My 5 favourite ice breaker activities

When you’re in the classroom, the mood of the lesson will often be set by your choice of icebreaker activity. Icebreakers get learners talking and interacting with one another for a specific reason. Encouraging the development of positive relationships and a positive environment so often depend on a killer ice-breaker activity. With this in mind, here are five of my favourites for getting lessons off to a great start…

1. Where in the World?

In the 21st Century the world is becoming a smaller place, but there are still some mysteries. Where in the world are you from? Where in the world is your favorite place?

What you need…

A world/country map or globe might help, but you can manage without.

How to…

  1. Give learners time to think of three things that describe either their home country or their favorite foreign place. These should be clues: don’t make it obvious!
  2. When ready, each learner gives their name and their three clues, and the others guess where in the world they are describing.
  3. Give each individual enough time to explain what they like best about their favorite place in the world.

Tip…

Model the activity yourself so they have an example.

Energize…

You can make it a requirement that one of the descriptions be a physical motion. For example, I could do a short dance to represent traditional dancing.

Possible follow ups…

You can ask learners to:

  1. Give their reactions
  2. Ask questions about each place

Maybe you are looking at a text that describes a particular place. If you’re lucky, someone will have described this place. If not, model the activity again using the location in the course book.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt this?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activity differently?
It's good to talk

It’s good to talk

2. The idea sprint

The Idea Sprint is a fantastic way to either review topics you’ve already covered, or brainstorm what learners already know. Also, it offers some energizing fun in the process.

What you need…

You need something learners can write on. A white board is fine, but flip charts where each team can’t see the others’ work are better. Each team needs a marker to write with.

How to…

  1. Divide the class into teams.
  2. Give them a topic.
  3. They will have 30 seconds (or more) to brainstorm and list as many ideas as they can.
  4. Remind them they cannot speak.
  5. Each student must write ideas on the board.
  6. The team with the most ideas after the given time wins.
  7. Get the winning team to present their ideas.
  8. Ask remaining teams to add extra ideas and/or correct any mistakes the winning team made.

Tips…

  • Write an example on the board to show what you’re looking for.
  • Try to plan the activity so the ideas they came up with lead in to the main part of the lesson.

Energize…

Learners are up and moving around, so this is a natural energizer.

Possible follow ups…

Ask if the learners liked working in groups. This will help you understand the dynamics of the class and enable you to plan group work in the future.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt this?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activity differently?

3. Picture Scavenger Hunt

Pictures are worth a thousand words and nearly everyone carries a photo of somebody or something with them. When you have a new class, you can use these photos for a scavenger hunt!

What you need…

You need to prepare a scavenger hunt lists, which you should make in advance. A typical one for an introductory class might look something like this:

  • Family portrait
  • View of home town
  • Child laughing/crying
  • Baby’s first photo
  • Family pet
  • Twins
  • Bride and groom
  • Grandparents
  • Boyfriend/Girlfriend

How to…

  1. Distribute your scavenger lists.
  2. Give the class a specific time frame to find someone who has one of the photos, e.g. 30 minutes.
  3. Persuade them to find a new person for each item.

Tips…

It may be impossible to finish the list, so set a realistic goal (find seven out of ten).

Energize…

This is a natural energizer that has people moving around constantly.

Possible follow ups…

  • You can adapt this for specific topics by finding a bunch of photos on Google relating to topic-specific vocabulary and distribute these to the members of the class. Adapt your scavenger hunt list accordingly.
  • If using this in the first lesson of a new class, ask each person to give their name and share which photo they liked best and why.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt this?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activity differently?

4. Brain Gym Master Class

Sometimes the brain needs a bit of physical activity to get it going at the start of class. Brain gym is the art of stimulating mental activity through bodily movement. Here are four quick, fun activities to help you…

1. Hat Juggling

Get students to use their hats, gloves or scarves to juggle.

  • This gets your class standing up, moving around and having a good laugh.
  • The cross-body movement works to stimulate both sides of the brain, so when the exercise is over, your students are geared up to learn.

2. Rhythmic Revision

Whatever you did in the previous lesson, do a quick revision with added rhythm.

  • Get the class to sit in a circle.
  • Slap your knees, clap your hands or snap your fingers… while going over what you did before.

3. Stretchathon

Basically, this just simply feels good.

  • When lethargy starts to appear, get your students on their feet and lead them in a series of stretching exercises.

4. Drum Session

As long as you have your hands and desks, you can bang out a rhythm.

  • This doesn’t have to involve language, you can just do it to revive flagging students.
  • A straightforward drum beat can be an enjoyable and easy kinetic ice breaker and energizer to wake up your class.

Your part…

  • How would you adapt these?
  • Are there any age groups you’d use these with specifically?
  • How would you set up the activities differently?

5. The super-quick speed dating mixer…

You probably know the idea of speed dating… A person talks to another person for 5 minutes and then moves on to the next person. Why not use this in class to share ideas?

What you need…

  • A clock/watch and something to make noise with
  • You can provide questions if you want, but it’s not necessary (adults don’t have any trouble making conversation on their own)
  • Enough people so they can mingle (good for large classes)

How to…

  1. Ask learners to stand up, find partners and chat for 2 minutes with each other about anything interesting.
  2. When 2 minutes are up, give your sound signal, loud enough for everyone to hear.
  3. When they hear your signal, everyone finds a new partner and chat for the next 2 minutes.

Tips…

  • If your class isn’t huge, allow everyone to have 2 minutes with every other person.
  • If you use this at the start of a course, combine it with introductions. After finishing, ask each person to give their name and share something they learned from someone else.
  • You can use this for test preparation. Prepare cards with a test question written on each. Distribute to students. While mixing, students quiz each other with their questions, and then move on when time’s up.

Your part…

• How would you adapt this?
• Are there any age groups you’d use this with specifically?
• How would you set up the activity differently?

Your turn…

What’s your favourite ice breaker? I’m keen to add to my repertoire, so all ideas are gratefully accepted in the comments section.

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13 Responses to My 5 favourite ice breaker activities

  1. Pingback: My 5 favourite ice breaker activities | Teach t...

  2. Pingback: ELT/ESL: 5 favourite ice breaker activities | broadyesl

  3. Pingback: Learning activities | Pearltrees

  4. These r really good.

  5. Pingback: Some great warmers | Tim's Free English Lesson Plans

  6. Pingback: My 5 favourite ice breaker activities | Teach t...

  7. Cynthia says:

    Very good suggestions.

  8. Mark says:

    These look great. I hope to try them soon.

  9. Tracy Baisden says:

    Thank you for these. I love that some of these will be great wrap up activities, that are manageable in a 47 minute class period. I ALWAYS struggle with different kinds of wrap ups, and my kids really get sick of exit cards.

  10. Sammy says:

    Good ideas here! My favourite ice breaker is a good old “Find Someone Who” because it’s endlessly adaptable to different ages and levels, and can be made to include the grammar point that you want to look at, or the subject that you want to lead into. Also because it requires minimal preparation and setup, and gets the students up, moving, and learning one another’s names quite effectively. Job done!!

  11. Pingback: Icebreakers | Pearltrees

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