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1|Page Dhagat, Sandeep (Fall 2017)

Classroom Icebreaker
Differentiated instruction is the practice of using different learning materials,
instructional tactics, and learning activities with students who vary along such dimensions as
intelligence, learning style, gender, ethnicity, and social class (Snowman & McCown 2015).
One middle school study that quantified the immense variability among a group of students by
using the number of words read as a proxy indicator found the least capable students read about
100,000 words while the average student read 1 million words. The most capable students?
Between 10 and 50 million words (Snowman & McCown 2015). Instructors can only teach to
this variability by first having a baseline understanding of that variability. In other words,
teachers must understand from the start what are the differences of each student in terms of
strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, etc. One way to do that is by using an icebreaker.
Supplies:
Large bag of M&Ms at least 600 per class, given a maximum classroom size of 30
students and assuming the average student will take 20 pieces
Strips of paper to write on
Sharpie marker
Hat to pick strips of paper from

Procedures:
1) For each color M&M, write the color on one small strip of paper in sharpie marker and
place it into the hat.
2) Based on the number of students in your class roster, create 1 science question per
student and write it down on a strip of paper. Questions should be prior-knowledge
questions that students would recall from previous years, and should be related to the
subject area of the class. For example, middle school biology questions if teaching
freshman biology in high school. The purpose is to have them actively considering
previous knowledge before expanding upon that information base.
3) On the first day of class, arrange the desks into a wide circle. Or if multiple teachers use
the same class, have the students arrange the desks into a circle at the beginning of the
period and have them return the seats to regular positions at the end of the activity.
4) Pass around the bag of M&Ms and have each student take as many as they would like,
although you may want to suggest they consider their fellow classmates when selecting.
Tell the students they cannot eat the M&Msyet.
5) After every student has finished selecting, store the bag of candy away. Next, tell the
students that they will be answering a series of questions based on the number of M&Ms
they took and the color they select from a hat.
6) At this point, students who took more M&Ms than the average or students who have too
many of one color may be either (1) anxious about answering so many questions or (2)
angry at the teacher for devising an activity that penalizes snacking on such a sweet treat.
So, to provide an earned benefit, allow each student to return (by eating) up to 5
M&Ms (any color they want), if they answer their assigned science question right.
Students who originally picked 5 or less M&Ms are not eligible.
2|Page Dhagat, Sandeep (Fall 2017)

7) Randomly distribute the strips of paper with the questions to each student. Give them 1-2
minutes to write their best answer on the back side of the strip. Go around to each
student, check their answer, and let them know if they can eat 5 M&Ms.
8) Each student selects one color at random from the hat. They must answer the same
number of questions as the number of M&Ms they have of the color selected. For
example, if Skai picks red and has 5 red M&Ms, she must answer 5 questions. If a
student picks a color and they dont have any M&Ms of that color, they must select
again. After answering their set of questions, they can eat their M&Ms.
9) Give each student a paper listing the questions. Explain that the list only goes to 15
questions, and that if a student has more than 15 M&Ms of a color selected, they are only
responsible for answering the 15 questions listed. Students can pick any of the questions
to answer.
10) Give students at least 5 minutes to look through the questions and plan their responses as
needed.
11) Next, pass the hat around the circle and let the fun begin!

List of Questions:
**This should be changed from year to year after reflecting on the quality of previous student
responses, cultural changes, changes in educational research, or the difficulty students have
answering the questions**
1. What is your best (most effective) and worst (least effective) place to study?
2. What is the number one future scientific discovery or innovation that you hope comes
true (e.g. flying cars, rapid cloning, brain boosting chip implants, cure for cancer, etc)?
3. What is the last song you listened to and the last book you read?
4. Who is your most favorite historical figure and why?
5. What is one thing you hope to learn this year?
6. What country would you like to live in for at least one year?
7. What is the best dish cooked by your family or relatives?
8. What is the most difficult decision you have ever made?
9. What is one good thing and one bad thing that happened to you today?
10. What do you want to study in college or what profession do you want to work in?
11. What is the worst trait and the best trait a teacher could have?
12. Name one activity you do to relax or focus?
13. Name your favorite sport, team, and player.
14. What item would you want if you were on a deserted island (no electronics)?
15. What languages do you speak, or what language do you want to learn?

Reference:
Snowman, J., & McCown, R. R. (2015). Psychology Applied to Teaching (14th ed.). Belmont,

CA: Wadsworth.