Cultivating a safe space is your primary goal with back-to-school activities.

Back-to-school activities help people get comfortable with each other and are useful for both you and your students. Games that encourage middle school students to let down their guards and share the quirks of their personalities help to cultivate a classroom environment in which students feel safe to be themselves and look forward to learning.

New Authors

Explain to the class that each student will write a short book about anything they want, as long as the subject is important to them. Provide them with different kinds of paper in case they want to add covers to their books or add illustrations. Offer them staplers, markers, colored pencils and whatever they need to create their books. Afterward, ask for volunteers to share their work with the class. Sharing will help your students to get to know each other and allow them to talk about their interests while focusing on the subjects more than on themselves, which can help reduce anxiety. For example, a student who likes cooking could write a short cookbook. A student who loves video games could review a new game that has just been released.

Instant Replay

This icebreaker will help your class learn everybody's names, as well as a little about each student's personality. Have the class form a circle, and join them. Explain that you will say your name and then perform a gesture of your choosing, such as double-thumbs up. The student beside you must repeat your name and copy your gesture before saying her name and adding a gesture of her own. This process continues until everyone has repeated the name and gesture of everyone before them and it is now your turn again to finish the game. You must then repeat everyone's name and gesture to end the game. You should encourage your students to help each other whenever necessary.

Ups and Downs

Before class, prepare a list of general phrases that could relate to at least one student in your class. These could be phrases like "has an older brother in this school," or "plays softball" or "is really good at math." Start the activity with the entire class seated. Tell them that if the phrase pertains to them, then they should stand up, and if it doesn't they should either sit down or remain seated. Begin calling out phrases slowly, and let students see who stands and who sits. Then, after they've become comfortable, speed up and watch your students get excited by all the up and down activity in the room.

Brief Biographies

This activity is a twist on the "tell me about yourself essay." Have students work in pairs, and explain that they have 10 minutes to learn as much about their partners as possible. They don't have to ask each other any specific questions, and let them know that it's OK to joke and have fun. After the 10 minutes have passed, have each student write paragraphs about their partners that they will then read aloud to the class. Furthermore, students are not allowed to consult their partners once they begin writing. After everybody has read, lead a discussion about which kinds of details were the easiest to remember and which were the most difficult.