Ten Top Back to School ice-breakers

Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

And just like that we’re back. The holidays have drawn to a close and the suncream’s back in the cabinet. The laptop’s dusted off and thoughts turn to the 25 (hopefully) beaming faces that we’ll soon have in front of us. In our first lesson back we’ll often outline our rules and expectations, explain the content of the course and get to know one another with a range of ice breaking activities. This blog post focuses on the latter. Here are 10 activities to go away and use on the first day back!

1. Teacher introduction gap fill

We’ll want our students telling us about themselves, but it’s easier for them if we go first. There are a number of ways to this. One is a gapped text which students can look over in pairs and make predictions. They’re sure to make a few funny ones which should help break the ice:

I’m Mr Brand. Nice to meet you! I was born in ______________(Country) in _______________ (Year). But I’ve lived in Spain for ___________ (years). My favourite sport is _____________ and my favourite food is _____________. I can’t stand ____________!

Students can then write or read their own texts and even gap fill them too.

2. Teacher introduction Guess the Lie

A classic. Give a range of sentences about yourself and the students tell you which ones they think are false, with reasons.

I like racing my bike in the mountains
I don’t eat meat
I got married in Ávila

Again, they can play this game in pairs or groups after you’ve modelled.

3. Teacher photo intro

Bring in an interesting personal photo (hobby, holiday, family). 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 you. “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 of theirs, 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.

4. Musical chairs

Students get into groups of 6. Five chairs are set up in a circle facing inwards. Five of the students sit on a chair and one stands in the middle. You give the students a category (Holidays) and the student in the middle has to say a sentence about their holidays (“I went to the beach”). All students for whom the sentence is true have to stand up and find a new chair. The student in the middle has to find a chair too! Of course there are not enough chairs for everyone, so someone will be left in the middle. It’s now their turn to say a sentence. The teacher can periodically change the topic. This game works with students of all ages and they see what they have in common with one another.

5. 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. At the end we can ask students for interesting details they’ve found out about their classmates.

6. Fill in the gaps class rules 

I don’t advocate students coming up with rules per se but we can elicit good rules from them, such as by suggesting situations, asking whether they’re desirable or not and taking suggestions for rules that would ensure the situations are avoided or that they become a reality.


  1. We feel small because someone has laughed at us or insulted us
  2. Everyone gets a chance to express their opinion

Once we discuss the scenarios we can give students gapped phrases to formulate appropriate rules:

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

7. Candy Crush

Bring a bag of Skittles or M&M to class. Each student gets two. In pairs students 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 film 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, the teacher walks around the room and note down a few answers they hear. 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?”) – the person who said it can’t shout it out. Only then can the students get a sweet treat!

8. Got talent

Distribute cards to 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 cycling – Michael). 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.

9. Commonalities 

Get students in groups of four and assign a scribe (eg, the person born earliest in the year). Students ask one another questions to find out any similarities they share (Eg. they all like listening to music, they all like eating pizza, they all like riding their bikes, they all care about the environment) and the scribe writes a list. At the end they add of the allotted time they should add an untrue item.

Each group takes turns to read out their list. They get a point for each commonality they found. Plus, each group gets the chance to guess the untrue item from the other groups. If they get it then it’s five bonus points!

10. 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?

What are your favourite ice-breakers for the first day back?

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