Updated: October 21st, 2021
If you are teaching an ESL language class…..in the classroom or online …it pays to have a good set of icebreakers ready to go ! Just having something ready to go can make all the difference when you walk into a classroom ( sometimes I’m really blank…and it’s actually me that needs the icebreaker!). Or online, having an engaging, accessible way into a topic is essential.
If you are teaching language for deciding and choosing, this is a nice way to start.
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This is a good way to get into a discussion about gerunds.
Another good icebreaker technique is to brainstorm aspects (good, bad etc.) of a particular topic. My topic here is “taking risks”. So I tried to brainstorm many kinds of risks. This is a good icebreaker for adjectives and/or vocabulary associated with safety and danger. (see page 2 for example answers) This exercise can be adapted for any level and could be used 2 or 3 times a term before it comes boring (I think!?),
This brainstorm exercise can also be done as preparation for a job interview speaking activity.
There probably couldn’t be a much easier way to start a class than brainstorming things that make you laugh!
An almost failproof icebreaker is the survey. Surveys that relate to students’ personal lives easily engage their attention. It works as a comprehension and short discussion exercise. It’s a great way to introduce topics that relate to honesty.
Ranking icebreakers are a surefire way to engage students. They can be used for a whole range of topics. One good topic is money and spending preferences.
Another good ranking topic is ways to be successful.
This is a fun icebreaker than can be applied to certain topics: describing people, branding (business), the past tense adjectives etc.
This doesn’t look like much but it’s cool! Students’ these days have strong opinions about online advertising and will come up with lots of examples (see the second page of PDF for a sample of student answers)
This is a good icebreaker for more advanced students studying social issues. The example shows how it challenges their knowledge of vocabulary
“Getting to Know You” is a pretty obvious idea. It’s a personal information exercise and allows the teacher to assess the student’s abilities. The only trouble I’ve had with this exercise is matching the questions to the student’s level of ability. The questions below seem to me to be suitably generic and have worked flawlessly in any elementary class I’ve taught so far (Thai students, Chinese students).
This is another exercise that can be used with a variety of present simple exercises. I can be used to elicit language for making present simple questions or talking about routines. It helps to give the teacher a idea of the range of the students’ vocabulary. And it’s a useful way to get some vocabulary on the board for question writing activities.
This exercise is another great exercise for really elementary students that doesn’t demand too much of them. It’s a good way to get into teaching the days of the week and prepositions.
This brainstorm activity explores vocabulary associated with routines and time. I walk around the class asking students “What do you do everyday in the morning?” , “What do you do once a week?” etc. It’s a nice, friendly way to start a class.
Following on from the previous exercise, this icebreaker can be used used to introduce and familiarize students with verbs adverbs of frequency. You might ask students questions like “What do you sometimes eat at a department store?” or “What do you often do on weekends?”.
For me, activities using pictures are perhaps the most consistently successful of anything I do in the classroom. They can be used in so many ways. They force students to think and use their imaginations. And they are open to interpretation which can often lead to unexpected discoveries about meaning or culture or individual differences.
Shopping is a pretty fundamental topic in elementary textbooks. And it’s pretty easy to get students engaged and bring out some vocabulary with the exercise below.
Sorting icebreakers work well for many topics. This is the most elementary and popular icebreaker for introducing the topic of food.
Some icebreakers are so simple you might feel a fool for not having thought of them before. I certainly have. Brainstorming things…furniture …items…adjectives ..etc that might be used for parts of the house. What a no-brainer! But I didn’t think of it for 30 years of teaching. Icebreakers like this are great for setting up question writing exercises. Once the board is full of vocabulary, you can give a couple example questions, “What kind of furniture do you have in your living room?/ Do you have a big bed?/ Do you have a microwave in your kitchen etc…..” and ask students to create their own questions around the vocabulary.
Another really straightforward and easy brainstorm is a jobs brainstorm. This works with pretty much any level as even the most elementary students can name jobs. A really, really easy way to start a class.
Brainstorming about colors is an easy icebreakerl. You could almost use this icebreaker anytime but perhaps it could be good for introducing adjectives or for topics like fashion and advertising.
Another useful and east brainstorming and icebreaking activity is brainstorming places around town. Like “Colors” this exercise is painless and usually fun and often leads you down some interesting paths.