As an ESL teacher, getting your students to open up, get to know one another, and practice their English language skills can be a challenge. Icebreaker games are a great way to encourage student participation in the classroom and to get your students to practice conversing in English. These fun games can also help students feel more comfortable with each other (and with you). Whether your students are just beginning to learn English or have some experience under their belts, here are some fun games to get your students chatting.
1. Name Toss
- A ball that is relatively soft
- Name tags
This is a great game to play on the first day of class if your students have very few English language skills or are unfamiliar with their classmates. Ask your students to arrange themselves in a circle. You can join them in this circle too! You or a student will start the game by tossing the ball to someone in the circle, saying the name of the person before passing the ball to them. If you want to do the activity without name tags, you can have students ask for names right before tossing the ball.
Once the ball has been tossed to everyone, the challenge will be to throw the ball in reverse order. So if someone threw the ball to you, you would throw the ball to that person, saying their name first. You can repeat more rounds of this game until students start to get each other’s names down quickly. Take off the name tags or don’t allow questions to amp up the fun!
2. Paper Planes
For this activity, you’ll have students write out three facts about themselves on a full-size piece of paper in English, making sure they do not write their name on the paper. These three facts could even pertain to the unit you are teaching at the time. For example, if you are currently teaching a unit on food, you could have students list their three favorite foods.
Once each student has made their list, they will fold their paper into a paper airplane. On your count, students will fly their paper airplanes toward the front of the room. Then you will ask each student to come up to the front of the class and grab a paper airplane from the floor and bring it back to their desk. You will then go around the room and ask each student who they think the paper airplane they chose belongs to. Let the class help each other out if the student is having a difficult time guessing the owner or reading the answers.
3. Two Truths and a Lie
In this game, you will instruct your students to write down two statements about themselves in English: two of which that are true and one that is false, in no particular order.
You can start by giving your example on the board. Students will try to guess which statements listed are true and which ones are false. They can ask follow-up questions to try to determine the lie. The first student who guesses right can earn a small reward, like a piece of candy.
Now students can work in pairs to play the game and try to determine which statements their classmate made are true, and which one is false. You can have students rotate partners so they can get to know one another better.
4. Concentric Circles
This activity is an excellent way for your students to get to know one another. You’ll start by dividing your classroom into two groups, one group will make up the inner circle, and the other group will form the outer circle. The two groups will be facing one another. If you have an odd number of students in your class, you can step in and participate so every student can have a partner.
Once you have your students arranged in groups, you can ask an ice breaker question and write it on the board. You will give the students 1-2 minutes to talk with one another (in English if possible) and answer the question. When the time is up, you will ask your students to rotate. The inner circle will move one spot clockwise, so all students are facing a new partner.
Some questions you can ask during this activity:
- Do you have any pets?
- Do you have any siblings?
- What are your favorite hobbies?
- What’s your favorite subject in school?
- What kind of music do you like?
You can have students rotate partners until they return to facing their first partner.
5. Deserted Island
In this activity, you’ll ask your students to imagine they are trapped on a deserted island and have them decide what they would want to bring with them. Give students time to think of three items they would want to have with them on the island. You could start the game by explaining what you would bring and why.
Next, you can either have students work in pairs and rotate partners to discuss the items they would want to bring or, if time allows, you could go around the room individually and have each student explain their answers to the class. The latter method will allow you to help them with their vocabulary if they need assistance in explaining their items.
Getting to Know Your New ESL Class
Each class you teach is different, especially in terms of personalities and existing English language skills. Of course, if you’re new to teaching ESL classes, these icebreakers can be even more useful in helping you get accustomed to your new students.
If you’re interested in teaching abroad and trying out some of these ice-breakers with your own ESL class, check out ESL jobs posted on the Teaching Nomad job board!