Making learners comfortable on the first day of class, after a holiday, or even when coming together for the first time in a few days, can be beneficial in establishing, fostering and rekindling a positive learning environment. By taking time to do a few icebreakers, we can help learners become more comfortable with one another, and consequently more willing to participate in class.
Icebreakers should never be seen as a waste of time: integrating icebreakers is a fantastic way to get ideas flowing… and never forget that! Here, then, are five old favorites that work in any situation and never fail to get your classes energized.
1. Detailed descriptions
To set this activity up, divide learners into small groups or pairs, and get them to choose a place they’ve visited. Then, ask the groups to brainstorm adjectives that describe that place. Monitor the activity and feed in new words as and when necessary; this is a quick and simple way to develop vocabulary. If your learners have trouble coming up with the words they need, let them consult dictionaries. When all groups are ready, allow each to read their adjectives to the class and see if the other groups can guess the place being described.
2. Guessing the word
I love this simple activity, which works just like the game Taboo. Start this off by writing a word on a piece of paper, along with several words that are commonly used to describe it. As with the previous ice breaker, split your class into teams. Get one team to try and describe the word without using any of the words listed on the card, while the other team guesses what it is. You can make this particularly relevant to their course of study by insisting they choose vocabulary studied in recent lessons. This is a really excellent way promote creative thinking, a skill that’s useful in any English classroom.
3. Super progressions
For this one you simply need to start with a simple if phrase for your learners to complete. For example: “If I’m free on Saturday evening…” Ask them to finish the sentence with an action. “If I’m free on Saturday evening, I’m going to play volleyball.” Next, ask them what happens after they’ve play volleyball, or if they won or lost, and how this affects what they do choose to do next. Continue this for several steps as a story develops. This is particularly good in getting learners to contemplate cause and effect, anticipate or plan the events in a story.
4. The Five Ws
Another simple classic that has great potential for revising vital language: get your learners to take turns standing up in front of the class and discussing something they did over the summer / weekend / last few days. After they’ve finished, ask the other learners to write down the who, what, when, where and why of the story. Choose several learners and get them to answer each of the questions. If they have different answers, discuss how they came to those conclusions. As a way of adding extra challenge for adult learners, select a few recent news stories from resources like newspapers and magazines.
5. Vocabulary mix-up
Another simple to set up and yet incredibly useful start to your class: scramble the letters in a list of words that you plan to use in a vocabulary lesson. Include the definitions for the words on a separate sheet, and make sure to place them in a different order. In groups, allow your learners to unscramble the words and then match them to the definitions. Get each group to report their answers and see which has guessed the most. If you want a more energetic variation, you could write one scrambled word at a time on the board and have the learners guess what it means.
Have you used these?
Let me know if you use these activities, I’d love to know how it went! Also, tell me if you have any interesting variations! I’m adding ideas left in the comments section to the post, as you can see…
Here’s a suggestion from Ayat Tawel:
I use an ice breaker to review vocabulary at the beginning of a lesson, giving each student 4 or 5 cards then I ask them to write one of the recent words they have learnt in the course in these cards (one in each), it can be a phrase or a chunk of language for higher level students. Then they test each other in pairs ,asking for the definitions of the words. Then they find number of syllables or stress in these words, choose two words to put in a sentence, categorize the words (which works really well as each pair usually categorizes the words in different words.. some do according to parts of speech or topic …etc.). A last activity can be to ask each pair to make up a short story using the words they have .