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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
I wish you were here to see my head hung in shame. Why have I never heard of this activity? And here I’ve been thinking myself so worldly!!!! I love the idea of this icebreaker memoir box! But I also have to admit, that at my age I started thinking that someone could use this at my funeral! LOL Sigh………..
I love this idea! I think it might be good for young kids too, to help them visualize and verbalize how they think of themselves. I know my kids would love decorating the box!
When I was a process analyst and we ran into a stumbling block, we would cover the walls with butcher paper and draw out various solutions. Never thought of it as a writing exercise but it would probably work.
Jan, that reminds me of an activity I would do with freshmen composition students. It was called “Finding the Questions” and each person would hang a piece of newsprint on the wall and then we would spend a class walking around and adding questions to their stated topic. It always generated such great ideas.
Love this idea. I do something similar in the workshops I teach. We create a place in the room where we put cherished items that hold significance for us: a photo, a book, a piece of jewelry. We talk about it before we place it there and we also then set our intention for the workshop at the same time.
I want to take your class)))!!!
Passing this on to my English Teacher Chicks!
I think this activitiy could be used at absolutely any age, for a wide variety of situations. I love it. I’ve done ice breakers that have been fun but none that involved this much preparation – except maybe making a box for an ice cream social retro sort of party. Fun.
Most of the time I encountered these things at corporate meetings when the parent company decided that we needed executive team building exercises, so we gathered together a group of grown men and women who tended to be competitive with each other anyway and made them play the kind of kumba-ya games that made most of us cringe. I’m sure it worked out much better in your classrooms.
Ken, I agree that these type of activities in corporate settings can be hit and miss. It’s that way in the classroom too. I think it’s worthwhile to explore why such endeavors often make us cringe as part of the activity 😉
I immediately flashed back to elementary school and our “Show and Tell” sessions. In retrospect these were excellent ice breakers for little kids and a good exercise in public speaking. It probably also gave the teacher some more insight into who we were, where we came from and what was valuable to us. I can’t recall other ice breakers other than going around the room or table at the start of a meeting to introduce ourselves which, in my opinion, actually helps the group get started and helps us to know at least something about the other attendees.
The memoir box is an interesting activity. I’ve not experienced it myself, but I think it could be adapted to so many situations and learning sessions. It sounds as if this project took a fair bit of time when you did in classes and students brought in items from home. I imagine versions could be created that would take less time to use as icebreakers, etc. with supplies of assorted items to choose from. It could be fun to see how creatively people used the items to symbolize something important about themselves.
What a wonderfully creative idea for breaking the ice and helping kids open up and get to know one another. Sounds like a lot of fun too. If I’d stayed in teaching I would have used this for sure. 🙂
What a great activity! Although I have to admit, if I’d had this kind of activity when I was in high school, I would have played hooky. I hated having any attention drawn to me, even for five minutes 😉 Activities are great though. They can be fun, as in a classroom or an office “meet and greet.” But they can also promote healing. When I was a student intern at a battered women’s shelter, we worked on collages in some of our group counseling sessions. It was a wonderful way for the women to not just share their pain, but also their hopes and dreams.
Marie, collages work for all sorts of sharing activities as well so your comment brings back some good memories of how I’ve used them in the past. One year, I had students make a collage as a way to start exploring personal identity which was the major thematic element of ninth grade English.
Jeri – this is a super idea. I can just imagine kids responding to this and it would certainly help to create more of a ‘team’ atmosphere in the classroom I’ve never heard of it before and am too old to use it now but could have used it many times when I was younger. I guess I’m just ‘Too Smart Too Late’.
Jeri, great idea! It is creative and it gets the class to start to know eachother. In my Storytelling class we all had to stand up, introduce ourselves and tell the class three things about characteristics of who we are. I know in other college courses I have taken the teachers did icebreaker exercises. I just can’t remember them . lol I have heard of people using a God box before. You put all your worries in e box and then when you look at t a year later you realize that you made it through everything you were upset about.
A memories box – fantastic idea! My daughter who is a through and through arts and crafts girl would love this!
I have memory boxes for each of my children which are shop bought. They contain photographs taken on the day of their birth until age 1, their hospital band, first tooth, first outfit and shoes etc.
Ice breakers are wonderful – it eases people up. I have led ice breakers and participated in them.
Hi dear Jeri ★? ☀ ~
I truly think this is such an interesting activity…
As a a person who favors involuntary memory (Merci Marcel Proust!)…
I truly think that objects and sensitive feelings related to them could trigger remembrance of past days…
I also keep little things in a green box, as well… I think it is from Cadburys chocolates 😉
Bring on those good memories! All my best wishes to you. Aquileana 😀
This is such a great idea. I wish I had you as a teacher. You share all these fun activities you did with your students. When I was in high school, I don’t recall any fun activities the teachers had us do.
The only icebreaker activity I’ve been involved in was drinking.
Denise, nothing wrong with sharing a drink to break the ice!
Denise, nothing wrong with sharing a drink to break the ice!
As a kid, I would have put in paper, pencil and pen. Now that I do almost all writing at a keyboard, the only thing I can think of is a coffee mug, a big one.
I could have used this idea when I was a substitute teacher. Even though I had some assignments that only lasted a day, often I had ones lasting 2 or 3 weeks. It would be a great way to get to know the kids.
I remember doing a similar exercise during two very different times in my life. Once at primary school where the enjoyment factor was off the chain to the other when I worked in the corporate world and the enjoyment factor was more embarrassment dealt with only because of the mandatory letter that associated the exercise. Either way the results spoke volumes about those who participated.
I have to admit that personally I hate games, especially if they involve ‘show and tell’. Like Ken I’ve been through more corporate team building exercises than I care to remember so maybe that’s where I developed my aversion to such things, but I don’t want to come off as a curmudgeon because I can see that a lot of thought has gone into this exercise and that it would effectively spark imaginations … it’s just that I’d probably call in sick that day. 🙂
Marquita, thanks for the honest response 🙂 I used to not go to school when I had to face activities like this, but then I just decided to go with the flow and enjoy it for what it was worth.
I’ve facilitated creative problem solving sessions with business executives to come up with action plans for a product or service. The group discusses many ideas and then votes on the ones they want to implement. Before we get to this point, though, when all ideas seem exhausted, I’ll ask, “Now I want you to just shout out wild ideas, the wilder the better. Don’t worry about money or resources, just let them rip.” More than once, the best ideas have come out of this exercise. Most often ice-breakers are used at the start of a session but you can insert them anywhere when you’re getting stuck.
Gosh, your students are so lucky to have had you as a teacher! I’ve never participated in any team building exercise that was this much fun and thought provoking. Once, in a personal development course, we were put into groups that had to develop imaginary businesses. We bounced around ideas, all centring on food, for some reason, and finally decided our business would import fruit. I really wanted to create an imaginary advertising campaign, but we ran out of time. Where were you when I needed you?!?! LOL
So interesting. I have to jog my head about those ice breakers I had back in the day. But, I can’t seem to remember one except the ones I’m using now with Avant-garde. But I will definitely will seriously consider the memoir box.
I used to love icebreaker activities. You could learn some pretty cool facts about people. We haven’t had any icebreaker type of events at my current job yet. At my previous job we had to do a show and tell during the company retreat. It was fun hearing my coworkers discuss something that was unique to them.
Jason, I agree that it’s fun and worthwhile for us to get to learn more about our co-workers through icebreaker activities. It makes it more likely we’ll connect on a human level, which then only bodes well for making better connections on the work level.