Back to school icebreakers

Welcome back teachers! I am sure you all had a very well deserved vacation. Now that your teaching power bar has been reloaded, it is time to think about the new course and get fresh ideas for the first day of class. Whether you are teaching primary, secondary or adults, below you’ll find some fun back to school icebreakers that you can adapt to the age group and level you are teaching. You can also print the following activities on cards, put them in a box and use them as warmers throughout the school year.

GOT TALENT

Distribute index cards among your students. They’ll need to write their names and something they are good at and that they could teach to others (eg I’m good at dancing – Elena). Collect the cards and scatter them on your desk. Students walk around, read the cards and pick one activity they would like to learn (and find the person who can teach them). In pairs they speak for a few minutes and get details about that specific activity. Finally, ask a few volunteers to report what they have learned.

SOMETHING ABOUT YOU

Bring a bag of colour candy to class (eg Skittles © or M&M ©). Students pick two candies of different colours. Students in pairs will have to share information about themselves based on the colours they have chosen.

RED – something new you tried this summer
PURPLE – a food you hate
GREEN – a movie you’ve seen more than 5 times
YELLOW – someone you’ve met this year
ORANGE – something you’d like to learn in English

Each student needs to talk to at least five different people. While the students are speaking, walk around the room and note down a few answers. When everyone has finished, ask your students if they remember who gave the answers you noted down (eg Who said they had gone kayaking this summer?) and only then can the students eat the candy!

DO YOU KNOW THAT JOKE ABOUT…?

Tell your students a joke (age and level appropriate) and ask a few volunteers to continue telling more jokes. You could allow them to do this in their L1 if necessary, and then maybe use that time to talk about culture references and vocabulary translations in jokes. You can make it more fun if students aren’t allowed to smile / laugh after a joke (if anyone laughs, they must tell another joke).

WHO ARE YOU?

(For groups that already know each other) On a piece of paper each student writes / draws three unique facts about themselves (a pet’s name, favourite sport, most hated food) plus a lie. Put all the papers on the wall (or just read a few). Students should walk around the room and figure out the person the description belongs to as well as the lie. Remember to include yourself too!

SPEED DATING

Students brainstorm questions they would like to ask their classmates (personal info, last holidays, etc.).Write them on the board (and make sure they are appropriate). Then, students sit in two lines facing each other and work in pairs for two minutes to ask each other some of the questions from the board. At the end of the two minutes, the students move to their next partner.

SHARING INTERESTS

Students will share their likes and dislikes and find common ones by answering some questions. Example: Name your favourite video game, vegetable, TV show, music band, most disliked food, etc. Students write their answers on a mini whiteboard and show it to you. Get the students with common interests together to ask follow-up questions (eg favourite music band: favourite song, ever seen them live….). Also make groups of people with different interests to explain their answers to each other / agree or disagree.

MY HOLIDAYS

Ask your students to quickly draw an object / place or write one or two words that summarize their holidays (eg a beach ball, a mojito, a tent). Then, half of the class can walk around the room and look at their classmates’ drawings / words. Can they imagine what their classmates’ vacation was like? Students pick one or two classmates and explain their guesses. Were they right?

NOT A BAG

Distribute brown bags which contain some everyday items. The idea is that with the materials inside the bag (and the bag itself) students should design something that represents them.  Random items inside the bag: 2 paperclips, 2 rubber bands, 2 pipe cleaners, 2 jumbo popsicle sticks, 4 twist ties, a 5″ x ½” piece of foil, and a straw. Finally, have the students present their designs to the class or to guess each others’.

Source (for a full description)

FILL IN THE GAPS

You can play the famous Mad Libs © game, where the students have to fill in the gaps of a story with a specific part of speech. Here’s a free printable on the topic of holidays that you can use on your first day of class, but you can also create your own based on the new course (eg class rules / goals).

Example:
1 Always be __________ (adj)
2 Bring your _________ (noun) to class
3 Don’t forget to _________ (verb)
4 Say _________ (noun) frequently

The result could be both fun but also useful to involve your students in establishing the classroom rules. Some other classroom ideas to use with this game here.

POSITIVE CLASSROOM PUZZLE

(For groups that already know each other) On a large piece of cardboard, draw as many puzzle pieces as number of students, plus one for yourself. Number them on the back and cut them out. Shuffle the pieces and distribute these among students for them to write a positive word / drawing that represents them. Have the students reassemble the puzzle on the wall / floor and then guess who wrote what. You could also use this throughout the course to remind them of 1) the importance of working together and 2) keeping a positive attitude in class.

I hope you enjoyed the activities above. What other icebreakers do you like using on your first day of class?

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About Elena Merino

Teacher Trainer for Pearson. I lived 1 year in Ireland and 3 years in the USA, where I fell in love with the English language. I've worked as a teacher for twelve years in different contexts and with different age groups. PhD in Communication and Multilingual Education, I'm concerned about meaningful real-world tasks that get students to communicate, in other words, how can teachers facilitate learning and engage students in the English classroom?

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