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No matter the hat you most often wear–author, blogger, business person, student–chances are you’ve encountered a variety of icebreaker and team building activities. Once upon a time, when my blog was finding its way, I used to post classroom activities. I’m re-posting this memoir box icebreaker since establishing a sense of community is of the utmost importance in so many environments. This activity has participants make decorative boxes that contain significant items they will then share in a show-and-tell  format.


This activity could easily be adapted as a characterization activity where writers could explore a character’s personality, or it could be be used to have book club members or students explore characters from a novel. In some circles, this approach is also called a character bag. A guided writing exercise from Katherine Haake’s book What our Speech Disrupts inspired this memoir box icebreaker, but hers is much more in-depth and geared toward college students studying the craft of writing. 


Picture of Memoir Box


I’ve used this activity to kick-off a memoir unit in a high school creative writing class. It was the the first unit in a year-long class that covered six genres. I prefaced the memoir box activity by sharing my own box as a way to model expectations. For students, the Memoir Box Rubric holds the presenter accountable for five-minutes of sharing, otherwise it would take all day. After naming each object, the presenter should select a few objects that will inspire a quick anecdote. Also, a couple of minutes should be allowed for follow-up questions from the audience.


Picture of Memoir Box


After presenting my example and going over the rubric, it’s a good idea to allot for a five-minute quick write to generate ideas on what to put in the box.


  • What items define or represent you as a person? What do they reveal about you? Do any anecdotes come to mind?


Time permitting, discussion can center on what everyone might be thinking of to put in their boxes. From there, they are on their own to finish the box. In a classroom setting, it’s a good idea to have a few crafty items that needy students could take home with them,  or offer to let them come in after school to work on their boxes.


Picture of Memoir Box


Name:________________________Period:_____Due Date:___________ CW Qtr 1

Memoir Box: Find or make a box that will contain whatever objects strike or define you at this particular moment. They should be significant and/or symbolic, but not overly valuable. Consider things like ticket stubs, old basketball shoelaces, marbles, pressed flowers, a lipstick, a sugar packet, thread, sequins, sports medals, action figures.

Points will be awarded based on the following criteria:

_____/5 Deadline: A box is brought on the due date, even if time does not permit everyone taking a turn that day.

_____/5 Design and Title: The box is of appropriate size with a lid. It shows care and creativity in its design. A title for your life story appears on the top or bottom of the lid.

_____/5 Objects: The inside of the box contains ten objects that hold personal significance to you. Each object is taken from the box and named before being placed on the desk.

_____/10 Anecdotes: The speaker tells anecdotes related to various items. Each full minute is worth two points. Going over five and a half minutes results in half points. You may or may not have time to provide an anecdote about each object, so start with the most significant ones.

_____/25 Total Points Available (Daily assignments count for 25% of your grade.)


Picture of Memoir Box


After the presentations, intensive freewriting and reading of exemplary memoirs follows. The students explore how their relationships to people, places, and things characterize the person they’ve become. Then the next step is to write a narrowly focused memoir that explores one of those relationships.


In other settings, this activity functions as a great general introduction to fellow teammates. Plus, it’s a welcomed change of pace from run-of-the-mill PowerPoint presentations.


What icebreaker activities have you encountered in various settings such as school or work? How did it go?



Permission to use the images in this post must be granted by Jeri Walker

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