More ice breakers for the ELT classroom


For many of us it’s that time of year again when we are about to start new classes. Learning a foreign language can be stressful, so we want our students to feel at ease with each other, and with us. But how to break the ice? As a follow up to a previous post, Breaking the Ice, I’ve collected together even more ideas.

Activities for students to find out more about each other

As I mentioned in my previous post, it is important to be sensitive about these kinds of activities, because with a new class, some students may not want to share too much. One way round this is to always let them select what topics they are happy to talk about.
Perhaps the best known ice breaker in ELT is Find Someone Who (described in my previous blog post). A variation on this, which gives the students more topic control, is to give each student a card and ask them to write 5 facts about themselves that they think others in the class will probably not know. For example, my Grandfather was born in Estonia, my favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio etc. Divide the class into two teams, and then collect in the cards. Pick a card from Team A, and read out the clues, one by one. Team B try to guess the person in as few clues as possible.

Or let students choose the questions they want to answer. Start the activity by getting students to write at least two getting to know you type questions onto post it notes. For example, What is your favourite way to waste time? What are you going to do this weekend? What’s the best/worst thing about your job/school? Put all the post it notes onto the board, and let students come up and select one they would like to answer. They then stick the post it note to themselves and mingle asking and answering. Answering the same question more than once is likely to encourage fuller and more fluent answers each time, but whenever they are tired of answering the same question they can come back and choose a different question, or even write their own if nothing appeals.

Or let students find out about you instead. There are some ideas in the previous post, here, but you can also just give them, say, ten minutes, to ask anything they want to (you don’t have to answer). When the ten minutes is up, they have to write down what they found out. This gives you a good idea of how strong their listening and writing skills are.

Activities to just have fun

I would probably avoid anything too individually competitive with a new class, to avoid potential embarrassment, but co-operative activities can work extremely well to start the bonding process.

A simple activity is to give each student a piece of a jigsaw as they come into the room (you can easily make your own simple jigsaw with an image stuck onto card). Once they are seated, explain that they need to work together to complete the jigsaw. There are just two rules- all discussion must be in English, and only the person holding each piece can put it in the jigsaw. Once they have finished, you can then do something with the completed image- perhaps they write a description of the scene, or roleplay a discussion between two characters in the image.

Another fun activity is to put students into groups of about four and give each group the same newspaper (free newspapers from public transport are good for this). Then ask the students to find and give you different bits of the newspaper, which you have previously selected. For example, an advert for shampoo, an article about a new shopping centre. They should take in in turns to find the section (with help from their team-mates) and then rip it out and bring it to you. (Make sure that nothing you ask for is printed on the back of something else you listed).

Or you could try a teacherless task. All these ideas would work well with adults or upper secondary students. For further ideas try this post from Svetlana Kandybovich and Walton Burn’s new e-book, 50 activities for the first day of school.




Filed under classroom ideas, ice-breakers, Planning, Speaking, Working with groups

11 responses to “More ice breakers for the ELT classroom

  1. Thanks for the ideas, really helpful suggestions before school starts! I really enjoy starting these first lessons from the moment my students step into the school building, so I prefer using icebreaking activities that take place outside the class as well. I wrote a post about them a while ago, but I always try to experiment with new ways of breaking the ice 🙂 (here’s the link to my post:

  2. Thanks for the link, Maria. Some very nice ideas there.

  3. Linda Ann

    Thanks for the article. I am going to use some of these ideas.

  4. Great post, Rachael! I’m going to give them a go with my students. Thanks for sharing my blog too, much appreciated:)


  6. Pingback: #TBLTChat 3: Pretasks and supporting tasks | #TBLTchat

  7. wlburns

    Great ideas here. I particularly like letting the students write their own Find Someone Who statements. And thanks for the link to my book! I appreciate it.

  8. I like the simplicity of these activities, I think it’s really important to have simple activities especially in the first class!

  9. One thing I sometimes do in a first class is:

    – write on the board some personal answers to questions: 1981, Ireland etc.
    -Students work together to guess what they think the original question was and write it down.
    -Students ask you the questions they have written down, at this point you can correct/see what their question formation is like.
    -You can then do a partner/mingle exercise with the questions generated by the class (depending on class size).

    I find this is a good way to introduce a grammatical focus if students have expressed an interest in learning it.

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