Whether you’re a teacher or a student, you surely are familiar with the feeling of not knowing how to start a conversation with other people in the room, or seeing that the atmosphere and energy in the classroom are at low levels. This does not mean that you are doing a bad job at teaching or contributing to your class as a student, but it can often be related with people’s tiredness, class hours, or the topic of the class. Have you ever wondered what to do in these situations or felt like you tried everything but ran out of ideas? Worry no more, because we have prepared a list of extremely useful icebreakers that have proven to work with both adults and teenagers!
Introduction – What are icebreakers?
Before we get to our list, let us briefly explain what an icebreaker is. Icebreakers are meant to “break the ice”. In our case, we don’t need a ship to do it because our “ice” may include awkward silence, not knowing your classmates or students well enough, feeling tired and/or bored, and so on. These activities are meant to be short, interactive, and fun for everyone. They can sometimes involve physical activity too, such as moving around the classroom, changing seats or maybe even jumping, but don’t force it if you feel like the group of people you’re with would be unwilling to do it.
Now, here is a short list of the best icebreakers in our opinion:
1. Two truths, one lie
This one is our all-time favorite icebreaker. We have tried this one in a college classroom, in a TEFL class with adults, with high school students and with our own friends, and it worked every time! What you need to do is ask your students to come up with a list of three things nobody knows about them, one of which must be a lie. These can be rather simple things such as I have a twin brother or facts that people are not likely to know about others like I bite my nails or I swam with a dolphin once. They can be written down and then read by the author, or exchanged and then read by someone else. Either way, everyone should engage in guessing which one is false.
This activity is great to start your first lesson with. It’s short but helps people to get to know each other without having to approach everyone and ask awkward questions. Additionally, it’s also great for you to see the level your students are at in terms of grammar and fluency.
2. Twenty Questions
Find a hat and put some cards with names of famous people in it. If you’re teaching English aboard, it would be good to do some research about the pop culture in that country (e.g. if you’re teaching in Turkey, don’t forget to include Tarkan!). Then ask one of your students to volunteer and be the first to pick a card and pretend to be that famous person. Other students need to guess who he/she is by asking them only yes/no questions such as Are you an actor? Do you live in the US? etc. Whoever guesses correctly gets to choose the next card, however the number of questions shouldn’t exceed twenty.
Note that you can adjust this game to cover a specific grammar focus you might be working on, e.g. the Simple Past tense. Alternatively, you can ask your students to make their own cards.
3. Story Completion
This is another icebreaker that works for both children and adults. Like the previous one, you can adjust your Story Completion activity based on the material you’re covering in class. The idea is that you ask a student to say a sentence about anything that comes to their mind (e.g. Yesterday, I woke up on Mars). The person sitting next to them has to say another sentence, following what the first student said so that it slowly turns into a story (e.g. I started walking and I saw two green men), and so on until you reach the last student whose task will be to finish the story. You can do this in as many circles as you want with a different student starting each time. Students normally get super creative here, and the stories they make end up being hilarious! At the same time, it helps not only your students’ fluency but also their listening skills.
The good old charades are always there to save the day! You might be surprised, but they’re actually very helpful in practicing English speaking even though at least one student won’t be allowed to speak at all! That’s why it would be the best to put your students in teams and make it a competition so that everyone has a chance to guess what their teammate is explaining. There are so many variations of charades, but for TEFL purposes our two favorite ones are:
4a Present Continuous/Past Continuous Charades
Here you should prepare cards with full sentences with at least two verbs in them that students need to explain using no sounds – e.g. I am walking down the street and eating ice-cream. Ask your students to explain each and every word on the card and give them a time limit – one minute should suffice. For more advanced students, you can do the same with other tenses, e.g. combining the Simple Past and Past Continuous (e.g. I was sweeping the floor when I slipped and broke my leg.)
4b Thematic Charades
This works with kids and adult beginners. You can choose any topic you’ve covered in class and use the vocabulary that needs to be reviewed. For instance, let’s say you discussed professions with your students. You can ask them to team up and act out as many different professions (doctor, dentist, teacher etc.) as they can in a minute. Feel free to let them use different objects found in the classroom!
Conclusion – Our most popular icebreakers help with language skills and make learning fun
All of these icebreakers are meant to bring the group’s energy back to a high level and help your students feel more comfortable speaking English not only in your classroom but also outside of it. They’re short and fun, but also a good way to learn new words, fortify what has already been addressed in class, and test where your students are, in terms of fluency.
Keep in mind that all of these activities can also be used outside of the classroom – with your friends at house parties, when meeting new people, or hosting a lot of people at once. They are a great way of making sure everyone is having a good time, regardless of whether you’re already fluent in English or are still learning.
Have fun breaking the ice!