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Out in the cold

When you are out there at the front, ostensibly in charge, you sometimes forget how unsettled new students can feel at that unique pedagogical occasion that is the first class.

I know, because I was there myself just the other night, sat on the other side of the desk for the start of my new course. We sat silently eyeing one another, wondering how long till break.

What was missing was that ubiquitous class opener, the ice-breaker. While we did eventually do some introductory stuff, there was nothing of the up- front, quick-fire `How do you do? I'm Trevor and I'm in reinforced concrete' variety.

Ice-breakers come in many forms. How many I now appreciate, having decided to drop the term into Google. There's a whole "ice-breaking" industry out there. You can even buy a CD with more than 100 ideas, if you can't find a better way to use pound;50.

Some look a real must to avoid, such as sticking a Post-it note with a single word on the head of your neighbour. Who then has to guess what the word is from clues given by the rest of the class. Fine if the word is "apple" or "toothpaste", but things could turn decidedly nasty if it's "pratt".

There's also the curiously named toilet paper game, which presumably is meant to loo-bricate the conversation!

The one to really give a miss to, though, is Best and Worst. There are a number of variations on this but basically you ask each person to say the best and worst thing that has happened to them in the past week, month or year. Everything goes swimmingly while you are on the "bests", but things can rapidly get out of hand on the "worsts".

"The day my baby died," is about the worst I've come across. Naturally the class collapsed into a therapy session and the parent was never seen again.

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