Break the Ice: Activity 2 of 4 Favorites for Building Community

Posted by Dan Alba on August 7, 2015

Building on our webinar for creating a safe, reflective classroom community, this week each LA Program staff member of Facing History and Ourselves will share their favorite community-building activity. Here is post #2 of 4.

To Look At Me You Wouldn't Know...."

I absolutely love this simple yet powerful strategy to help build classroom community by breaking down students' assumptions and stereotypes about others.

Begin by asking students to jot down three things (or more) about themselves which others in the classroom would't know about unless they actually shared it with them. Offer some examples to consider such categories as hobbies, talents, personality traits, skills, pass time activities, favorite things to do, experiences, travels or family.

Allow time for students to think about this for a while. I often discover students have never been asked to consider sharing something others don't know about them.They sometimes find this question difficult to answer. Once you offer a few examples about yourself, they begin to get the idea and this helps them to generate similar things about their lives as well.

Ask students to be ready with three things which they are willing to share with the class. Let them know that they must begin their statement with the following words:

Hi. My name is ________. To look at me you wouldn't know......"

It is very important that each students begins with these same words to provide consistency, and the notion that unless they were specifically asked or they volunteered to share this part of their identity, no one would be able to know it "just by looking at them".

I often start this exercise to model for students how this is done. For instance:

Hi. My name is Mr. Alba. To look at me you wouldn't know that I have three brothers and three sisters all born in alternating genders (boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy)."

I remind students that there is no opportunity to question or respond to what others have shared. Students often find opportunities to have those conversations at another time!

Because students have their list in front of them, the first "go around" goes pretty smoothly. By the second round, because students are beginning to feel more confident with this exercise, some begin to think about sharing something more personal or deeper than they first listed. My second example might be:

To look at me you wouldn't know that I am the father of a 22 year old son with autism who has taught me more about his world than I can teach him about mine."

Depending on time and size of your class, you may decide to go around a third time. I have discovered with many classes, even more students share those deeper and more personal examples of their identity by the 3rd round.

As a debrief to this activity, you may want to ask students:

  1. How did this exercise make you feel?
  2. What did you learn by doing this with others?
  3. Were you surprised by what you heard from others?
  4. What has this exercise taught you about assumptions? About stereotypes?
  5. Why do we have a tendency to judge others based on so little information such as one's physical appearance?
  6. How can we avoid the pitfalls of our assumptions and stereotypes of others?
  7. Have you ever wrongly judged someone or been wrongly judged by others you never actually spoke to? Write about that experience in your journal.

Click here to see all the posts in this series. We have two more activities coming, but if you want some additional ideas over the weekend, check these out:

Topics: Safe Schools, Teaching Strategy, Breaking the Ice

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