First Day (or First Week) Activities, Icebreakers, or Introductory Activities for ESL Classes

If you are interested in online sites for yourself or your students, you can check out this page: Introducing Your ESL or EFL Students to Online Tutorials and Quizzes .–kas

First Day (Week) Activities or Introductory Activities for ESL Classes

Shared by Kevin Stoda and many others

It is a new school (or college) term and it is time for ESL students and teachers to make new resolutions and preparations for the semester (or school year–for some). Here is an example:

I was recently asked to come up with a list of icebreakers and first day (or first week) activities for students and new EFL (ESL) classes at the institution I am working at. I made up this short list and have copied (cut and pasted) some of my favorites. The sources for this material are noted at the end of this article.

I like to use a variety of bingo games, too. I will share those in a later blog.

(1) You could try a “true or false” game.

Get each student to write three statements about themselves. Two statements are true, while one is false.
Each student reads their three statements to the class and they (the rest of the class) guess which statement isn’t true.

1. I have been to five countries.
2. I haven’t driven a car.
3. I like to eat apples.

One is false…. Which one is it?

(2) Find the person

Level: Intermediate
Language: asking questions
1. Day 1 – the teacher writes some questions on the board for the students to answer. Students can choose 3 questions and write the answers on three slips of paper. Students are required to give a full answer (I usually read a book at 7 p.m.). The teacher collects the answers and checks them for any mistakes.
What do you usually do at 7 p.m.?
What is your favorite movie/TV show?
What is your telephone number?
What is your street number/name of your street?
How many sisters/brothers do you have?
When is your birthday?
What do you like cooking?
Where did you go last summer?
How do you usually get to school?
Who is your father? (What is your father’s name?)
2. Day 2 – each student receives 3 slips of paper written by other students. Now students have to go around the room and find those who wrote those answers. They have to ask questions: Do you have three brothers?

(3) Names A to Z

This activity is good for introductions and for practicing the alphabet. It is good for a new group of students and for the class where you have just a few new students or a new teacher.
Level: Beginning through Advanced
Language: What is your name? – My name’s ___./I am ___.
1. Students introduce themselves: What is your name? – My name’s Anna.
2.Then students line up in the alphabetical order (A to Z). If there isn’t enough room in the classroom students can form a circle.
More advanced students can be asked to add an adjective in front of their names: I am a smart Sandra.

(4) Snowball Fight

Level: Early Intermediate – Advanced
Materials: sheets of paper, pencils
1. The teacher asks students to write on a full sheet of a paper a question that they would want to ask people in class in order to know them better. Depending on the level of the students, the teacher can encourage them to write interesting and unusual questions. So, students with limited skills can ask questions about age, favorite color, hobby, friends or family. As for students with more proficient language skills, they can ask questions on favorite school subjects, things that the person values in other people, their native country’s interesting holidays, etc.
2. The teacher divides the class into two growps (by counting out 1 and 2, picking a card/stick with a certain color, etc.). The two groups stand in the opposite ends of the class.
3. The teacher asks students to fold the paper with their questions into a ball and invites them to throw their paper at the other group. Students should be advised to avoid throwing the paper balls as high as the face. Thus students start the “snowball fight”.
4. At a certain signal the teacher stops the games and asks students to pick up one of the balls and go to their seats.
5. When all students are back in their seats, the teacher invites the students to open the balls (one at a time), read the question on that paper and answer it.

(5) Present or Past or Future

This is a writing activity that you can do with your ESL (language learning) students on the first day of class (or later) in order to learn them a little bit better.
Level: Low-Intermediate through Advanced
Materials: paper for drawing and writing, some art supplies (optional), pencils
1. Give students three small pieces of paper (1/3 of a regular sheet of paper). Ask them to draw three pictures: one that would show them in their present (who they are, what they like doing, where they live, what is new in their family, etc.), one that would show a memorable moment from their past (visiting grandparents past summer, fishing with dad, little sister was born, etc.), and one that would show where and how they see themselves in the future (it can be a week, a year, or may be even 20 years from now).
2. When students finish drawing their pictures, ask them to write descriptions for each one of them, providing as much details as possible. Depending on the level of language skills of your students, you can ask them write as little as a sentence or as much as a whole page for each description).
3. Finally, students combine the three pieces on a bigger paper entitling it “My Present, Past and Future”. Optionally, your students can use some art supplies to create a poster.
This is a great activity for the first days of school, especially if you don’t know the level of your students’ language skills. This activity will allow students even with still limited language skills to express themselves through more drawing and less writing.

(6) What do you know about me?

Write a list of ten things about yourself on the board some of which are true and some false.
You need to ensure that the true ones are as unusual as possible. The students discuss the possible answers in groups and once they have come to a group decision about which are true and which are false the voting begins. In order to stop cheating they need to write their answer on a piece of paper and hold it up when everyone is ready, rather than shout it out.
Start each group on two points. If the team gets one right they get two points. If they get it wrong they get a point deducted. If a team goes below zero points then they are out.
To extend this activity and give it a further language focus and student focus you can get the groups to come up with their own lists. The game is played again but this time the rest of the class guess which member of the group each statement applies to.

(7) What don’t you know about me?
Give out two strips of paper to each person in the room. Each person must write one unusual thing about themselves on each piece of paper. Give them a few examples such as: I have flown a jumbo jet or I have a collection of 35 pairs of shoes. When they have finished take back the pieces of paper, mix them up and then give them out again to different people. Students must not take a piece of paper back that has their own statement on. Next they mingle to find out who the statements belong to. Be careful here as students like to just show the pieces of paper to each other asking ‘Yours?’. Make them leave the slips of paper on their chair so they have to ask questions in order to find out who they belong to. When everyone has found the owners of the statements they return to their places.
To extend this activity students can then report back the findings to the rest of the group. Did you know that Joe has �?
Usually this activity will throw up problems in the use of the Present Perfect for life experience and can be used as an introduction or revision for this tense. More importantly it will get the students interested in each other and usually want to know more.

(8) What would you like to know about me?
A similar activity as the last can be done just changing the tense focus. Give out strips of paper and tell the students it is their chance to find out things about each other and ask questions anonymously.
Each student writes a question on their strip of paper starting ‘I would like to know�’. They then fold the paper up and write the recipient’s name on the front. Next they shout postman, postman. Yes you guessed it: that’s you! You collect the piece of paper and give it to the recipient . They answer the question fold the paper in half and write the originator’s name on the front shouting postman, postman. You collect it and deliver it. With a large class it will be difficult to keep up with the delivery and you may want to allot the task to a couple of students instead. It is a good idea to give this job to students who are strongly intrapersonal who may not want to answer questions.
If you collect the pieces of paper at the end, from those who agree, you can analyse the writing mistakes. This can form the basis of a grammar revision lesson or can be the basis of a needs analysis. You can even put together a mistakes page where students try to correct the errors themselves as a class.
Have fun finding out who, in your group, is highly interpersonal!

(9) Four Corners
Here’s another good icebreaker for the beginning of a school semester or as a fun way for people to get to know each other better. Four Corners (also known as Four Squares) is a simple activity in which students share who they are through the use of handdrawn pictures. This icebreaker is for all ages, and works well with small and medium groups. It usually takes about 15 minutes, depending on how much time you want to allow for sharing the pictures. You’ll need sheets of paper and writing utensils. Don’t worry, no artistic skills are required for this icebreaker activity — just have fun and encourage everyone to enjoy being creative while illustrating who they are!
Setup for Four Corners
Distribute a pen and sheet of paper for each player. Each person divides the sheet into four boxes/squares either by folding the paper in half twice (vertically and horizontally) or simply by drawing a horizontal and vertical line that crosses in the middle. For each square, each person will describe themselves in the form of drawings. Choose these four topics in advance. For example, in the top left square, everyone could draw “favorite hobbies,” while in the top right, people could illustrate “favorite place on earth for vacation,” the bottom left could be something like “if you were an animal, which one would you be?” and the bottom right could be something like “what are the most important things in your life?” Feel free to be as creative, hypothetical, or deep as you like.
Allow five to ten minutes to draw. When everyone is finished, gather them together and share the drawings as a group. This icebreaker is an excellent way for students to show-and-tell what makes them unique!

(10) Lost on a Deserted Island

Lost on a Deserted Island is a teambuilding activity that also helps people share a little about themselves. Given the scenario that everyone is lost and stranded on a deserted island, each person describes one object that they would bring and why.
This game is a teambuilding and get-to-know-you icebreaker. The recommended group size is medium, although small and large group sizes are possible too. An indoor setting is ideal. No special props or materials are required. This icebreaker works well for any age, including adults and corporate settings.
Instructions for Lost on a Deserted Island
The situation is dire — following a shipwreck, everyone has been stranded on a deserted island! Each person is allowed to bring one object to the island — ideally something that represents them or something that they enjoy. The first part of this icebreaker is simple: each person is asked to describe what object they would bring and why. This need not be realistic; if someone loves music, he or she might choose to bring a guitar, or an animal lover might choose to bring a dog, a food lover might choose to bring sirloin steaks, and so on. Encourage people to be creative.
After everyone has introduced their object and why they have chosen that object, the teambuilding portion follows. Divide into smaller groups and ask everyone to work together to improve their chances of survival by combining the various objects that they introduced. If necessary, you can add more objects, but be sure to use all the objects that everyone mentioned. If you wish, you can reward the most creative group with a prize.
Lost on a Deserted Island is an approachable way to get people to open up and share a little bit about themselves and what they enjoy or value.
(11) Sorts and Mingle
Sorts and Mingle is an interactive icebreaker that helps people recognize common and unique interests and preferences. The speaker calls out various categories and everyone moves toward various parts of the room, finding people with similar tastes as them.
This game is classified as a get-to-know-you icebreaker with a little bit of active movement (walking around the room, meeting and talking to others). Recommended group size is: medium, large, or extra large. Can be played indoors or outdoors, but indoors is ideal. No special materials are required. No mess. For ages ten and up.
Instructions for Sorts and Mingle
There are two parts to this icebreaker. The first half is the “Sorts” game. The moderator tosses out two contrasting choices and everyone must move either east or west of the room (for example. “Do you prefer Nature or Cities?”) Then the moderator shouts out two more choices and everyone moves north and south of the room. In this way, each person must move to somewhere and can’t get “lost” in the crowd. Some sorts that work well include: dogs vs. cats, books vs. movies, sweet vs. salty, casual vs. dress up, inside vs. outside; be on the stage performing vs. in the audience watching, and so on.
The second half of the icebreaker, the “Mingle” game, works as follows: The moderator shouts out a general category and the group is asked to mingle around to find others that have the same answer and they clump up to form a larger group. After about thirty seconds to one minute, the moderator asks each group call out their answer. If a person is unique and is the only one with an answer, that’s okay. Examples of mingles: your favorite place on Earth; your favorite dessert; the kind of animal you like best; if you could have dinner with someone, who would you choose; your favorite hobby; if you could be anyone, what would it be?
Both halves of this game help people introduce themselves in a fun, interactive format.
(12) Conversation Starters: Topics
(13) What’s the Question?

First, write 10 things about myself on the board. I write some easy ones like: ‘Bob’, ’30’, ‘swimming’, etc… And then i write some more obscure ones like: ,’Sage’, ‘Yes’, ‘8/12/2005’, etc…

Then, get the students to guess the question to the answer that is on the board. So they would ask:

Whats your name?
How old are you?
Whats your hobby?
Whats your dog’s name?
Are you married?
When did you get married?

After they have figured out the question for each answer, it’s their turn. they write down 3-5 things about themselves that maybe their classmates don’t know. then they come up to the front of the class, i write their info on the board and the class guesses about the student.

Its a great activity because you really get to know a lot about your students and they learn a bit about you. plus, its a lot of fun!


About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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22 Responses to First Day (or First Week) Activities, Icebreakers, or Introductory Activities for ESL Classes

  1. Mapy says:

    Thanks you’re a life saver!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

  2. I wanted to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every bit of it. I’ve got you book marked to look at new things you post…

  3. Joe Stakis says:

    Cool blog. You teach in Oman? I wanted to add another really useful website for instructions to icebreakers, classroom activities, etc.: How Do You Play .

  4. Thanks for this post – exactly what I have been looking for working as a guest speaker I do introductory classes everyday and was running out of ideas – can’t wait to try these out!

  5. Cindy says:

    I have tried three of these and they worked really well. I am doing the sorts and mingles tomorrow and I am sure it will be a lot of fun. Thanks. Keep up the good work.

  6. NOELIA RIVAS says:

    Thank you for sharing these activities!!!

  7. kierre west says:

    this is my 1st time as a teacher im excited to try these new activites with my students thank you

  8. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for sharing these activities. I’ll be teaching my very first class soon and needed ideas, and these helped me greatly for the first day.

  9. Beth Deitrick says:

    I’m a new ESL teacher and I wanted something fun yet worthwhile & not too silly for the first class. This is just what I was looking for. Thanks for sharing !

  10. uli says:

    These ideas are really awesome! Thanks!!!

  11. Bruce says:

    Many thanks! I will use the 3-5 things as I am not sure of the levels in my classes!

  12. Xiomara says:

    Thank you! Very helpful, Tomorrow will be my first day as an English teacher here in Colombia. Thank you again

  13. Pingback: First Day | AVANZADO 1

  14. eslkevin says:

    ESL Warm Up Activities for Adults

    Here are two activities that work well for English classes:
    1-Four Corners:
    The teacher says a statements and students have to decide if they A) strongly disagree, B)somewhat disagree, C) somewhat agree, or D) strongly agree. Each corner of the room is reserved for one of the four possibilities. For example, the back right corner of the room could be for students who strongly agree with the statement and the back left corner could be for students who somewhat agree with the statement. The teacher reads the statements and students go to the corner of the room that corresponds with how they feel about the issue. Then, the students explain their opinions.

    2-Describe a Video Clip to a Partner:
    The teacher chooses a short video (videos without words such as short Pixar films or old silent films work best). Student A watches the first two minutes of the film while Student B puts his/her head down or leaves the room. Then, Student A has to describe what he/she saw to Student B. For the next two minutes of the film, students switch roles and Student B watches the film while Student A puts his/her head down or leaves the room.

    To make it more difficult: Have students describe what is happening while they are watching the video.

    If you have any additional ESL warm ups or activities that work well with adult students, please let me know in the comments

  15. Pingback: icebreaker links - SIAS OET links

  16. Donna says:

    Hi there, Eslkevin! I’m teaching high school students, after school English instruction. This is my first time with this age group! Thank you for all the wonderful ice breaker ideas! These are really great!

  17. thank you for this post. It’s very helpful.

  18. Tina says:

    This is fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing these great ideas!!!

  19. Pingback: Back to School Activities for ESL Students | So, You Think You Can Teach ESL?

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