At the start of a new semester, teachers around the world turn their attention to the very first class. With a new group of students to integrate and make comfortable, icebreakers are an activity that are essential to those first days. But what makes a good activity? Ideally, teachers need icebreakers that are low in social risk, matched to your class’s proficiency level, and perhaps just a bit silly. A good activity will encourage bonding, participation, motivation, and allow students to relax both mentally and physically. Of course, it’s an added bonus if they can be easily adapted as warm ups or speaking activities during the year. Here are 13 adaptable icebreakers that we love…
1. Blobs and lines
This activity is easy, quick, keeps students moving and talking, plus helps them discover what they have in common. The idea is for students to listen to their teacher’s prompts and organize themselves in a line (for example, in alphabetical order of last name) or in blobs according to something they have in common (birth month).
Try these prompts:
- Line up in chronological order of your birthdays
- Line up in order of how many siblings you have
- Find those who are allergic to the same things as you
- Gather with those who have the same colored clothing as you
- Line up in alphabetical order of your fathers’ names
- Gather in four blobs: those who traveled by car to class, those who traveled by bus, and those who traveled another way
2. This or that
Along the same lines, in this activity students move to a particular side of the room to represent their opinions on a certain topic. To make this icebreaker work, “yes/no”, “true/false”, or “would you rather X or Y” questions are best. (A quick Google search will reveal dozens of sites with icebreaker questions to use or adapt.) Examples are:
- True or false (teacher indicates the sides of the room that correspond to each answer): I had breakfast this morning.
- Would you rather be invisible for a day or be able to fly for a day?
- Yes or no: Do you speak more than three languages?
Tip: If you want to have questions with multiple answers you can assign each to a specific corner of the room.
Ask the students to invent a “signature” movement or sound. It can be extremely simple: a clap, cough, turn in a circle, bow, word, mime, or gesture. Show yours first and go around the class (the students’ signatures shouldn’t repeat). Then it’s time to remember them, beginning with yours and going around the circle again.
4. Classmate bingo
An oldie but a goodie. Create bingo cards with prompts for students to use to ask each other questions. The idea is to cross off all the squares. Use simple prompts like those below, or try more complicated ones for higher level classes:
- Has been to Vietnam
- Prefers Vegemite to Marmite
- Likes snakes
- Is reading a book in English at the moment
- Has more than four siblings
- Does not have a middle name
- Got up late today
- Is allergic to something
- Has had a coffee this morning
5. Who’s in your circle?
Ask your students to draw three cocentric circles on a piece of paper. Give them a topic (food, seasons, sports…) and ask them to write it in the center circle. In the second circle students write “love”, in the third “like”, and outside the circles “don’t like”. Under the topic, students individually choose a specific example to focus on (e.g., bananas, spring, tennis). Students then mingle and ask their classmates how they feel about the item they have chosen, writing the students’ names in the circles that correspond to their opinions. Repeat with another topic.
Small group speaking activities
6. Toilet paper roll
Produce a roll of toilet paper and ask students to take as many sheets as they like, without telling them why. Once the class has their sheets, reveal that each sheet corresponds to a question their small group will ask them. You can also do this with pieces of candy.
7. Two truths and a lie
Students write down three sentences with information about themselves, however, one must be a lie. Other students then ask them follow-up questions to discover which statement was a lie.
Tip: This is a great way for teachers to give information about themselves on the first day of class. Ask students to think of follow-up questions in pairs.
8. Three things in common
Small groups must identify three things that they have in common with each other – the stranger, the better. Put prompts on the board if you would like, then give students time to talk. Later, students report back and vote on which group has the strangest three things in common.
Open class speaking activities
9. Time bomb name game
This is a fun, quick activity for students to remember each other’s name. Ask your class to form a circle and say their name. Then, throw a tennis ball to one of your students. They have two seconds to say some one else’s name and throw the ball to them, before it “explodes” and they are out of the game. Continue until only one student remains.
10. Beach ball toss
Before class, write icebreaker questions over a beach ball in permanent marker. Standing in a circle, students throw the ball to each other. When caught, or when the teacher says “stop”, the student with the ball must answer the question closest to their left thumb. Repeat until each student has answered at least one question.
11. Candy pass
Give each student a small handful of colored candy (such as Skittles). Tell the class that a question has been assigned to each candy color. Write these on the board, considering having a mix of serious and more humorous questions such as:
- Blue: Would you rather be a tiny horse or an enormous chicken? Why?
- Red: What is your ideal job and why?
- Green: Tell the class about your house and who lives in it.
- Yellow: What are three countries you would like to visit and why?
Students are then told to eat all their candy – except for one piece. In this way they can choose the question they will answer.
12. Sit down if…
With the class in a circle the teacher asks a series of quirky yes/no questions. Students sit down if they can answer “yes” and the last student standing is the winner.
13. Speed dating
This activity allows students to talk to a maximum number of classmates in a short time. To begin, have your class form two concentric circles facing each other. Ask an icebreaker question and tell them they have a minute to discuss it. After one minute, the outer circle rotates counter-clockwise one position – and the activity is repeated with another student and another question. Continue until students have returned to their original partners.