If you had to choose the most challenging period in a school year what would it be? Thinking about it, for me, one of the most taxing period, the one that makes me get home absolutely drained, is the beginning of the school year. This is the moment you meet your students and their parents for the first time. You are perfect strangers that have to find a way to work together. Emotions run high on both sides.
You, as a teacher, need to create a relaxed atmosphere where the students can slowly come out of their shells, they can get to know you, become familiar with each other and find as many things in common as possible. I usually dedicate the first class, or the majority of it anyway, to getting to know each other. How do you make the students comfortable enough to talk in front of others you may ask? Icebreakers, of course.
There are so many cool and fun icebreakers out there that are guaranteed to loosen the atmosphere and mark the beginning of a great school year.
So, without further ado, here is my list of tested icebreakers that I use every year. Some can be adapted to be used throughout the school year as well.
1. The paper ball fight
Level: 9 years old upwards
This is one of my favourite icebreakers, as it allows me to see the students’ level both in writing, reading and pronunciation. It is also a lot of fun to them, especially the paper ball fight part.
Stage 1: give each student a piece of paper and ask them to write 3-5 things that represent them/that they like. Allow 5 minutes for completion. *If you are working with younger students or lower level students, you might want to write some prompts on the board or print them on the pieces of paper before class (Possible prompts- Last summer I…/ My favourite activity is…/The thing I hate most is…/ I want to learn English because…/I like…/I dislike…).*
Stage 2: Ask each student to say their name for the class and read what he/she has written on the paper (this will also help you see the students’ level of English). Ask the other students to pay close attention to what the others read as they will need to use that later on.
Stage 3: After they have all read their tickets ask them to crumple them and form a paper ball. Invite the students to stand up and on your signal, they will start a paper ball fight. When you give them the signal to stop, each student must pick the paper ball closest to them. Ask them to open and read the tickets (if, by chance, a student gets his/her own ticket, ask them to exchange it with a colleague). They will need to guess who the paper they have belongs to. You can let them have 3 guesses.
Level: 5-6 years old upwards
This is the kind of icebreaker that doesn’t require students to speak in front of the class so if you sense that the kids are a little timid, this is a perfect game for them. It’s extremely easy to play and students will quickly and effortlessly discover things they have in common.
Basically, students have to gather in a group based on things (prompted by the teacher) that they have in common.
Example of prompts you can use:
- Gather with students who have the same T-shirt colour
- Gather with students who have their birthday in the same month as you
- Gather with students who have the same eye colour as you
- Gather with students who have the same pet as you
- Gather with students who play the same sport as you
- Gather with students who have a brother, a sister or both
- Students who love eating apples on the right, students who don’t like eating apples on the left
- Line up in alphabetical order by your first/last name
Level: 7-8 years upwards
This is another simple icebreaker that doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the kids to come up with clever things to say about themselves. It just involves remembering each other’s names.
Before you start playing the game, make sure that the students have introduced themselves to the class, so that they are somewhat familiar with their colleagues’ names.
Ask students to form a big circle in the middle of the class. One student will stand in the centre; he/she will be the shark. The shark will point at one of the students and taking very small steps, will go towards his/her chosen “victim”. In order to save him/herself, the “victim” needs to point to another student in the circle (without talking). That student will have to say the “victim’s” name. If the student’s name is said before the shark gets to him/her, he/she is saved and the shark goes back to the centre and chooses another victim. If the shark gets to the student and touches him/her, the victim either gets out of the game for 1 round or becomes the shark (I usually don’t like to take them out of the game, so I choose the second option).
To add a level of difficulty, tell the students that they can’t ask for help from the same classmate every time. It needs to be a different student.
This is a fast-paced game that will keep the students engaged. It’s also loads of fun.
Level: 7 years upwards
*Before the class, the teacher should write some getting-to-know questions on tickets for the students. If you have a projector, you can use that to project the questions on the board.*
For this game, you can arrange the students in 2 different ways. You can either ask the students to form one circle facing outwards and another circle around the first one facing inwards. This way each student will have a pair. Another arrangement is in 2 parallel lines, students facing each other. Pairs are given some time to discuss the getting-to-know questions, and on the teacher’s signal, the students will move so that they have a new partner.
Ideas for getting-to-know questions:
- What’s your favourite piece of clothing you own?
- What is the most annoying habit that other people have?
- What country would you like to live in? Why?
- What is your favourite movie/TV show? What is it about?
- If you were a dictator of a small island, what crazy dictator stuff would you do?
- What is something you will never do again?
There are so many icebreakers out there, all you have to do is type the word in Google and you’ll get loads of results. The ones above are the icebreakers that I use with my new but also my old students pretty much every year and I can tell you that they are great fun and get the students to relax in no time.
I am sorry I can’t give credit to the people who invented these games, as I can’t remember how I came across them and on which site (I’ve been using them for quite a while and have adjusted them for my class’ needs), but whoever those people are, thank you!
*You might also be interested to find out what the top traits of a great teacher are. Find out about it here.*