Welcome back! It seems only yesterday that we were blogging about well-earned rests and mojitos on the beach, but September has arrived and for us that means the start of another school year. Many will have new classes: for the teacher this means getting to know their students, for the students it means getting to know their teacher and of course each other. In our first lesson back we may look at course requirements, rules and expectations and so on, but it’s important our students leave the class with a smile on their face and a spring in their step: just as with a good mojito, we’ll need to break the ice.
Present your partner
Get students in pairs. For beginners we can provide questions (Where are you from? What do you do in your free time?) and for intermediate and above, topics (family, hobbies, summer holiday) from which our learners formulate questions (we can also get them to come up with the topics). In pairs students ask and answer questions then take turns to present their partner to the class. They will have had to listen to their partner in order to present them, but how can we make sure our students listen in the presentation phase? Give them a task. Who has a hobby you’d like to try and why? Who do you have something in common with?
Bring in an interesting photo of your summer holiday. Get students in groups: how many questions can they think of that they want to ask you about the photo? Students take turns asking the questions and the teacher answers: students are told they need to remember the answers. Ask the students how many things they can remember about your holiday: “Put your hand up if you can remember one thing, keep it up if you can remember two” etc. The student who has their hand up for the longest then has to demonstrate their powers of memory to the class, and others can add in anything they’ve missed. For homework (or as preparation for this lesson), students bring in a photo from their summer holiday, then do a mingle activity where they ask and answer questions (rather than present their holidays). If you think it might be difficult for students to print photos, you could of course get them to show each other their photos on their phones, or get them to email you their photos to be printed out at school.
Follow up: cut the students’ pictures in half (we need the physical ones here!) and label the halves A and B, then put them into two bags: all students draw out a half A and a half B. They need to complete their half A by finding the matching B and help another student complete their half A by giving away their half B. They can’t show each other their photos, only ask questions and describe (teachers of exam courses might like this activity!).
Get students into groups of about 6, with five chairs in a circle for five of the students and a student standing in the middle. Give students a category (family, work, likes and dislikes etc): the student in the middle needs to make a statement (‘I have two brothers’ / ‘I work in a bank’ /’I love red wine’) and any student for whom the statement is true needs to stand up. All students standing up (including the one in the middle) need to find a new chair to sit on, but of course there aren’t enough chairs for all students, so it’s a race to claim one (like the party game, musical chairs)! The leftover student stays in the middle and has to make another statement that fits the category (until the teacher changes it). This is a lot of fun with students of all ages!
Teacher tells porkies (don’t get the reference? Check out this blog).
Write your students a letter introducing yourself, but include ten details that aren’t true (you can be as far-fetched as you like!). Put students in pairs or groups: they have to agree on the details they think aren’t true and then formulate questions to check (‘Did you really work for the CIA?’). Each group takes turns to ask questions until the truth about the teacher emerges. We might also include ten common level-appropriate mistakes in our letter for our students to find and correct. As a follow up, our students can write us a letter introducing themselves (without the porkies and the mistakes). This is a great way for teachers to gauge students’ level of written English at the start of the course: getting an idea of strengths and weaknesses to inform teaching. Or, students can write a letter to a classmate – including porkies and with the same question-asking activity afterwards.
Present yourself to one half of the class, telling the truth sometimes and lying at other times. Then present yourself to the other half of the class, changing your lies to truths and your truths to lies. Get students in pairs (one from each group) – they have to try to build up a correct picture of their teacher, formulating questions for you to check their ideas.
So, there you have our back to school icebreakers. Give them a try!