If you’re looking to get your semester started off on the right foot, then you’ll need to use an ESL icebreaker. They’ll help the students get to know each other and you as well.
By starting your classes off with some ESOL icebreakers, you’re setting yourself up for a successful semester. Help your students learn English in a comfortable environment.
Keep reading for the top 10 ES)L ice breakers for adults, as well as children. You can see the detailed activity description by clicking the links!
It’s time to start your course off the right way when you teach English, and help your students improve their language skills.
#1: Ball Toss
If you’re looking for one of the most versatile EFL activities ever, look no further than this Ball Toss one. You can use it for…well…just about anything, but it lends itself especially well to an icebreaker activity.
Little kids love this ball toss activity, but I’ve used it with adults, and everyone in between with great results. It’s fun for you too because you get to write on a beach ball with a sharpie! Who says your classroom can’t be fun?
#2: Toilet Paper Icebreaker
You’ve probably played this toilet paper icebreaker game before at a party, or at school. The way it works is that you take a certain number of squares and the leader doesn’t tell you why. Ring a bell? I’m sure you’ve done it before.
This toilet paper ESL Icebreaker is a classic icebreaker activity that can work in your classes as well. You can also use candy of some kind as a more fun alternative. Kids love it!
It’s perfect for those last minutes classes that get thrown at you because it requires no preparation. All you have to do is bring a roll of TP with you. It’s an ideal activity for teachers to keep in their back pocket.
Like these ESL Introduction Games?
Then you’re going to love this book, 39 ESL Icebreakers for Teenagers and Adults. You can check it out on Amazon here:
#3: Puzzle Finder Activity
In order to complete this Puzzle Finder Activity, students have to use teamwork to finish it, making it an excellent TEFL icebreaker. Your students also have to mingle and talk to each other, which is exactly what you want on the first day of class!
And of course, the teacher should play as well. Students usually love talking 1-1 with their teacher a little bit, especially if you have a big class of 20+ students.
#4: Group Therapy
Group Therapy is an ESL icebreaker activity that works especially well for older teenagers or adult classes. It helps your students share the fears that they might have about the upcoming class, or learning English in general.
Group therapy ESL icebreaker is a great way for students to form connections around a common probably they might be having. Students have to go around the room, sharing something that they find difficult, or some skills that they’re lacking.
I find that doing this activity in one of the first classes helps to build a supportive, helpful atmosphere in class. Try it out and see for yourself!
#5: Cosmo Quiz
Cosmo Quizzes make an excellent ESL icebreaker for adults, particularly a class or mostly women. But, they are most certainly only for adults!
You can use other age appropriate quizzes for kids as well to get a sense of what your class is like. Search around on the Internet for these ones; you’ll find that there are a lot of choices and nice ones out there.
Need more idea for Icebreakers for English Students? Check out: 39 ESL Icebreakers for Teenagers and Adults on Amazon
A Tip For Breaking the Ice: Change Partners Often
Students often get stuck with the same 1 or 2 people for the entire duration of the class! Help them mix things up by encouraging/forcing them to change partners often.
#6 Riddles and Trivia
One of the things that I love to do in my classes is to use trivia and riddles as a warm-up before each class. They make excellent icebreakers too, if you put the students into teams and let them get to work. Nothing like teamwork to break a bit of ice in your classes!
The only downside is that it can be difficult to write your own questions. That’s why you should check out these recommendations.
Here are two recommendations for trivia and riddles, the first one for teenagers and adults, and the next one for kids.
I personally used the Monster Pack for a warm-up at the beginning of all my classes for years. It’s the best ESL Trivia book that I’ve ever seen, and can work well for teenagers, as well as adults. The questions are challenging, but the language is not. The questions are also not focused exclusively on the USA or UK, which makes it easy to use this trivia book with students in any country.
Check them out now:
The Monster Pack (Trivia for Adults)
501 Riddles and Trivia Questions (For Kids)
They’re lesson planning made easy!
Why use trivia and riddles? They expand vocabulary, are a nice dose of (semi) authentic materials, and are perfect for intermediate or advanced students. Just be sure to choose ones that your students have a hope of answering!
#7: The Name Game
The Name Game is perfect for a smaller class of 15 students or fewer to help your students (and you too!) remember each other’s names. It works best for kids because it’s so simple. Adults may be a bit insulted by it!
The way it works is that you go around the room, in a circle and have to say a new thing about yourself, as well as repeat all the other things.
Even More Activities and Games for Adults
#8: Find Someone Who Bingo
Find Someone Who Bingo makes an excellent ESL icebreaker because it encourages your students to move around the class, talking to each other and finding out information about their classmates. It’s fun too because it’s quite challenging and there is an element of competition to it. This works well with kids as well as adults.
Basically, students have to ask other students a question in order to fill in their bingo chart. It’s fun and makes an ideal icebreaker.
However, the instructions can get a little bit complicated, so be sure that your students have at least a basic level of English ability. And, practice how to explain this bingo game before you get to class. Think simple.
#9: ESL Icebreaker Surveys
Surveys are one of my favourite ESOL activities of all-time because they get students up and out of their seats, mingling, talking and asking questions. It’s the ultimate 4-skills activity because it gets students to practice reading, writing, speaking and listening. They can also work well to review grammar.
Once you set it up, you can turn the students loose and let them get to it. All you have to do is monitor and keep an eye things. Student-centred teaching to the max! Students can work alone, or with a partner for this one.
Here are 6 ESL surveys that I use in my own classes, including an introduction one. You should of course change the ESL introduction survey to work with your own country, teaching context and age of students.
A pro-tip: save your ESL surveys in something like Google Drive. Then, instead of making a new one each time, just edit the old one. It’ll take you 2 minutes to make a new one instead of 30 minutes to an hour.
#10: Conversation Starters for ESL Students
Try out some of these Top 10 Conversation Starters for Adults to help your students get to know each other. You can put your students in small groups and let them get to it if you have a big class. I find that groups of 3-4 work well. Two is too few if one of the students is very shy. Five is too many for the students to really get to know each other.
If you have a small class of five or fewer, you could discuss some of them all together.
You could also check out these Top 10 Discussion Starters for Children for even more ideas.
Just be sure to do some follow up with the class to make this activity as valuable as possible.
Classroom Language Review For Beginners
If you teach beginners, one of the best first day activities for them can be a review of classroom language. If you want to encourage an English-only environment, then it can be quite useful to go over things like:
- Please open your books
- Turn to page 5
- May I go to the washroom?
- Take out your homework
- Can I borrow a pen?
- I didn’t bring my book today
- You have 5 minutes to finish this
- What does this word mean?
- I don’t understand
And tips for teaching classroom language that you’d like to add?
Did You Like These ESOL Icebreakers?
If you loved these warm-up activities, then you’ll love 39 ESL Icebreakers for Teenagers and Adults. There are even more ideas to help you get your classes started off on the right foot with a bit of awesome. It’s lesson planning made easy for teaching English, guaranteed.
You can easily get the book on Amazon in both print and digital formats. The (cheaper by a lot!) digital copy can be read on any device, including your Smartphone, tablet, Mac or PC. You just have to download the free Kindle reading app.
What Makes a Good ESL Icebreaker?
Teaching English is an important job and there are a lot of factors to consider. If you’re choosing an ice breaker, or designing your own, here are some of the characteristics of the best ones:
Low Social Risk
The worst ones put students on the spot in front of the entire class who they may barely know! The best ones require just talking to 1 or 2 people at a time.
They’re Not Too Personal
Think hobbies, favourites sports, job, hometown, family, etc. instead of deepest, darkest secrets. You want to allow students to get to know each other but not have to divulge too personal information to people they don’t know.
They Match Proficiency Level
You may have to design or choose different icebreakers for different classes. For example, what works for a group of beginners may not work well for an advanced level class or a group of intermediate students.
If your ESOL icebreakers are lame, nobody is going to want to do them. They should be fun, a little bit challenging, and best of all, give students a reason to talk to each other.
Don’t Forget to Evaluate
After each activity your do in your English classes, be sure to evaluate it. For these ones, was is too easy or too difficult? Did the students have fun? Did it help them get to know each other? Were your direction clear and easy to understand?
Don’t be afraid to make changes!
Let’s Sum This Up about ESL First Day Icebreakers
Getting to know other people in the class shouldn’t cause serious anxiety and stress. Nor should any student feel worried or scared if they’re alone and don’t have a friend in the class with them.
Some good introduction activities will help your students get to know their classmates (and you) in a relaxed, fun kind of way. My hope is that a student finds someone who grew up in the same hometown, has a similar hobby, or favourite food.
The best ones don’t require a higher level of English than matches the ability of the students. They don’t require too much personal information, yet they give students a reason to talk to each other.
Finally, they can put your students at ease with you as a teacher. If you use the first class to do some interesting activities, students will feel that they’re in good hands.
Are you up for the challenge? I hope so. A good ESL ice breaker activity can really go a long way towards setting you up for success throughout the rest of the semester.
What’s your favourite ESL Ice Breaker for Adults
What’s your favourite ESL icebreaker? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
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