Middle school is the transition ground between elementary and high school. It's the time when students put away childish habits and learn to function as young adults. High school operates on the assumption that students take what they learned in middle school and perfect it. One of the most important skills for middle schoolers is getting to know their peers and working with them effectively. Following are some suggestions to assist students doing that.
Give students a sheet of paper marked with a five-by-five grid containing 25 squares, each of which has some information about a fellow classmate. In each square, they must write the name of someone who satisfies the information in the square. For example, if square 10 has the words, "Has four grandparents still alive," then they must write in the box the name of someone who fills that description. Some great information to include in the squares are those that get people talking about themselves and their pasts. But be careful not to make the statements too personal, because middle schoolers can be shy and uncomfortable talking about things for which they feel they might be judged.
Ask students to pretend they are interviewing the world's most famous celebrity (the person next to them, for example). The class should come up with 10 good (but not too probing) questions they would ask the celebrity and then pose the questions to their seat mate. These questions can sometimes be humorous or serious. In the end, though, they will make students talk to each other and get past any initial awkwardness they might have felt at being strangers in a classroom together. After they have both taken turns being the interviewer, they should pretend to introduce them to the classroom as the guest of honor. Everyone likes feeling special, so end each introduction with a round of applause.
Guessing in Groups
Place students in groups of five. Have each group gather one fact about each person in that group. One member of the group should give the list of facts to the teacher who will then present them to the class. The class then has to guess which member of the group fits which fact. This activity helps students get to know each other, but it also forces an analysis of how physical observations shape our perceptions of people. Afterward, a discussion about first appearances and perception can help students to break down some barriers and perhaps make friends with someone they may never have approached in a different situation.