What student doesn’t love a teacher who gives them a piece of candy on the first day? As much as mine enjoy candy, I think they love that they get to paint in writing class even more. There are tons of ways to add icebreaker games into your beginning-of-the-year repertoire. Gummy Worm Poetry is a three part icebreaker activity that helps students and teachers get to know one another while incorporating low-risk poetry writing and simple watercolor techniques. Due to the poetry, it is suited for grades four and above, but with some modifications to the poetry requirement, it could easily work with primary students as well.
Give each student a traditional gummy worm but emphasize that they need to wait to eat it. Explain that the gummy worm colors follow a key (see below), and students will need to share information about themselves that matches the colors on their worm. I give them a template (provided below) so they can write their color pattern and then jot some notes about what they plan to share. Then, we sit in a circle and each student gets a chance to share. (Students can bring the gummy worm to the circle and eat it once they have shared their information. Make sure to save at least one worm of each color grouping for later.)
The following day, introduce the biography poem format “Just Like [insert name here]”. This poem is similar to the tried and true acrostic poem but allows more flexibility since the letters “Just Like [name]” don’t need to be at the beginning of each line, they just need to be capitalized. Here is an example for the name JOE:
Do you see how the words “JUST LIKE JOE” pop out at you? I model the following steps with my name first, and then have my students do it independently. First, I brainstorm a big list of words and phrases that share information about me. Then, I look through those brainstormed words to try to and find a word or phrase with a J anywhere in it. This becomes my first line. I repeat the process, looking for a word or a phrase with a “U” for the second line, and then again with an “S” for the third line. The process continues, adding to the brainstormed list if needed, until you have completed the poem.
The end goal is for students to publish their poem on a painted gummy worm. I created gummy worm tracers out of poster board, and students use those to trace and cut a white paper worm that they will use for their published version. As a group, we do a “close read” of a gummy worm. I ask students to observe the colors and share everything they notice. This typically brings up concepts like color mixing and the words transparent and translucent. I explain that students will be trying to replicate this look on their poster board and we discuss different mediums that would work best. Once we settle on watercolors, I let students play around with the brushes and paints to experiment on how to get the effect we are looking for. We regroup and volunteers share and demonstrate what worked for them, and then students get started with their painting. Instead of choosing their own colors, however, they use the color pattern that was on the initial gummy worm they used during the icebreaker step.
As a group, we do a “close read” of a gummy worm. I ask students to observe the colors and share everything they notice. This typically brings up concepts like color mixing and the words transparent and translucent. I explain that students will be trying to replicate this look on their poster board and we discuss different mediums that would work best.
Once we settle on watercolors as our paint choice, I let students play around with the brushes and watercolor paints to experiment on how to get the effect we are looking for. We come together as a group once more and volunteers share and demonstrate what worked for them. Then students get started with their individual gummy worm painting. Instead of choosing their own colors, however, they use the color pattern that was on the initial gummy worm they used during the icebreaker step.
When the painted gummy worms are dry, students publish their poems on the worm with a Sharpie so that the words stand out. We use fine point Sharpies for tracing and then go over the capital letters JUST LIKE [NAME] with a medium point Sharpie to make the “secret message” pop out at the reader. (I trace lines on the worms for my students prior to this step to help them write neatly.) This activity works well during studio or workshop time. Students can move back and forth from the poetry to the painting as needed, allowing me time to help students edit and revise their poetry as well as time to check in with students as they paint.
I’ve created a packet that guides students through every step of this project, which you can download here: Icebreaker Gummy Worm Poetry Painting. Best of luck as you begin the school year and start to build strong relationships with your new group of students and remember, icebreaker games can set you up for the best year ever!