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Sub Forum: Icebreakers, Motivators, Fillers and Breaks

In our last Substitute Forum for the year, we focused on motivators, icebreakers, filler activities and other things that we could do to engage students in the lesson.  As a substitute teacher or paraprofessional, we don’t always have the luxury of using our previous relationship with the students to communicate expectations, establish a well developed process or appeal to each student’s genuine interest.  We have to do quite a bit on our end to find what works and what doesn’t. 


Multiple people commented on the need to connect with the students, whether giving a 30 second “highlight reel” of who you are and your interests to incorporating facts about the school or asking the class about their favorite pets and introducing them to a picture of your own.  It was also mentioned by one of our attendees that they will try to touch base with the hard-to-reach student and see if they can get some background information.  They’ll ask questions to see if they had breakfast that day, got enough sleep or if they are ok today.  While it hasn’t always broken through, it was stated that it has helped that student feel more comfortable in the class and be more engaged in the day.


To break the ice, a couple people mentioned pointing out the cool student work that has been set up around the room or that they are working on.  One uses it very proactively when they walk into the class and has found the students begin to talk about their work and feel a sense of value.  Another had mentioned that after having a rough start to the day, began to comment and take interest into their work during art, which defused a lot of the morning emotions and helped “restart” the day in a very positive light.  An elementary teacher will use the morning meeting to greet and introduce everybody.  She’ll have the students pass a soft, squishy ball and they each say, “Good Morning Mrs. ___________, my name is ____________”.  Another will use the day’s schedule of events, write them on the board and ask students, by show of hands, who likes the various subjects that will be covered that day. 


When we discussed keeping students motivated, one had talked about how he incorporated humor to keep the atmosphere light-hearted and fun; others had mentioned rewarding students with responsibilities.  Some districts/schools have systems set in place already, but maybe incorporating classroom responsibilities like that student becomes the front of the line, taking attendance or running an errand.  Another will write a word on the board, like Fantastic, and break the day into segments (am/pm, before recess, before lunch, before home, etc.) and track class behavior with a star in the section when following expectations.  When students are struggling to succeed in an area, she will write a phrase or word on the board, like Quiet Learning, and erase letters it continues to be a challenge.


There were a number of suggestions when we discussed filler activities and breaks.  One was observed being implemented by a staff member, when they needed to fill some last minute time.  They took out some blank paper, markers, crayons and pencils and directed the students to draw a self-portrait and kept the students focused and on-task while they were waiting for the next event.  Another suggestion was a “Turn and Talk”.  Noting that students will want to talk amongst themselves, she creates an opportunity to do so, having the students turn to their neighbor and quickly talk about the topic and afterwards, will have them share what they discussed.  Aside from using school approved technology resources and websites, another couple people incorporate physical activity into their breaks, whether using dance or physical exercise.  Many had commented on finding success in using them that physical activity to work out the pent up energy.


 Keeping students engaged can be a difficult process, especially as the year comes to a close.  If you have any other tips or strategies that you use, please share them with us at training@teachersoncall.com.  We appreciate all of the hard work that you do to help students continue to learn and grow each day!