Icebreakers for ESL

 Another option I want to try someday is having students use these icebreaker name tags to introduce themselves to each other.

Another option I want to try someday is having students use these icebreaker name tags to introduce themselves to each other.

Each semester, as I think about breaking the ice with students, I get a rush of excitement mixed with panic.  It's time to pick out a new icebreaker, and so I start searching.  I have to say, each semester I diligently look for new ones to use.  Some that I find are attractive, and seem as if they will work in my given context, but without fail, I rely on my old favorite.

This icebreaker never lets me down, involves almost no prep, and always gets students engaged.  I first learned of it from Dave's ESL cafe when I was teaching IELTS test prep classes in New York.  As much as I sometimes think that I should change things up, I just can't tear myself away from using this one.

The idea is simple: write one word answers to questions about yourself (the instructor) on the white board. Have students take turns trying to guess the questions that might match the given answers.  This will then serve as a model for students to do the same.  On individual pieces of paper, students will have to write one word answers to questions about themselves.  They will share their answers in small groups, and the group members will attempt to develop questions that might match their answers. 

This semester, for a level 200 grammar class, I put the following answers on the board:

9, Oregon, 3, raspberries, Columbia, Spanish.

The corresponding questions and answers are: How long have you been teaching? 9 years.

Where did you teach? or What place do you think is the most beautiful? Oregon.

How many languages have you studied? 3--Spanish, Italian, and Chinese.

What is your favorite fruit? Raspberries.

Where did you study? Columbia.

What is your second language?  Spanish.

 

Even my 200 level students were able to do this.  Collectively, they were able to form questions to guess most of the right answers.  With higher level students, I just try to choose answers that are a little more challenging.  

There you have it, my favorite standby.  What are the icebreakers that you rely on time after time?  What are some new icebreakers that you'd like to try?