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  • Writer's pictureScott Cameron

Symbolism Ice Breaker

Updated: Aug 6, 2021

We are all familiar with the first few days in our classroom. It’s a little tense because our students don’t know us, and we don’t know them, but I love the first few days so much. I love the energy in the hallways and the fact that everyone is full of smiles.

It’s so important to make the first days exciting. In a way, we establish the rhythm and tone of the class for the rest of the year in the first week back to school. We want that week to be intellectually stimulating and a time when we can allow our students to feel comfortable raising their hand and telling stories.

In the past, I would give students a list of questions and then ask them to share one of their answers. They told me about their summer travels, their pets, or their favorite band. The activity helped me learn their names and a little bit about them.

Some years I brought an object from my home like a rock from my garden and put it in the middle of the classroom. It needs to be something random to make it funny. I ask students to write anything about the rock. Many will personify the rock. Hello, Mr. Rock. Or they will take on the voice of the rock. Or draw a picture. Even though it’s the same rock, they all respond differently. They have a different understanding of the rock because they have different experiences, different worldviews.

Last year, since we started remote, I had them show a symbolic object from their home. This activity didn’t demand too much personal information right off the bat, and it generated some good laughs to start a pretty awkward year. I met a lot of pets, and heard about jewelry, awards, photographs, musical instruments, souvenirs, concert tickets, hats, gadgets, and even siblings.

After the activity, we then had a conversation about symbolism. How could everything around us be symbolic? How do we endow everyday objects with meaning and life? How do the things we see have significance and evoke feelings? How do the objects we keep represent who we are? How can words have more meaning than their dictionary definition? How is there a story behind everything we see? How does every single word on the page have the power to inspire a different image or understanding for each person that reads it? How can one single reality and moment in time mean different things to different people? How is our ability to effectively interpret language essential to our participation in a democracy? How can symbols, objects, and words help people relate to one another?

This year, I’ll try a symbolism ice breaker, where each student can talk about or physically present a symbolic object. I will also allow them to show a picture if they’d like. It can be a pencil, a shoe, a hat, an award, a postcard, a concert ticket, candy, a bookbag, jewelry, a folder, a wallet, goggles, a hockey stick, whatever. They just have to explain why it’s symbolic.

Symbols are objects that contain stories. This activity will combine the worlds of literature, stories, identity, place, meaning, and community. Let’s make our students and their stories the heart and soul of our classrooms.

Scott Cameron

English language arts teacher

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers

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1 Comment

Maureen Brady
Maureen Brady
Aug 06, 2021

I love this! What a great way to begin the year. Sounds like your students are lucky to have you.

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