First Lesson – Ice breakers

ESL first lesson Ice breakers

We’re back!  That’s right, it’s that time of year again.  School is back with a vengeance and teachers and students can’t be more ecstatic about it, right?  September is the best time of the month as far as I’m concerned. It provides the opportunity for a fresh start with a new class and new students. Those two ingredients combined make that chemistry teachers and students are seeking, in order to make the next 9 to 10 months bearable and by some miracle, maybe even enjoyable!  Though students would hesitate to ever admit the enjoyment of it all.  So how do we get there? How do we start off the year with a bang? Or a boom as I like to usually say….

Ice breakers!  They are the first weapon of choice in any teacher’s arsenal.  They allow the students to get to know each other and also provide an opportunity for teachers to get to know the students as well.  I’d like to share some of the ones that I have used over the years. Ones I have found to be quite effective.  These are tried and tested and I have stuck with them because I’ve seen the results for myself.  So let’s get started.

Learning student’s names is a challenge for many teachers, but is a must because students then are assured that you know them.  I use Facebook as a start off point.  Students know social networks better than anyone and use them more than anyone else.  Elicit from them the word “status” by asking them what we call the space next to someone’s name on Facebook.  Tell them that in this space we can write anything we want and update it as often as we like.  Keep giving them hints and you’ll eventually get the answer.  Once you write “status” on the board elicit from students what people put there and make a list.  I always try to elicit the where, what and with who status updates as well as lyrics, quotes, likes/dislikes and hobbies.  Once you are satisfied with your list you can proceed to the next step.  Give students half a piece of paper and ask them to make a sign with their name in bold capitals and below it, to write their “status”. Tip: Tell students not to write where they are (you know that already) and not to write that they are sleepy/tired/feeling tired or wanting to sleep etc.  I’ve had too many of these and it’s counter-productive.  Once the status is written you can ask them for an update half way through the lesson.  Teachers should do the same and place it on the desk facing the students.  This allows you the teacher to gain some insight into who your students are and at the same time start learning their names.  Ask them to keep the signs for the next few lessons and you’ll quickly see how much easier it is to remember their names.  You can do this with any age and most levels.

Once that is done you can then move on to the actual ice breaker, here are some ideas:

True, true, false

The circle

The Gossip game (Upper-Intermediate or advanced students only)

The questions game

My advice is to avoid the ones like “Find Someone Who”, because it is overused, and students probably know that activity as well as others that teachers generally overuse over and over again.  Look for original, fresh ideas that will surprise your students.  The questions game has students write down 5 questions that they would ask someone they met for the first time.  Tell them to think about what they would want to know the most about someone when they first met them:  Hobbies, Likes/Dislikes, routines, strengths and weaknesses, skills and abilities, personality, ambitions, plans for the future etc.  You can brainstorm these ideas just so students don’t feel like they have to come up with the ideas all on their own.  Afterwards, pair them up and ask them to exchange their questions with their partner.  Now tell them to ask the questions they have to their partner.  This practices question formation and tricks students into answering their own questions instead of their partners.  Change partners a few times.

The circle game requires you the teacher to draw a circle on the board and elicit from students what the circle may be: pizza, earth, moon, ball, clock, hockey puck, a plate etc.  Get as many ideas as possible, it’s fun!  Then put some info about yourself into the circle: A date, a number, a movie, a musician, a name, an activity, a food, a piece of clothing, a shop etc.  Then ask students to tell you/ask you what each piece of information refers to about your life.  Try not to make it too obvious.  The date could be a birthday or an anniversary or when you started working at the school.  The number could be how many siblings you have or your age.  The movie could be your favorite, or the worst you’ve seen, or maybe the last good one you saw etc.  This allows students to get to know their teacher and also form questions.  Afterwards, ask them to draw a circle/pizza whatever and put some info in it.  Change partners multiple times for this.

True, true false is a popular one in which students write down 2 true and 1 false thing about them before putting them in groups to figure it out. Put them in groups of 4 and ask them in pairs to try and guess and then justify their choice.  Afterwards encourage feedback on what they learned from each other, the feedback part can be done for all activities.  Alternatively, you could collect the slips of paper, read some out and have students guess who it is, ask them to tell you why.

Finally, you could just use activities from teacher’s resource books.  One of my favorites for intermediate students is the half-minute topics board game from Reward intermediate. Here’s a picture of it:half-minute topics

It works really well in groups of four.  Give students a die and markers and while playing encourage them to speak the full 30 seconds or more if they can, no more than a minute.  All the topics are ice-breaker/ get to know you material.

Finally, for higher level students you can use The Gossip Game.  It comes from the Advanced Communication Games resource book.  In this activity students are given a roll in which they are one of a number of residents on a street.  Their roll cards include information about who they are and information they have on others who live on the street.  Students have to mingle and spread information or gossip with the goal being that they need to find out as much information as they can about their neighbors and in particular what is happening in house number 4.  The person in this house is a secret agent, and has to lie about who they are.  Since students don’t know each other, this activity works very well as a warm up speaking task and takes about 60min to get through.  Students may not get to know their classmates but are working throughout while practicing their English speaking skills, they will definitely leave the class with a great first impression, eager for the next lesson.

Keep in mind that any teacher’s resource book will have an ice breaker activity in it for the first lesson so if you have a library of resources at your school, have a look and surely you’ll find something you can adapt and use.  If you are experienced there are untold variations and activities you could choose that I have not mentioned here.  When I first started I used Dave’s ESL café for this and found some great stuff. So happy hunting! An earlier lesson idea I posted here, is also a fantastic ice breaker for the first lesson that I have used for every level I’ve taught, like clockwork! Remember to include something that will allow students to get to know something about you as well.  Students, regardless of age, are always curious about their teachers, and who they are outside of the classroom, hint: Human!  A successful take off is crucial in the first lesson because it can establish a great rapport between students and the teacher for the rest of the school year.  I know that establishing rules is also quite a common approach but if you choose to do it make sure it’s a collaborative task and not a boring hand out with rules on it.

Let the learning begin peeps!  Launch sequence initiated in t-minus 10..9…8…7… well you get the idea.

Good Luck and enjoy.

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