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August 23, 2016

Aspiration Balloons Icebreaker With a Sprinkle of Character Traits

By Mary Blow
Grades 3–5, 6–8

    Forming trusting relationships goes a long way in classroom management and student motivation, especially in middle school. The aspiration balloons icebreaker activity helps me to get to know my students while encouraging them to reflect on the type of person they want to become.

    I borrowed this activity from blogger Dave Stuart and added my own twist. On his blog, Stuart writes about his icebreaker, “A Simple, Powerful Tweak on the First Day of School Index Card Activity.” Instead of using index cards like Stuart's high school students, we use balloons and mini-pictures of my students to create a bulletin board. The image of sixth graders floating upwards toward their goals sends a powerful message. In addition, the activity provides a window into students’ perceptions of themselves while introducing character traits, a concept we discuss in our first unit. After all, words that describe people also describe characters, which is why the bulletin board doubles as a celebration of our aspirations and as a character traits word wall.

     

    Materials

     

    Define Aspire

    My goal last year was to look for opportunities to insert vocabulary lessons. So, I started this lesson by teaching the definition of the word aspire. Hanging in my classroom is a Word-of-the-Week chart. Usually, it showcases SAT words, but during activities like these, I insert relevant key words. You can download my Aspire Word Wall as a teaching tool to post in your classroom.

     

    Discuss Student Aspirations

    Engage students in a think-pair-share activity, discussing their aspirations. Ask your students to think about the type of person they aspire to be. I clarify stating, “I don’t want to know about the person you used to be or the person you are today. I want to know what type of person you aspire or hope to be when you are grown up.” If they get stuck, I say, “Think of one word that you hope your favorite person will use to describe you when you are older.”

    During think-pair-share discussions, students identify their aspirations and explain why they chose it. This is one of my favorite parts, not just because I am learning about my students, but because they, too, are bonding, forming a classroom family.

    As a class, we brainstorm a list of aspirations from our discussions, positive character traits, and the definitions. Later, I convert this list into a reference sheet. You can download our list of Positive Character Traits to guide your classroom discussion. Notice that the definitions are not necessarily dictionary definitions, but our interpretation, our personal connection to the word. My students keep this handout in their notebooks for future character trait discussions.

     

    Creating Aspiration Balloons

    Last year, I created an Aspiration Balloons Template and printed it on white cardstock paper. The students decorated them any way they wanted. Printing them on colored cardstock is a good idea, too, but you want to make sure the color is light enough to see the students' work. This year, after some reflection, I decided to use balloon accents or cutouts (36 in a set) available at Scholastic’s Teacher store. They are inexpensive and save valuable class time.

    My students and I discussed that the bulletin board, the character trait word wall, would be more useful if we had added our interpretation of the definitions to the balloons. You guessed it. We are adding the definitions this year. For example, a student would write the word adventurous and what it means to be adventurous — going outside of my comfort zone and trying new things. This helps them to determine the subtle differences between two similar yet different words such as committed and determined.

    While the students are decorating their balloons, I take pictures of the students in different poses, pretending the balloons are pulling them up, up, and away toward their aspirations. The students have a little fun and get creative. Notice in the pictures below that some students showcase their acting skills. It is a good idea to have each student stand against a solid background wall, making it easier to cut out. My wall is light beige, so if a student blends into the background too much, I have two other students hold up a dark green bed sheet.

     

    Aspirations Bulletin Board and Character Trait Word Wall

    On the second day, after printing a 4 x 6 photo of each student, the students cut out their mini-me images and adhere them to the balloons with string and tape. We celebrate by arranging them on the wall, a reminder of our aspirational goals and a reference for positive character traits vocabulary in later lessons.

     

    More Icebreaker Ideas for Middle School

    Forming trusting relationships goes a long way in classroom management and student motivation, especially in middle school. The aspiration balloons icebreaker activity helps me to get to know my students while encouraging them to reflect on the type of person they want to become.

    I borrowed this activity from blogger Dave Stuart and added my own twist. On his blog, Stuart writes about his icebreaker, “A Simple, Powerful Tweak on the First Day of School Index Card Activity.” Instead of using index cards like Stuart's high school students, we use balloons and mini-pictures of my students to create a bulletin board. The image of sixth graders floating upwards toward their goals sends a powerful message. In addition, the activity provides a window into students’ perceptions of themselves while introducing character traits, a concept we discuss in our first unit. After all, words that describe people also describe characters, which is why the bulletin board doubles as a celebration of our aspirations and as a character traits word wall.

     

    Materials

     

    Define Aspire

    My goal last year was to look for opportunities to insert vocabulary lessons. So, I started this lesson by teaching the definition of the word aspire. Hanging in my classroom is a Word-of-the-Week chart. Usually, it showcases SAT words, but during activities like these, I insert relevant key words. You can download my Aspire Word Wall as a teaching tool to post in your classroom.

     

    Discuss Student Aspirations

    Engage students in a think-pair-share activity, discussing their aspirations. Ask your students to think about the type of person they aspire to be. I clarify stating, “I don’t want to know about the person you used to be or the person you are today. I want to know what type of person you aspire or hope to be when you are grown up.” If they get stuck, I say, “Think of one word that you hope your favorite person will use to describe you when you are older.”

    During think-pair-share discussions, students identify their aspirations and explain why they chose it. This is one of my favorite parts, not just because I am learning about my students, but because they, too, are bonding, forming a classroom family.

    As a class, we brainstorm a list of aspirations from our discussions, positive character traits, and the definitions. Later, I convert this list into a reference sheet. You can download our list of Positive Character Traits to guide your classroom discussion. Notice that the definitions are not necessarily dictionary definitions, but our interpretation, our personal connection to the word. My students keep this handout in their notebooks for future character trait discussions.

     

    Creating Aspiration Balloons

    Last year, I created an Aspiration Balloons Template and printed it on white cardstock paper. The students decorated them any way they wanted. Printing them on colored cardstock is a good idea, too, but you want to make sure the color is light enough to see the students' work. This year, after some reflection, I decided to use balloon accents or cutouts (36 in a set) available at Scholastic’s Teacher store. They are inexpensive and save valuable class time.

    My students and I discussed that the bulletin board, the character trait word wall, would be more useful if we had added our interpretation of the definitions to the balloons. You guessed it. We are adding the definitions this year. For example, a student would write the word adventurous and what it means to be adventurous — going outside of my comfort zone and trying new things. This helps them to determine the subtle differences between two similar yet different words such as committed and determined.

    While the students are decorating their balloons, I take pictures of the students in different poses, pretending the balloons are pulling them up, up, and away toward their aspirations. The students have a little fun and get creative. Notice in the pictures below that some students showcase their acting skills. It is a good idea to have each student stand against a solid background wall, making it easier to cut out. My wall is light beige, so if a student blends into the background too much, I have two other students hold up a dark green bed sheet.

     

    Aspirations Bulletin Board and Character Trait Word Wall

    On the second day, after printing a 4 x 6 photo of each student, the students cut out their mini-me images and adhere them to the balloons with string and tape. We celebrate by arranging them on the wall, a reminder of our aspirational goals and a reference for positive character traits vocabulary in later lessons.

     

    More Icebreaker Ideas for Middle School

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