17 Fun First Day of School Activities to Try 7 First Day of School Activities Students Love

17 Fun First Day of School Activities to Try 7 First Day of School Activities Students Love

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July 5, 2018

10 Fun Back-to-School Activities and Icebreakers

By

Genia Connell


Grades

1–2,

3–5,

6–8




    As an extremely shy student, the beginning of a school year filled me with angst. My heart raced before the first bell ever rang. I’d wonder if the teacher would be as nice, or as mean, as I’d heard. I worried whether I’d make any new friends, and I would literally hold my breath waiting to hear how the teacher would mangle my name. In a 1970s world filled with Annes and Kathys, it was tough being a shy kid named Eugenia Hajduk on the first day of school. Until the fourth grade.

    Fourth grade was the absolute best start I’d ever had to elementary school. The teacher didn’t take attendance by calling our names. She let us tell her and everyone else our names by playing The Name Game. I was able say my own name (pronounced Geena High-duke), and the weight of the world was lifted off of my shoulders. For the next week, we played Get to Know You games as she called them, every day. My shyness faded quickly that year just because of those daily, just-for-fun, games.

    I tell you the story above because I truly believe our own childhood experiences help shape the teachers we become. I’m especially sensitive to those children who are shy, and I make sure I learn the nickname and pronunciation of each of my student’s names before school begins. And I do get-to-know-you activities and icebreakers the first week of school. Scholastic Teachables has some dandies — from a reader’s theater play that brings a new class together to seating cards with sharable jokes — that are ready to print and run with.

    Who’s in Our Room Word Search

    Arrival on the very first day of school is different than any other day of the year. It normally takes about 20 minutes for my whole class to assemble due to late buses, parents who needed just a few more photos, and students who accidentally found themselves in the wrong room. This is the perfect activity while we wait for everyone to arrive. When students come in, they find a seat where this word search and a newly sharpened pencil are waiting. My third graders always enjoy searching for their own name along with those of their new classmates. After 10 minutes or so, students naturally begin helping each other, opening those very first lines of communication. Try making a Who’s in Our Room? puzzle at Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker .

    Wordsearch icebreaker


    D-icebreakers

    Divide students into groups of 4–6 students and give each group one die and a copy of the D-icebreakers printable. (To save paper, display the sheet on the interactive whiteboard.) Students take turns rolling the die and answering the question that matches their roll. My students like when we do this as a “speed round” with a three-minute timer running on our whiteboard.

    D-icebreaker for back to school


    Skit-tell Us About Yourself

    With students seated in a circle, I pass around a bag of Skittles, telling each student to pick two. Once everyone has their candies, I turn around the Skit-tell us About Yourself board.

    Going around the circle, students share information about themselves based on the color candy they have selected. If you only have enough time to go around once, students can choose between their two colors. If someone has two of the same color, they can give two different answers to the same question or trade with a classmate. This activity can also be done with any other assorted colored candies.

    Skittle icebreaker Skit-tell us


    Autograph Scavenger Hunt

    Pass out the scavenger hunt sheet and watch the students swing into action as they try to find a different classmate for each box. This activity gets loud (in a good way!) as students go from one to another, but conversations get started that definitely break the ice!

    Autograph icebreaker


    Beach Ball Introductions

    Students sit in a circle and toss a ball to a classmate in the circle. Students share information about themselves using the sentence stems their left and right pointer fingers are closest to. To prepare the ball for this activity, I used a permanent marker to write the first part of the sentence on one half of the ball while the words I write on the opposite side call for further explanation. For example, the student’s left hand might land on This summer I ______ , while their right hand lands on the word during. They might answer, This summer I went to visit my grandma during the month of July.  In another variation, I use a ball that has several different ideas for sharing information. On that ball, the student responds to whichever prompt their left pointer finger is touching.

    Beach Ball Icebreaker


    Back to School "Survival" Bags

    Each year I make treat bags for my students to give to them on the first day of school. This activity helps students understand that the classroom they have been assigned to for the next year is a warm and caring environment. I place the bags on desks before school, so as soon as my students walk in the room they see the bags tagged with their names and the words " Your Third Grade Survival Kit ." Excitement builds throughout the day and they can hardly wait to find out what is inside. Shortly before going home, we take all of the items out of our bags one by one and discuss their meaning. The items I have chosen for the bag let the students know they are in an encouraging environment where we will all look out for each other and where effort is expected and rewarded.

    Survival Bag

    first day survival kitwww.scholastic.com/teachers/sites/default/files/posts/u133/files/survival_bag_jungle_theme.doc

    Click on the images above to print you own editable treat bag.


    Silent Line-Up

    This is a good icebreaker at the start of class, or just when the kids need a break. I tell my students that I want them to line up by the day of their birth, in chronological order from January 1 to December 31. Then I tell them they can’t talk while they do it! Students use a combination of sign language, charades, and all ten fingers (and sometimes toes!) to line themselves up in order. With third graders, this can sometimes take a while. Once they have achieved the task, I have them do it again but in opposite order, from December 31 to January 1. This time, however, they are allowed to talk to each other. The same task that allows talking is always finished more quickly. Afterwards, we discuss how a team task can be completed more quickly when people communicate with each other.

    This activity can also be done with first or names in alphabetical order, height, shoe size, etc.


    Time Capsule

    One school year is a pretty big percentage of an elementary student’s life and a lot can change from September to June without your boys and girls even noticing. Creating a time capsule the first week of school is a great way to reflect on the changes when it gets revisited during the last week of school. You can create one big time capsule or individual student time capsules that you store. Potato chip canisters work particularly well for individual time capsules. Here is what I plan to put inside this year:

    • first day of school picture

    • biography that includes current height, favorites, and three goals for the school year

    • a letter each student writes to their future (end-of-the-school-year) self

    • any trinkets students want to put in that represent themselves at the current point in time. This often includes pictures of best friends and boy bands, sport medals, little toys, etc.

     

    time capsule


    What Do We Have in Common? Card Towers

    I found this activity last summer and it was a big hit on the second day of school! Students were broken randomly into groups of four. Each group was given a stack of index cards and a challenge: Build the tallest card tower in the class! The catch? Before you could add a card to the tower, you had to write something on it that every member of the team had in common. As more cards were added, the commonalities tended to stretch a bit (we’ve all had water to drink), but it was all in the name of teamwork.

    Card tower icebreaker


    The Name Game

    There are so many variations of this classic game! The version I play with my third graders involves everyone sitting in a circle and the first person to go says their first and last names, then something they like that starts with the same initial as their first name. The next student follows with their name and what they like, but then needs to repeat what the previous classmate(s) said. For example:

    • First Student: I am Kaitlin Smyth and I like kangaroos. 

    • Second Student: I am Sungat Patel and I like s’mores. She is Kaitlin Smyth and she likes kangaroos.

    The game continues around the circle until one student cannot remember the previous classmates’ declarations. The next student begins the cycle again until everyone has had a turn. This is also easily done with names and alliterative places, names and animals, etc. Older students might enjoy playing the rhyming name game using this name game generator .


    If you are looking for even more great ideas, check out the links below where my fellow bloggers have shared even more ways to get your school year off to a great start. 

    • " Continue Class Team-Building All Year Long " by Lindsey Petlak

    • " Building Teamwork and Bridges: A STEM Icebreaker " by Alycia Zimmerman

    • " Icebreakers to Create a ‘Cool’ Class Environment " by Rhonda Stewart

    • " Back to School: First Week Fun " by Kriscia Cabral

    • " Fabulous First-Day Ideas "

    The purpose of icebreakers, of course, is exactly what my fourth grade teacher knew all those years ago: to help your students get to know each other, overcome anxieties, start friendships, and learn the importance of teamwork.

Teacher Image

Genia Connell

Grades

3–5

See all posts

Teacher Image

Genia Connell

Grades

3–5

See all posts

    As an extremely shy student, the beginning of a school year filled me with angst. My heart raced before the first bell ever rang. I’d wonder if the teacher would be as nice, or as mean, as I’d heard. I worried whether I’d make any new friends, and I would literally hold my breath waiting to hear how the teacher would mangle my name. In a 1970s world filled with Annes and Kathys, it was tough being a shy kid named Eugenia Hajduk on the first day of school. Until the fourth grade.

    Fourth grade was the absolute best start I’d ever had to elementary school. The teacher didn’t take attendance by calling our names. She let us tell her and everyone else our names by playing The Name Game. I was able say my own name (pronounced Geena High-duke), and the weight of the world was lifted off of my shoulders. For the next week, we played Get to Know You games as she called them, every day. My shyness faded quickly that year just because of those daily, just-for-fun, games.

    I tell you the story above because I truly believe our own childhood experiences help shape the teachers we become. I’m especially sensitive to those children who are shy, and I make sure I learn the nickname and pronunciation of each of my student’s names before school begins. And I do get-to-know-you activities and icebreakers the first week of school. Scholastic Teachables has some dandies — from a reader’s theater play that brings a new class together to seating cards with sharable jokes — that are ready to print and run with.

    Who’s in Our Room Word Search

    Arrival on the very first day of school is different than any other day of the year. It normally takes about 20 minutes for my whole class to assemble due to late buses, parents who needed just a few more photos, and students who accidentally found themselves in the wrong room. This is the perfect activity while we wait for everyone to arrive. When students come in, they find a seat where this word search and a newly sharpened pencil are waiting. My third graders always enjoy searching for their own name along with those of their new classmates. After 10 minutes or so, students naturally begin helping each other, opening those very first lines of communication. Try making a Who’s in Our Room? puzzle at Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker .

    Wordsearch icebreaker


    D-icebreakers

    Divide students into groups of 4–6 students and give each group one die and a copy of the D-icebreakers printable. (To save paper, display the sheet on the interactive whiteboard.) Students take turns rolling the die and answering the question that matches their roll. My students like when we do this as a “speed round” with a three-minute timer running on our whiteboard.

    D-icebreaker for back to school


    Skit-tell Us About Yourself

    With students seated in a circle, I pass around a bag of Skittles, telling each student to pick two. Once everyone has their candies, I turn around the Skit-tell us About Yourself board.

    Going around the circle, students share information about themselves based on the color candy they have selected. If you only have enough time to go around once, students can choose between their two colors. If someone has two of the same color, they can give two different answers to the same question or trade with a classmate. This activity can also be done with any other assorted colored candies.

    Skittle icebreaker Skit-tell us


    Autograph Scavenger Hunt

    Pass out the scavenger hunt sheet and watch the students swing into action as they try to find a different classmate for each box. This activity gets loud (in a good way!) as students go from one to another, but conversations get started that definitely break the ice!

    Autograph icebreaker


    Beach Ball Introductions

    Students sit in a circle and toss a ball to a classmate in the circle. Students share information about themselves using the sentence stems their left and right pointer fingers are closest to. To prepare the ball for this activity, I used a permanent marker to write the first part of the sentence on one half of the ball while the words I write on the opposite side call for further explanation. For example, the student’s left hand might land on This summer I ______ , while their right hand lands on the word during. They might answer, This summer I went to visit my grandma during the month of July.  In another variation, I use a ball that has several different ideas for sharing information. On that ball, the student responds to whichever prompt their left pointer finger is touching.

    Beach Ball Icebreaker


    Back to School "Survival" Bags

    Each year I make treat bags for my students to give to them on the first day of school. This activity helps students understand that the classroom they have been assigned to for the next year is a warm and caring environment. I place the bags on desks before school, so as soon as my students walk in the room they see the bags tagged with their names and the words " Your Third Grade Survival Kit ." Excitement builds throughout the day and they can hardly wait to find out what is inside. Shortly before going home, we take all of the items out of our bags one by one and discuss their meaning. The items I have chosen for the bag let the students know they are in an encouraging environment where we will all look out for each other and where effort is expected and rewarded.

    Survival Bag

    first day survival kitwww.scholastic.com/teachers/sites/default/files/posts/u133/files/survival_bag_jungle_theme.doc

    Click on the images above to print you own editable treat bag.


    Silent Line-Up

    This is a good icebreaker at the start of class, or just when the kids need a break. I tell my students that I want them to line up by the day of their birth, in chronological order from January 1 to December 31. Then I tell them they can’t talk while they do it! Students use a combination of sign language, charades, and all ten fingers (and sometimes toes!) to line themselves up in order. With third graders, this can sometimes take a while. Once they have achieved the task, I have them do it again but in opposite order, from December 31 to January 1. This time, however, they are allowed to talk to each other. The same task that allows talking is always finished more quickly. Afterwards, we discuss how a team task can be completed more quickly when people communicate with each other.

    This activity can also be done with first or names in alphabetical order, height, shoe size, etc.


    Time Capsule

    One school year is a pretty big percentage of an elementary student’s life and a lot can change from September to June without your boys and girls even noticing. Creating a time capsule the first week of school is a great way to reflect on the changes when it gets revisited during the last week of school. You can create one big time capsule or individual student time capsules that you store. Potato chip canisters work particularly well for individual time capsules. Here is what I plan to put inside this year:

    • first day of school picture

    • biography that includes current height, favorites, and three goals for the school year

    • a letter each student writes to their future (end-of-the-school-year) self

    • any trinkets students want to put in that represent themselves at the current point in time. This often includes pictures of best friends and boy bands, sport medals, little toys, etc.

     

    time capsule


    What Do We Have in Common? Card Towers

    I found this activity last summer and it was a big hit on the second day of school! Students were broken randomly into groups of four. Each group was given a stack of index cards and a challenge: Build the tallest card tower in the class! The catch? Before you could add a card to the tower, you had to write something on it that every member of the team had in common. As more cards were added, the commonalities tended to stretch a bit (we’ve all had water to drink), but it was all in the name of teamwork.

    Card tower icebreaker


    The Name Game

    There are so many variations of this classic game! The version I play with my third graders involves everyone sitting in a circle and the first person to go says their first and last names, then something they like that starts with the same initial as their first name. The next student follows with their name and what they like, but then needs to repeat what the previous classmate(s) said. For example:

    • First Student: I am Kaitlin Smyth and I like kangaroos. 

    • Second Student: I am Sungat Patel and I like s’mores. She is Kaitlin Smyth and she likes kangaroos.

    The game continues around the circle until one student cannot remember the previous classmates’ declarations. The next student begins the cycle again until everyone has had a turn. This is also easily done with names and alliterative places, names and animals, etc. Older students might enjoy playing the rhyming name game using this name game generator .


    If you are looking for even more great ideas, check out the links below where my fellow bloggers have shared even more ways to get your school year off to a great start. 

    • " Continue Class Team-Building All Year Long " by Lindsey Petlak

    • " Building Teamwork and Bridges: A STEM Icebreaker " by Alycia Zimmerman

    • " Icebreakers to Create a ‘Cool’ Class Environment " by Rhonda Stewart

    • " Back to School: First Week Fun " by Kriscia Cabral

    • " Fabulous First-Day Ideas "

    The purpose of icebreakers, of course, is exactly what my fourth grade teacher knew all those years ago: to help your students get to know each other, overcome anxieties, start friendships, and learn the importance of teamwork.

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            17 Fun First Day of School Activities to Try

            Justin Raudys

            Teaching Activities

            Whether you’ve been teaching for years or it’s your first day as a full-time teacher, the first day of school is usually accompanied by some anxiety — no matter how prepared you might be.  

            It’s the same for students. Uncertainty about friends, teachers, and schoolwork is enough to make the most extroverted students a bit nervous.

            With that in mind, you should always consider what first day of school activities can stimulate introductions, get students talking, and set the tone for successful classroom management .

            Get inspired by these 17 fun, creative first day of school activities and try them out yourself. They’re easy, free, and guaranteed to ease the tension on a busy, hectic first day of school.

            1. Find a friend

            The “Find a friend” game is a fun activity designed to help students become comfortable with their new classmates.

            To play, students must first receive worksheets containing a list of topics — such as sports, foods, games, and so on — from which they must pick their favorites.

            Image source: First Grade Schoolhouse, Teachers Pay Teachers

            Distribute the worksheet to students, and allow five minutes or so for everyone to indicate their favorite categories with a pen or pencil. You can create your own worksheet or access free printables such as the one above.

            Then, have students find fellow classmates fitting the description in each box. This will give them a natural talking point as they meet one another — helping them find what they have in common and sparking friendly interaction.

            Note that:

            • Students can list each classmate only once on the worksheet
            • Students should spell names correctly; when they find a friend to add to their sheet, they should ask the friend how to spell their first name
            • You can use this chance to have students show you their best handwriting, setting a good precedent for the school year

            2. “Who’s new?” word search

            Use a free word search generator such as Discovery Education’s puzzlemaker to create a word search using the names of your students as the hidden words. Print copies to place on each desk.

            Students will enjoy searching for their names along with those of their classmates. After 10 minutes or so, students naturally begin helping each other — kindling conversation and facilitating introductions.

            3. Thanks for the compliment!

            This lighthearted, confidence-boosting icebreaker encourages students to share compliments about one another.

            To start, every student gets a blank piece of paper taped to their back. Then, each classmate thinks of a compliment to write down on the back of every other student. After the entire class is finished, have students remove their papers and read all the compliments they received in front of the class.

            4. Let’s decorate

            Invite students to help decorate the classroom — sending the message that their opinions are valued, their voices are heard, and you welcome their presence.

            Split the class into four groups and designate each group to a wall. Distribute materials such as markers, posters, tape, and pieces of chart paper. For a personalized touch, have each group come up with one common goal they wish to accomplish in your class, and to summarize it in one word.

            Next, have students write their words in big letters on the chart paper, ensuring each group has a unique goal.

            Once the class is finished, hang them on each designated wall, encouraging your class to embrace the responsibility of making sure they all achieve the goals they set for the end of the school year.

            5. Prodigy

            Try Prodigy — a free, game-based math platform aligned with curricula — to engage your class while reinforcing lesson content and teaching essential skills.

            Borrowing elements from video games such as Pokémon, students use Prodigy to compete in math duels against in-game characters. To win, they answer sets of skill-testing math questions.

            Prodigy uses adaptive learning and differentiated instruction principles to adjust problems, addressing each student’s problem areas.

             

             

             

            It’s also backed by research. In a recent study , we found schools enrolled in Prodigy both performed better and enjoyed greater improvements on test results than inactive schools.

            6. “Would You Rather” Questions

            Lead, guide, and stimulate healthy debate among students with a set of questions that are sure to get the classroom talking.

            Consider a few examples of “would you rather” questions, such as:

            • Would you rather play outdoors or indoors?
            • Would you rather see a firework display or a circus performance?
            • Would you rather go skiing or go to a water park?
            • Would you rather everything in your house be one color or every single wall and door be a different color?
            • Would you rather visit the international space station for a week or stay in an underwater hotel for a week?

            To keep the class on the same page, consider preparing a few questions on a printable such as the one below.

             

            7. Group contracts

            Write group contracts containing guidelines, and have everyone sign them to foster effective student group work and good behavior in the classroom.

            Group contracts — an important feature of cooperative learning — should be based on expectations students and teachers have for one another.

            You can collect the class’s thoughts by talking about what the ideal group member does, and how he or she behaves. Once you’ve come up with the contract, brainstorm with students to come up with consequences for breaking expectations.

            Image Source: The Creative Colorful Classroom

            For example, in the flexible seating contract above, students agree to use the learning space appropriately. If they break the contract, students agree “that my teacher will move me to a spot that will better meet my needs.”

            8. Student surveys

            Use surveys to collect and assess information about a broad range of topics that will help you get a feel for your new students and guide them to success this school year.

            Consider asking questions about preferences for seating arrangements, group work versus individual work, and noise levels in the classroom.

            Use this information to get a better sense of trends in the classroom. See if you can use the information to differentiate instruction, assessment, and evaluation to improve the learning environment.

            One of the qualities of a good teacher is the capacity to use different teaching strategies — especially ones that are responsive to different students’ unique learning preferences.

            For example, consider taking a survey of how students like to learn, asking the following yes or no questions:

            First day of school activity: How I like to learn

             

            I work best when it is quietYesNo
            I can work when there is noise in the classroomYesNo
            I like to work at a table or deskYesNo
            I like to work on the floorYesNo
            I like to work on an assignment until it is completedYesNo
            Sometimes I get frustrated with my work and do not finishYesNo
            I like to learn by moving around the roomYesNo
            I like to work by myselfYesNo
            I like to work in a group or with a partnerYesNo

            9. Classroom scavenger hunts

            Send your students on a classroom scavenger hunt, helping them to get to know each other and their new learning space.

            Provide a print-out of classroom items to look for, leaving a space for students to write a brief description of where they found each item.

            The completed scavenger hunt sheets can serve as an easy reference for students in the first weeks of school to ensure they know where to find everything in your classroom.

            You can make the list of items yourself, or use a free printable such as the example below.

            Image Source: The Creative Colorful Classroom

            10. Two truths and a lie

            Encourage students to write down three statements about themselves, with one of the statements being false.

            After giving students five minutes or so to write their sentences down, have them read them out loud one by one — and enjoy the entertainment as fellow students try to guess which of the statements is a lie.

            This activity also serves as a simple, early way to get a gauge of the skill levels of your new students: As your new students write out their sentences, you can walk around and see which students need help might need help with written communication.

            As they read out their sentences, you can also gauge verbal communication skills.

            11. Class time capsule

            Create individualized time capsules on the first day of school. Fill them with items such as personal letters about what students plan to accomplish throughout the school year.

            Letters can include expectations, clubs they would like to join, and desired grade point averages.

            You can also take pictures of your students on the first day, print them out, and put them inside the time capsules.

            On the last day of school, return each student’s time capsule and allow them to see how much they have learned, grown , and achieved throughout the school year.

            12. Tall Thomas

            Encourage students to think of an adjective to describe themselves. The adjective must suit the student and must also start with the first letter of their name — for example, “Tall Thomas,” “Funny Frankie,” or “Smart Sam.”

            A student stands at the front of the classroom with her teacher, talking to her classmates, who are seated.

            Encourage students to try and memorize every name to add a skill-testing element to the activity.

            Have the class stand in a circle, and then have one student state his or her new nickname. Then, have the next student try to name the previous name before saying their own name.

            Make sure to keep the activity lighthearted and fun. Feel free to stand in the circle and join the fun to further engage with your students!

            13. Don’t answer

            Ask your class to stand in a circle. Have one student engage with another classmate, and pose the other student a question about his or her personality. To clarify, give students a few examples: “What is your silliest habit?” or “What is your pet peeve?”

            However, explain that the student who is asked the question may not respond — with the student to their left answering for them. Note that the answer doesn’t have to be right, and that each student can make their answers as imaginative or creative as possible.

            14. Draw a Self-Portrait

            Provide a self-portrait worksheet such as the one below as an easy beginning-of-year activity. When everyone is finished, have each student present their self-portrait to the class as formal introduction to their colleagues and to yourself!

            15. Be unique

            Have everyone stand in a circle. Encourage each student, one by one, to say something they believe to be unique about themselves. For example: “My name is Jason, and I have two brothers” or “… and I speak three languages.” If another student also has two brothers or speaks three languages, they must sit down.

            The goal is to stand as long as possible and therefore to share very special things about yourself that no one else typifies.

            16. Six word story

            Get students to explain what they did over the summer using only six words, writing the statement down as a complete sentence on a piece of paper.

            Then, have students exchange papers with a classmate, with that colleague also adding a comment comprised of only six words. You may choose to rotate the papers to adjust the length of the story to your preference!

            17. The question web

            This activity helps students learn interesting facts about one another. Have your students stand in a circle. Next, take a ball of yarn or string and hold on to the end of the it while passing the ball to another student.

            Young students sit in rows, raising their hands to answer the teacher's question.

            Ask this student an interesting question such as “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?”

            Once they have answered the question, have them pass the ball of yarn to another student in the circle and ask them a question. When all your students have had their turn, explain that the web they created represents the uniqueness of your classroom — and that their participation makes the classroom a special place for learning and creativity.

            First day of school activities: Final Thoughts

            It’s important to pair fun and kindness with clear and firm expectations — so think of the first day of school as your chance to demonstrate your ability to conduct activities that are both enjoyable and orderly.

            See which activities on this list appeal to you most, and try them out yourself as a memorable back to school introduction!


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            6 thoughts on “17 Fun First Day of School Activities to Try

            1. Thanks for the excellent ideas! I can’t wait to try several of them in 2 weeks!

              Reply
            2. Awesome resources for the first day of school activities.

              Reply
            3. Love the ideas. I will share them with my team!

              Reply
            4. I will share these great ideals with my team.

              Reply
            5. Great List! Awesome Ideas! Ice Breakers!

              Reply
            6. I will share these with my 3rd grade team for iceabreakers!

              Reply

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