How to break the ice? 12 icebreakers for language learners

Welcome back at this exciting beginning of the academic year! I hope you had a nice and relaxing time off. We are probably all at the same point at the moment: preparing to meet our students.

I believe that you still want to save your precious time on lesson planning, hence my ideas below. These icebreakers are mainly for low-level ESOL/English (or language learning) students, however you can either tweak them or extend for higher levels. Don’t worry if you have found this article too late, you may use the ideas as everyday warmers.

Having labels with students’ names will be useful for all activities below, to promote the culture of using first names all the time.

All follow-up activities can be used with the whole class or as extension activities for the stronger learners.


Paperless activities

  1. Say a compliment. First, elicit the word “compliment”. Students stand in a circle and take turns to address one classmate by their name and say a compliment. A really good exercise to create a positive atmosphere.
  2. Why do you like this country? This is a discussion activity for promoting values of the country you live in. FOLLOW-UP: Teacher may want to ask students to make a list which will be used as a class display, adding the flag, the map or other symbols.


  1. “How do you do?” song by Natasha Bedingfield. I find this song relevant for an introductory lesson. I usually ask students to copy a number of words (with some that don’t come up in the lyrics) and circle all words they can hear while listening to the song. I usually pick these verbs: give, read, write, get, know, look, be, say, go, make, do, meet, feel, bite, like, take, sit, want, and speak. FOLLOW-UP: Exchange greetings and small talk phrases or teach classmates greetings from students’ native countries.
  2. Our class in numbers (A). Write down 10 numbers related to the class (eg. class start/finish time, room number(s), the number of teachers/days at college, etc.). Students speak to each other and try to find the right descriptions for each number.
  3. Good teacher, good student. Discussion exercise. Ask students to list as many qualities of good teachers/students as they can. FOLLOW-UP: Teacher may want to ask students to make a list which will be used as a classroom display.


Display only activities

  1. Our class in numbers (B). Write down 10 numbers related to the class (eg. class start/finish time, room number(s), the number of teachers/days at college, etc.) and their descriptions randomly. Ask students to work in groups to match the descriptions with the correct numbers.
  2. TRUE / FALSE about the teacher and the college. Make a list of true and false sentences about yourself and the college. Ask students to discuss them and decide if they are right or wrong. FOLLOW-UP: Students can write sentences about themselves for their classmates to guess.
  3. Class rules. All time classic that shouldn’t be boring once you add some images to be described or extend the list by adding social and social media rules. FOLLOW-UP: A useful one for the class display to refer to whenever needed.



Digital activities

  1. Kahoot game. Any topic really will help you introduce Kahoot in the classroom and give a chance to assess students’ basic ICT skills as well as check who has a smartphone (that can be used effectively for learning). I link this game to the icebreaker number 3 to revise verbs and greetings.


  1. Prepare a padlet for each group you teach beforehand at: https://en-gb.padlet.com/

a) Hello everybody. Each student types up a short introduction: their name, where they are from, what language they speak as well as what they like / dislike.

b) My best lesson. Each student writes their expectations and ideas about a lesson they would enjoy. Great for your further planning!


Printable activities

  1. Question cards. Print and cut the cards. Ask students to work in groups. Each student pulls a card, reads the question out and answers it. The group may add some additional related questions too. FOLLOW-UP: Have some blank cards handy so the students can add their own questions. Print each set on different colour paper so you will save your time when tidying up.


  1. Complete a form. Helpful for assessing students’ basic writing skills and getting personal details to build on and differentiate when planning further lessons. Print as A5.


So, that’s your first class sorted! Good luck!

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