Icebreaker Puzzles – Building Squares


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Are you looking for an activity to use for back to school?

You can’t lose with a fun icebreaker during the first week of school!

This set of puzzles is challenging and guaranteed to make every student think (whether they want to or not!)


  • 6 puzzles (in 3 different sizes) with quadrilaterals and triangles for the pieces. Each puzzle is made up of 4 pieces.
  • Puzzles are color coded to easily change difficulty. 4 levels: easy, average, hard, and mega challenge. Removing some of the puzzles in the set is another way to easily change difficulty.

How can you use this activity?

Decide which puzzle set(s) you wan to use. I suggest using “Average 2 to a page”. Note: Adjustments can be made to make the activity easier. For example: take out some of the puzzle sets, and give the students hints.

Print necessary puzzle set(s) on card stock (or print on regular paper and laminate).

Make copies of your chosen set(s). Be sure there are enough copies for each group.

Cut our your puzzle pieces and store each set of 6 puzzles in separate plastic bags.

Determine how you will use this activity in your classroom. I suggest using it during the first week of school as an ice breaker. I typically have students work in groups of 4. I start off by telling them that they are going to solve some puzzles with their group WITHOUT TALKING. Hand gestures are OK. I keep the puzzle pieces in a plastic bags (one for each group). I distribute the bags to each group, and remind them that they CAN NOT SPEAK, only gesture.

When the students take the pieces out of the bag, some students will start trying many different combinations. Others will freak out and just sit there. Tell them that you are going to give them hints and that it is important for everyone to help their team.

Begin telling the students hints. I suggest writing the hints on the board, covering the hints on an ELMO only revealing one new at a time, or revealing one at a time through your SMART Board. You may end up telling the students a lot of hints, so it is important for them to be visible so that they can refer to them if needed. Another option: print out copies of the hints to distribute to the students once they have been doing the activity for a while and all hints have been revealed. After several hints have been revealed, and you can see that the students are really getting into it, you can permit them to talk QUIETLY. Tell them that they don’t want to give the answers away to the teams around them.

If any of the students get super into the activity, you can offer for them to try the “Hard” or “Mega Challenge” when they get finished with their work early one day.

This activity is great to use as an icebreaker. Some students will take charge and stand out. Many students will get frustrated when they are SO close to getting a puzzle piece to fit.   EVERYONE will be able to participate, and more importantly everyone will be forced to THINK (whether they are moving pieces or not). Another bonus: students will learn that listening to you is important because solving the puzzle without your hints would have been extremely challenging.

After hints have been revealed and at least one group has solved the puzzle (hopefully), then lead a discussion about how they felt, what their strategies were, etc. Many students will be excited to share what they were going through when they couldn’t speak, or how great they felt when they put a puzzle together!

If the class struggles, finish the puzzles as a whole class using an ELMO or by taping it to the board. Consider adjusting the number of puzzles for your next classes. For example, for the next class, you could tell them to remove the red puzzle pieces and set them to the side. Then, have the students proceed with just the blue and purple cards.

After the activity is finished lead a discussion. Sample Questions: How did you feel? What was your strategy? How did you communicate? Was there a team leader? What was your role? Did you ever want to give up? If you just keep trying different combinations, you are bound to get the answer eventually! What was your favorite part of the activity? How did the hints help you? What was the best hint that made you think… “AHA!”? And any other questions you can think of…

Hints List for Students:

  • There are 6 puzzles to solve.
  • Every puzzle makes the same shape.
  • There are 4 puzzle pieces in each puzzle.
  • Each individual puzzle has all of the same colored pieces.
  • Try sorting by color.
  • The numbers 1-4 are used ONLY ONCE in each puzzle.
  • All puzzles are congruent (the same size).
  • The numbers all face the same direction when the puzzles are solved.
  • Try arranging all of the pieces so that you can read all of the numbers. (all numbers will face the same direction)
  • All of the puzzles make a square.
  • 4 of the puzzles are made up of 3 triangles and a 1 quadrilateral.
  • 2 of the puzzles are made up of 3 quadrilaterals and 1 triangle.
  • And any other hints you can think of…

*Note: it is very important to give the students hints so that they don’t get frustrated and give up.