Everyone loves a good icebreaker—it’s a great way to get to know other people and help students feel relaxed in stressful situations, such as the first day of a new school year.
Here are a few icebreakers and some variations to the icebreakers you can try during the first week of school to build a good sense of community in your classroom that will last throughout the year!
Try These 10 Awesome Ideas to Kick off Your School Year
Name Chain Games
By far and away the best way to learn and retain student names is to start off the class with a name chain game. You can vary the specifics to fit the needs of your particular class. My class usually goes like this: the first student says 1) his or her name, 2) his or her home country, 3) one interesting fact about himself or herself, and 4) his or her favorite English word. The next student repeats all of the information about himself or herself and then say the name and favorite English word of the preceding student. The third student introduces himself or herself and then repeats the names and favorite English words of the preceding two students, and so on until the last student is done. For a challenge, tell the last student to try and remember and not to write anything down. As the teacher, you can go last instead and impress the class with your knowledge of their names while simultaneously making the last student feel better. Make sure you quiz your students throughout the week to see if they can remember everyone’s names and favorite words. I’ve also made a practice vocabulary quiz using each of their favorite English words before which is a great way to transition them into your testing style.
Variation: Instead of having students say their favorite English word, have them choose a word that starts with the same letter as their name, a favorite city, favorite food, etc... the options are endless!
New Year’s Resolutions
Your students may be familiar with this popular tradition in January, but a new school year should bring about new resolutions for students and teachers alike. Have students partner up with each other and discuss the goals they have for themselves for the forthcoming school year. Encourage them to be specific with the things they would like to accomplish and the things they want to be different. Make sure that you as the teacher make some resolutions too.
Variation: While students are talking together, have them create a poster of their resolutions. Display the posters around the room to help them remember their goals throughout the term.
Name That Person
Another great activity to get to your students to know each other a little better is in a guessing game. Pass out small pieces of paper or notecards to each student and tell them to write down two facts about themselves on the card without writing their name on them. Collect the cards in a basket and mix them up before redistributing them to the class. Students takes turn reading out the facts from the note card and the other students guess which person wrote the card.
Variation: Instead of writing them down on notecards, have them discuss their facts with a partner. After groups have had some time to discuss, come back together as a whole class. The partners will take turns sharing facts and the rest of the class has to guess which partner the fact is about. Give a point to the partners who guess the facts correctly and a point to the partners who are able to fool the class.
Would You Rather....
Line students up in two lines with each line facing each other. Tell them to come up with creative “Would you rather...” questions to ask their partners, such as “Would you rather eat pizza for the rest of your life or chocolate?”; “Would you rather be a ballerina or a florist?” etc... Give them a few examples to prompt them and see what kinds of creative questions they come up with. This will help to pique their creativity and get to know their new classmates. After a short time, have one of the lines move down so students will get to meet everyone in the other line.
Variation: In a large circle as a whole class, have Student A pose a would you rather question for Student B to answer. To make things even more interesting, have Student B answer for a different student. For example, Student A might ask “Student B, do you think Student C would rather have a crocodile or a zebra for a pet?” The students will then guess for their classmate; be sure to have Student C answer to see how close Student B was.
Find Objects to Describe Me ....
A classic get-to-know-you activity is to have students go through their backpacks, folders, pockets, etc... and find three or four things that they feel describe them very well. Students then need to describe their objects and why they chose them as their defining objects. Put students into pairs to share their objects or share as a whole class so that way everyone can hear about their new classmates.
Variation: Send students around the building or playground with cameras (phones work nicely these days) and take a picture of something in the building that they think defines them or could describe them. Then let them share them with the class.
A great speaking activity that helps to loosen up nervous students on the first day is a word association game. One student says a word (choose a category like travel if you wish to narrow things down) and the next person must say a word associated with that word; the next student says a word associated with that word, and so on. If another student challenges the association, the student must justify how those words are related. If you want to add a little friendly rivalry in the mix, make it a competition to see who can get the most points.
Variation: To make things more challenging or adapt this activity for a higher-level class, put extra restrictions such as the word you say must begin with the last letter of the word the previous student said. For example, if Student A says “Japan,” Student B might say “nigiri.”
Who Am I?
A great way to mix students up to arrange them into groups or just get them speaking to one another is to put nametags on the back of the students of famous people, teachers, movie characters etc... Make sure that these people are well known by all of your students. Students must walk around with their nametag on their back that they cannot see and ask their classmates about who they are.
Variation: If you wait a few days and do this activity on the 2nd or 3rd day of class, you can put a classmates’ name on their back and their peers will have to know that classmate well enough to describe him or her to the student. This is a great way to review names!
To encourage some of the more creative students, give each one a blank piece of paper. Tell them to draw a picture of an event that happened to them recently, for example, a vacation they took, a family celebration, or a graduation ceremony, etc... There can be no words on the paper. Put the students into pairs and have the partners guess what the event was based on just looking at the picture.
Variation: Before putting students into pairs, collect the students’ pictures and randomly redistribute them to different students. Each student will then have to describe to the class what is going on in the picture. When they finish, ask the artist of the picture to say how close that student was to the facts and to narrate what actually happened in their life event.
I’m Cool Because...
If students are getting sluggish and you need them to move around the first day, do this activity. Seat all of the students in a circle and you as a teacher stand in the middle. To start off the activity, you will say “I’m cool because...” and then finish that sentence with something that’s true about you, for example, you’re wearing blue jeans, you speak three languages, etc... Then, every student who shares that fact in common with you must stand up and find a new seat. You also will need to find a seat meaning that one student will be stranded in the middle. This game is great for finding commonalities and getting in some good laughs. A little humor in the classroom can be helpful and help students relax.
Variation: Play “I have never....” instead. When students are in the middle, have them call out things they’ve never done and have the students move who have done those activities.
3 Common, 1 Unique
This activity is effective for small groups. Randomly group students into three or four and give them a time limit to discover three things that all members of the group have in common and one thing that is unique for all of them. When the time is up, have each group report to the class. Then, change up the groups and have them do it again with their new class members. If it starts to get too easy, start ruling out common answers like “We’re all from different countries” or “We all breathe oxygen.”
Variation: Try this with the whole class after doing it in small groups. If they’ve been good listeners, they should be able to recall many things that all students had in common. It may take a while, but there are surely at least three things the whole class has in common.
The first day of school can be stressful for everyone, but these icebreakers will help you and your students get to know each other in a fun, interactive way to help build the classroom environment all year long!
What are your favorite first day activities?
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