Welcome to the first in our series of posts on activities for short courses – Ice-Breakers for the ELT Classroom! Join us over the coming weeks for posts on various activity ideas – from grammar games to projects and songs!
It’s that time of year again when students are coming and going through the revolving door of short course classrooms on a weekly basis, which leaves the teacher having to make sure that everyone is welcomed and knows each other. And while ice-breakers can become a monotonous part of the first day routine for the teacher as well as for students who are on longer stay courses, they are an invaluable way of ensuring the right learning environment within the classroom. Students need to feel welcome, comfortable and safe in the classroom to ensure that effective learning can happen. To that end, here are some of my favourite ice-breakers to do in class.
The Ball Pit
This is a fun activity which is based on this YouTube clip called Take a Seat, Make a Friend, and which works brilliantly as an ice-breaker in the ELT classroom. It’s worth watching the video first to help give students an idea of how it works.
- Give each student 3 or 4 pieces of paper and ask them to write one question or an instruction on each one, reminding them to use their imagination a little – we don’t want boring questions like where are you from? after all.
- Once they’ve written a question, ask them to scrunch it up and throw it into the middle of the classroom – the ball pit. When everyone has finished there should be plenty of questions in the ball pit. As the teacher, it’s also worthwhile putting some pre-prepared questions into the ball pit.
- Ask students to come into the middle of the room, put them into pairs and tell them to take it turns picking a ‘ball’ from the pit and then answering that question, before inviting their partner’s own response.
- Once they’ve answered the question tell them to throw the ‘ball’ back into the pit for someone else to find.
- Switch the pairs around every few minutes, ensuring that students get to speak to as many people as possible.
- Conduct class feedback, asking students to report any interesting things they learnt about their new classmates.
I’ve also seen this activity done as a ‘snowball fight’, where students throw the balls at each other around the class and answer any which land close to them.
1-minute life stories
This is one of my favourite ice-breakers as it really allows students the opportunity to find out about each other and it’s so simple because it’s all about a topic in which they’re the expert – THEMSELVES.
- Pair students up (A+B) and tell them that they are going to tell their partner their life story. As a class brainstorm some ideas about ‘life events’ that they might want to mention (when/where they were born, where they grew up, family, where they went to school, first time they did things etc.).
- Allow students some thinking time – they can make some notes if they like, but it’s not necessary.
- When the students are ready, ask the As to tell their life story, stopping them after one minute, reminding them that this is a monologue and that the B student should just listen for now. In my experience most students won’t finish, but that’s fine.
- Tell the B students that they now have one minute to ask any follow-up questions.
- Switch the student roles and repeat the process.
- For the next stage, switch the pairs around and tell them they must now tell their new partner all about their first partner in one minute.
- Class feedback – elicit as many interesting ideas as possible.
Concentric Circle Conversations
As well as helping students find out about each other, this is an interactive and kinaesthetic ice-breaker which can really help energise the classroom and break down any nervousness in the classroom.
- Organise your students into two circles – an inner one facing outwards and an outer one facing inwards – making sure everyone is facing someone.
- Tell them they have to find out what they have in common with each other in the time allowed (teacher choice), by asking questions. For example, What kind of music do you like? What sport do you like/play?
- When the time is up, rotate the circles as you like (e.g. ask the inner circle to move 2 places clockwise and the outer circle 5 places anti-clockwise) and ask them to tell their new partner about what they have in common with their first partner. If the new partner also has that in common with them, they should say so.
- Repeat the process as many times as you like, depending on time available.
- Conduct class feedback, asking each student to tell the class what they have in common with other classmates.
This is a fun ice-breaker which I learnt from a colleague in Poland and is an extension of My Name Is…
- Depending on the level of the class and to facilitate the activity, brainstorm adjectives of personality and appearance and write them on the board.
- Introduce yourself and then using the different letters of your name, use adjectives to describe yourself. For example, “My name’s Alex and I’m Amusing, Likeable, Excitable and eXtrovert (x is a tricky one!)
- Give your students some thinking time and once everyone is ready, students go around the class introducing themselves and then repeating the names of the other students and their adjectives. For example, “My name’s Daniel and I’m Dynamic, Amazing, Nocturnal, Intelligent, Engaging and Likeable. His name is Alex and he’s…” Of course this is harder for the students towards the end, but in my experience the other students are always happy to help out and there’s always lots of laughter.
- As a follow up you can get students to make posters of their names and their corresponding adjectives which can be put on the walls.
Comment and let us know which ice-breakers worked best in your class! Do you have any others to share with us?
For activities for young teenage learners check out our series Impact, and for adult learners check out Outcomes, Life and Keynote – all of these series come in split editions – perfect for your shorter courses!
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Author: Alex Warren
Alex Warren is a DELTA trained teacher trainer with over 14 years’ experience of working in ELT as a teacher, academic director and teacher trainer. Working for National Geographic Learning, Alex is driven by his passion for developing teachers on a global scale and helping them to reach their true potential. A firm believer in a communicative approach to language learning and student centred learning, Alex enjoys working with innovative, thought-provoking materials and presenting on a wide range of ELT-related topics.