Here’s a list of ways that a high school Bible teacher can begin class. The opening activity is known either as an icebreaker (usually a term used by church youth groups) or an anticipatory set (the formal term used in the academic world). There are probably distinctions between the two, but there’s also a high degree of overlap so I’ll use the term icebreaker because I like the way it sounds.
Let’s begin with a question: What’s the point of using an icebreaker? The point is to break the ice, of course. But if you’re a classroom teacher who sees the same students five days a week, what kind of ice needs to be broken? You’re already quite familiar with each other. I would suggest that the academic ice needs to be broken.
Bible class is different than other classes. What the Bible teacher is seeking to accomplish is unique. And that means students need to be in the right frame of mind where they can let down their guard and really think about God and life and relationships. Put yourself in their shoes: They enter a classroom, sit down, listen, take notes, then move on to the next classroom and do it all over again. Imagine doing that all day long. How do you want Bible class to fit into the scheme of things for them? Do you want it to be just another class? Hopefully not because there’s a devotional and spiritual aspect that’s at the heart of Bible class which is not necessarily the case in other classes. So the way I see it, an icebreaker can serve to change the academic atmosphere for the students.
Ideally the icebreaker will connect with the topic of the day. Well, at least that’s the idea behind an anticipatory set. But if your goal is to get to know the students a bit better and help them relax somewhat then I wouldn’t be too concerned that the icebreaker directly connects with the lesson. (Your administrator may disagree.)
While it’s not wise to use an icebreaker every class period because “familiarity breeds contempt,” it’s probably safe to use an icebreaker two or three times a week, but you’ll have to be the judge of that.
If you’ve been a classroom teacher for a while, you probably have your own list of icebreakers. After all, who knows what suits your personality and your classes better than you? Here’s my list, some of which I’ve used on a weekly basis.
- Random Lessons – Allow students (one or two per period) to come to the front and individually share anything they want with the class. (If you want to hear from every student you’ll probably have to make this a requirement.) I’ve had students share the layout of their neighborhood, how they make a sandwich, a story from their childhood, how to save the world from hunger, a book they recently read, a joke, . . . Encourage the students to think about sharing things they don’t usually share. Also make sure to give a time limit (ideally about five minutes unless it’s especially interesting). This is a great way to get to know the students.
- Interview – Act as if you’re a talk show host and invite one student to the front and ask anything that comes to mind.
- Ask a question – Make up your own question or use a book of questions such as The Conversation Piece: Creative Questions to Tickle the Mind. You can also spur on creative thinking by asking lateral thinking questions such as “How is a book like a light bulb?” If you don’t have a creative question handy ask what they’ve learned from a previous class or ask them about what they were discussing before class started.
- Prayer – There are many ways to incorporate prayer but let me give a caution: taking prayer requests may take a long time.
- Lectio divina – Silent meditation and prayer based on a passage of Scripture. One person reads the passage slowly three times pausing between each reading while the others attempt to internalize the words and then turn their thoughts into a prayer.
- Word associations/brainstorm – Write a word on the board and have students write down words or phrases that they associate with it. You can also do, “things that make you sad, angry, bored, etc.” This can be turned into a competition by awarding the student with the most associations. It’s usually fun to read these to the class.
- Graffiti – Ask students to come to the board and draw something related to a particular theme. To alleviate the stress for students who lack confidence in their drawing skills, have students come to the board in groups and draw individually. The following groups can build upon what’s been drawn or draw something different. This is also a good end of the semester activity.
- Random Bible lesson – Give students five to ten minutes to flip through the Bible and find something to share. Then call on one or two to come to the front and read a verse or passage and give a short explanation.
- Q & A – Have students write out questions about anything. Throughout the year pick out a question and then have the class write individual responses to the questions. Review the answers and give your answer.
- Progressive Story – Give the first line of the story and then have each student add a line or two.
- Play catch – Bring a ball to class and randomly throw it to students. You can also have them get into a circle and you can get a couple balls going at the same time. This can be a review activity if you ask questions to the person who caught the ball. If they miss the ball or answer incorrectly they’re out of the circle.
- Exercise – You can ask review questions while doing light exercising such as stretching.
- Tell a joke or funny story – Tell one yourself or ask one of your class comedians to share one.
- Play a quick game – e.g., sword drill, 7-up, thumb wrestling, hang-man
- High point and low point – of the day, week, weekend, year . . .
- Devotional reading – Read a selection from a devotional book of your choice.
- True or False – Write three true facts and one false fact about yourself then share with the class. Break the class up into groups and have them guess the false fact.
- Show a video clip or an image
- Play or sing a song
Feel free to add your own ideas to the list and make sure to use what works with your personality.