First day icebreakers

This is a post for teachers. In this post, I compiled a list of my favourite icebreakers* to use on the first day of a new class. These activities are great to encourage students to talk in a fun and engaging way, especially on the first day when students might feel a bit shy. I think icebreakers should be a two-way thing: although it is important for students to get to know each other, it is equally important for them to know a thing or two about their teacher. Have fun!

1. If this is the answer, what is the question?

This is a great icebreaker for all levels. This can be used at the very beginning of a course in order for your students to know you and practice question forms at the same time.

Draw a circle on the board and inside the circle write information about you: it could be numbers (your age, number of brothers and sisters, children ,etc...), dates and years (when you graduated, when you got married, any significant dates in your life), name of countries, books, films, singers, bands, etc... It could be anything as long as the information is about you and is written as single pieces of information (not full sentences).

Pair students up and give them 5 minutes to come up with the questions for each piece of information. At this point don't help with grammar and vocabulary.

When the 5 minutes are up, ask each pair to compare with another pair and see if they come up with the same kind of questions.

Feedback: write the correct questions on the board even if they have mistakes. When done, ask students to have a look at the questions which have mistakes and to try and correct them. If needed, you can review question forms at this point.

“Play is our brain’s favorite way of learning.” -Diane Ackerman

2. True or false quiz

Quite self-explanatory, write 10 statements about yourself. Some are true and some are false, but all of them quite believable. Pair your students and ask them to decide which ones are true and which ones are false. After feedback, ask your students to write 4 or 5 statements about themselves (some true and some false) for their partner to decide which ones are true and which ones are false.

3. Getting to know you

This works great on the first day of a brand new group of students who don't know each other.

Divide the class in groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a dice. Each student takes turn rolling the dice. The number they roll tells them what topic to talk about. Encourage other members of the group to ask one or two follow-up questions. So, the topics can be (this can be tailor-made to suit your class and its level):

1. Family

2. School/university/work

3. Best friend

4. Favourite food

5. Home town

6. Last holiday

Monitor for language errors to discuss as a whole class once the activity is over.

4. Let's play teacher!

Divide your class in groups of 3 or 4. Ask each group to come up with 3 questions (or more, it's up to you) they would like to ask you about your life, studies, your job, hobbies, etc... Nothing too personal, though!

Whilst they are coming up with their questions, on the board draw a table like this one:

Then ask each group to choose a captain for their group. That's when things get interesting because you won't be the one answering the questions, the captains are! (make sure this is not said to the students before this point). Invite the captain from the first group to come to the board. Their job is to answer the questions as you would. They get a tick for each question they get right. Repeat the process with each group. The group with the most ticks wins! Go through the questions they got wrong and answer them. This is a nice activity to do on the Friday of your first week with a new group. Students should, at this point, feel a bit more comfortable with each other and you, but they might still have questions about their mysterious teacher!

5. 20 questions

Again, this works better if students work in groups. Give each student a post-it and ask them to write the name of a famous person (or you could prepare the post-its yourself in advance). They could be real or fictional as long as they are internationally known. They, then, give their post-it to the student on their left who should not read what's written on their piece of paper and should stick it on their forehead. Each student needs to guess who is written on their post-it by asking 20 closed questions (only answers possible are yes or no). They take turns asking their questions.

6. Dude, where's my partner?

This isn't really an icebreaker. This a short activity that can be done at any point in your students' course if you wish to change the pairs. Students tend to sit at the same spot everyday and therefore tend to work with the same person or people. So, this is a good way to change pairs by letting fate decide ;)

You need to come up with famous pairs: Romeo and Juliet; Laurel and Hardy; William and Kate, etc... Write them on slips of paper that you hand out to your students. Tell students that they need to find the second half of their couple by asking for example: " Romeo, where are you?" Once found, they need to sit down together, this will be their new partner for the day or the week.

*Please note that I haven't come up with the original idea for these icebreakers. These are activities I have found online, used and modified over the years.

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