Several tried it out with their groups and found that it worked as well. Thus, I’m sharing it with you.

1. I instruct students to sit two at a table. (The desks in my room are arranged in clusters/tables.)

2. Tell the students we are going to do speed socializing! Inevitably someone makes a joke about speed dating. “We’re not going to do speed dating!” I assure them. “But who knows what that is?” A student laughs while explaining his or her understanding of speed dating, and everyone else has a laugh about it too. “Speed socializing has nothing to do with dating! It’s about getting to know the people in this group, and working on your conversation skills.”

3. “One person at your table is A, and one person is B. Decide who will be A and B right now.” Give them 10 seconds or so to do this.

4. “Now, for one minute, A will ask B a question and B will answer. The first question is, ‘What’s good about this school year so far?’ If B answers with a short answer, ask a follow-up question.” Model what a follow-up question is. “After one minute, I will say switch. Then B asks A the same question.”

5. After one to two minutes, I say switch. I walk around a bit and check out some of the conversations, just to see that they’re happening. In some cases, I remind students to ask follow-up questions. After another minute, I call time. “Time’s up!” The two minute time is pretty quick, and you could decide to allow it to go on longer, but I think it’s key to keep it moving quickly so energy stays high—leaving them wanting more, not stalling out.

6. “Now all the A’s stand up. A’s move to the table to your right, rotating clockwise.” A’s move to the next table, so there are new partnerships.

7. “The question is still, ‘What’s good about this school year so far?’ but if you have an idea for a more interesting question, you can ask that instead,” I say. This gives students the opportunity to be creative, but no one is lost for a conversation topic.

8. Keep switching in the same direction. I generally let this go on for 10-15 minutes. (At some point, all A’s have spoken with all B’s, but A’s haven’t spoken with A’s and B’s haven’t spoken with B’s. If time permits, the best remedy for this I’ve found is, “Now talk to someone you haven’t talked to yet!”)

9. One of the teachers on my team who tried it said she ended by having students write down good ideas for “speed socializing” questions on notecards, which she put in a bag for next time. The students were excited to try it again with the new questions.

I enjoyed watching students respond to the novelty of the short, forced conversations, as well as the freedom to ask whatever they wanted. Some seemed to be honing the art of conversation, while others went for a more interview-like style, asking a series of questions, serious and silly alike.

What favorite activities do you have that bring a diverse group of students together?


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