5 Icebreakers for the first day of class is a mini collection of activities to be done with a new group of students. Icebreakers are a great way for the teacher to get to know the students and for the students to get to know each other. It is important to keep things light on the first day and focus on communication. On top of that, icebreakers allow the teacher to initially assess their students’ strengths and weaknesses and do a little bit of language analysis, something which is very important to tailor the course to students’ needs.
Below, you can find 5 icebreakers to be done on the first day of class with adult or teenage classes, levels pre-intermediate and above. Here, you can take a look at how to tweak some of these activities to make them truly communicative and student-centered.
#1 Icebreaker: Concentric circles conversations
This icebreaker works a little bit like a speed-dating session, requires very little preparation from the teacher and ensures a lot of one-to-one talking time for each student. It might be adapted for each level and group size, although it usually works best with bigger groups (at least 6 students). The teacher might also play although it is better to stay on the outside, moderate the game, and step in, in case there is a student left without a partner.
Arrange students in two circles, an inside and outside, the inside facing out. Each student should have a partner. Pairs talk about their answers to questions which you a) put on the board and erase after each has been discussed b) are printed on handouts for each student. Students have 3 minutes to discuss each answer. Once the time is up, you ask the students from the outside circle to move to their right, meet their new talking partner and answer the next question from the list. You should have as many questions as students. The most important thing is to make the questions open-ended to give your students something to work with. YES/NO questions will kill the game after a minute.
Here are some examples I came up with for my intermediate group of 8:
- Describe your perfect holidays.
- What is the last film you saw? Would you recommend it?
- What do you usually do in your free time?
- What is your best childhood memory?
- Are you more sociable or shy?
- Is there anything new you would like to try?
- Have you visited any nice restaurants or bars lately?
- Would you be interested in traveling into space?
Alternatively, at the beginning of the class, you could ask your students to write one question they would like to ask a stranger use those instead of your own ideas. Although it is more motivating for students, you run the risk of not everybody coming up with suitable questions (and in the case of teenage groups you almost ALWAYS end up with at least one dirty question 🙂 ).
#2 Icebreaker: Matching pictures
This icebreaker requires a little bit of preparation (see below). It allows students to talk about their preferences and get to know each other’s tastes and opinions what leads to exchanging views and finding out more about each other. It is also great in terms of student talking time and making students more comfortable speaking in front of their peers. I have seen this game in action many times and it is incredible how quickly students strike up conversations when they have a visual prop to give them something to work with. It works best with bigger groups, levels intermediate and above.
I have two sets of pictures I usually work with: different holiday destinations and different houses. Each set contains 12 different pictures, each picture has a number from 1 to 6 on the back (you need to glue pictures and number and cut them up before class). Numbers double, so there are two different pictures of holiday destinations/houses with the same number on the back. In case you have toner issues at work, you might always use pictures cut out from newspapers and magazines, just remember to put numbers on the other side of each.
Ask students to randomly pick a card from a box/ a sack and take a look at the picture.
Do they like this holiday destination /house? Would they like to travel/live there? Why/ why not? What are advantages and disadvantages of each holiday destination/house?
Give them a minute to think about it and then ask them to walk around the class and find the person who has the same number at the back of their picture.
Once they find their partner, they should introduce themselves briefly, and talk about their pictures answering the questions you have asked before.
What might seem like a monologue, usually naturally transforms into a conversation: students agree or disagree, ask about more details (Person A: I’d like to travel there because it seems peaceful and I’m very stressed at work. Person B: Really? What do you do?), and exchange personal experiences. The topics are neutral enough in nature not to cause any controversy or immediate clashes of opinions.
Give your students 5 minutes to talk in pairs and then ask numbers 1 and 2 to get together (you should get a group of 4). Same goes for 3 and 4, 5 and 6. Now, let students introduce their partners to new students:
This is Maria, she would like to travel to this destination because she has a stressful job and would like to relax, She works as a customer service assistant.
#3 Icebreaker: The Cloud Game (add a twist)
I learned this game during my TEFL course and instantly regretted not knowing it earlier. It is great in its simplicity, requires no preparation as such, allows students to learn something about each other and the teacher, and offers a lot or speaking practice. It has been especially useful with my Spanish-speaking students, who often struggle with question word order in English. It works with groups and individual students. The reason why I like this game is that it does not put anybody on the spot during this first day. As a student, I used to hate it when the teachers asked me to tell the group something about myself. This game allows students to learn some facts about each other without making anybody feel uncomfortable. I have also noticed how this game makes people more eager to share fun facts about themselves, and not just the basics (family, job, pets).
Draw a graph on the board. It should look something like this:
Put your name in the middle. In each of the smaller clouds (the best number is 4-6) write a word that somehow describes you: your favourite food, colour, the place where you are from etc. Don’t make it too easy for the students to figure out what each word stand for.
Now, it is time for your students to ask you questions in order to find out what each of the clouds means to you. All you can say is YES or NO.
Is blue your favourite colour? YES!
Are you from Brazil? NO!
Have you ever been to Brazil? NO!
Would you like to travel to Brazil? YES!
In my case here is what each cloud stands for:
BLUE = my favourite colour
WRITER = I wanted to be a writer in the future when I was a kid
BLOG = I have a blog (in the past it used to stand for “I’d like to start a blog”)
BIKE = I love riding a bike
PEAS = I hate peas
BRAZIL = I’d love to travel there one day
Let students ask 3 questions about each cloud, if they can’t guess, move on to the next one. Once they have finished, ask them to tell you something they remember about you at this point.
Now, give your students a couple of minutes to draw similar graphs about themselves in their notebooks. They should work in pairs asking and answering questions about each other’s clouds. Ask them to try to remember as much about their partner as possible. After they had finished, elicit at least one piece of information about each student.
#4 Icebreaker: Find Someone Who (add a twist)
This game is an absolute ESL classic and I find it particularly useful as an icebreaker. It creates a reason for students to ask their classmates questions they probably would not have under different circumstances, it helps them learn each other’s names and maximizes student talking time. As every mingling activity, it is best for bigger groups (6+ students). I always play this game together with my students but at the same time I try to keep an ear out for grammar; once again question word order is crucial here. You might adapt the grammar to your students’ (expected) level. The game below has been prepared with intermediate students in mind.
Distribute one worksheet per student. They will need pens or pencils. Tell them they need to find other students who can answer YES to the questions. You might make questions together with your students or at least demonstrate how to make them using first two examples:
Find someone who was born in June = Were you born in June?
Find someone who has a pet = Do you have a pet? Have you got a pet?
After asking YES / NO questions, your students should try eliciting more information from those partners who answered YES, and write it down in the other column together with the person’s name:
Were you born in June? YES.
What day were you born on? June 12th.
At the end of the activity, ask students to provide information about each other:
So, who was born in June? When exactly?
Who has a pet? What pet is it?
#5 Icebreaker: Two truths and a lie (add a twist)
All this icebreaker requires is some imagination, a pen, and some paper. As a teacher, you go first. On the board, write 3 sentences about yourself. Two of them should be true, one should be a lie. Once again, don’t make it too obvious.
Here is what my sentences usually look like:
- I won several swimming competitions when I was a child.
- I don’t know how to drive.
- I have lived in 6 different countries.
They all look pretty plausible, don’t they? It is my students’ job to discover which one is not true. They should ask me questions trying to catch me lying.I usually make it a competition, with pairs or groups of students writing down 2 questions for each sentence and grilling me. It is then up to them to decide in which case I was lying. I usually try to maintain my poker face and give reasonable answers. After the quizzing, I give my students a minute to decide among themselves which sentence they think was a lie, and the winner gets some candy (yes, my adult students are absolutely over the moon with some candy on the first day, teenagers slightly harder to please when it comes to the choice of treats…)
FYI, #1 is A LIE, I sadly don’t know how to swim.
Here are some examples of questions students could ask me in order to discover the truth:
- How many competitions did you win? How old were you? What style did you use to swim? What distance did you use to swim? Where did you learn to swim?
- Why don’t you know how to drive? Have you ever taken a driver’s course? Have you ever failed a driving exam? How do you travel to work? How do you travel on holidays? Do you have a car?
- Where have you lived? Where did you work in X? Why did you go to Z? How long did you stay in Y? Which country did you like best? Why?
Once the students expose your lie, it is time for them to play the same game among themselves. They might play in the same pairs/groups, but a better idea is for them to change partners to get to know some other classmates.