Simple but effective icebreakers to start the school year.

Although you may be a new teacher to a group of students, most of them have already worked together for years and know each other all too well. The new teacher may be the only one who needs to learn names. And, even if the teacher and class have all worked together before, there may still be a need for some activities to welcome everyone back and mark the start of the new year.  Here are a few that might be useful. 

Be sure to check out our list of ten great activities to break the ice for more ideas

Fibbing to the teacher
When a teacher is new to a class that already know each other, try this game. In groups of 5 or 6, the students should carefully prepare to introduce members of their group to the teacher. Everyone should introduce another person (not themselves). They should say names and something about their interests, home area, personality etc. All the information must be true except for one person in each group – for whom every single thing must be untrue. Allow plenty of time for careful preparation, after which the teacher should listen to all a group’s introductions (while learning useful names etc) and decide which is the untrue one. Warn all students that they must be careful not to give away the fib by laughing, sniggering etc.

The virtual party
Arrange an imaginary “welcome back” party. Ask everyone to stand in one part of the room. Designate another section of the room as the party room and show them where the front door is. Appoint a host / hostess or two and brief them on how to welcome guests. Be a host yourself too. Then encourage students to “arrive” at the party one by one, or in small groups, (ringing the imaginary door bell) and once there, mingle, chatting in English, catching up on news. Serve imaginary drinks and snacks. Students initially tend to react to this simulation with some suspicion (feeling it is a bit silly to hold imaginary drinks etc) but it usually takes off very well once they get into it.

Setting year goals
It is all too easy to simply launch into teaching from a new coursebook assuming that the class is automatically with you. However it is worth taking time to make sure that students are really clear about why they are learning and about what they want to get out of it. A simple way to do this is to ask them to make brief notes in answer to questions you ask. Make sure you allow enough thinking time. Students can then meet up in pairs or threes and compare thoughts. Possible questions: Why do you think English will be useful to you in the future? What is the most important area you want to improve on this year? What types of activities do you enjoy most in English classes? What advice would you give to your English teacher? What do you want to be able to do by the end of the year that you can’t do now?

Thanks for Michael Ramiko for submitting these ideas.  We'd love to hear some of yours.

10 great activities to break the ice with your students

Starting the school year or walking into a new room every day as a substitute can become pretty draining and confronting for both teachers and students.

Luckily, there are things you can do to break the ice and make the kids feel a lot more enthused and comfortable about learning.  Simply spend 10 to 15 minutes trying a couple of these activities listed below to help break that awkward tension.

These are a few of my favorite things.

Pass around a sheet of paper and some pens. Ask the students to write their name and their favorite TV shows (you can come up with your own topic for favorite things). Collect the papers and pens. Begin reading the answers, but have the class guess who wrote the response.

Birthday Lineup.

Call out any month of the year and have all students born in that month come up to the front of the room. It is up to the students to decide who stands first, second, etc., so they are standing from the first day of the month to the last day of the month. Now call out another month (don't call the months in order), and have those students try to position themselves correctly by day and by where they should stand as an entire month. This is a great way to get kids working together and knowing each other. Once all of the kids have lined up, test them to see if they are correct.

 The Snowball Activity.

Have students write three things about themselves on a piece of paper. Then have them crumble up the paper to resemble a snowball. Let the students have a snowball fight for about one minute. Now everyone grabs one of the snowballs and has to try and find the person who wrote on it. Once they find their partner, they have to bring that person up in front of the class and explain what they learned about their new friend with the three facts written on the piece of paper.

 The Observation Game.

Line up the students in two lines facing each other. If there is an odd number of students, you can play the game, too. Give students 30 seconds to look each other over really good, paying attention to all details about their partner. The students in one line now turn facing the other way while the other line of students changes something about themselves. For example, a girl might take off a hair bow, or a boy might un-tuck his shirt. When the kids in the first line turn back around, they have to guess what their partner changed. Now switch and let the first line make the change and the second line guess the difference.

Icebreaker Pictionary.

Have the students draw pictures about what they like to do, what their favorite foods are, and what is their favorite subject in school. Have each student come up and show their pictures to the class. See if the students can guess what each student drew that tells a little bit about themselves. For instance, if a student draws a yellow M, can anyone guess that she likes McDonalds?

 Show and Tell.

Don't forget about this old time favorite part of class. Instruct students to bring in something that they cherish, or just want to share with the class. Give each student a turn to come up and tell about the item that they brought in. This way the class will get to know each other and something that makes each student happy.

Self-Portrait.

Have your students draw themselves. After they have done this, collect the papers and hang them up for the whole class to see. Now have students try to guess who the artists was for each picture.

 Letter Writing.

At the beginning of the year, write a short letter about yourself as the teacher. Tell the students where you live, what your hobbies are, and if you have any children, pets, etc. Hand out your letter to each student in your class and ask them to write you back with similar information about themselves.

The Mingle Game.

Give each student an index card. Have them write a question that they would like to ask the other students in the class. Examples might include, "What is your favorite song?" or "What is your favorite sport?" Next, have the students get up and walk around the room. When you say, "stop," students have to stand beside the person closest to them and ask the question that is on their own card. Both students have to answer the questions. Now have them mingle again and meet a new person.

The "What Am I?" Game.

Have the students get into a circle. Give each student a post-it note. Have each person write a noun on the post-it note. Then stick the post-it on the forehead of the person standing to right of them with the noun showing. Now have student take a turn to ask the group a "yes/no" question that will help them guess the noun on their forehead. If they do not guess correctly, the person on their right gets to ask a question. Keep going until all of the noun have been guessed, or your time limit has expired.