ESL IceBreaker Classroom Activities for International Students

Written By Eliot Levine

It’s the first day of classes at your school. Your English Language Learner (ELL) students are nervous, as they’re about to begin classes with almost all native English-speaking students in a foreign country. Will the teacher ask them to speak out loud? Will the teacher ask them to introduce themselves to the class? What if students can’t understand their accent? Will students laugh? The English as a Second Language (ESL) students at your school will indeed face these challenges over the first few days of classes.

As their teacher and mentor, you can help your non-native English-speaking students feel welcomed in their new environment with, of course, a warm and friendly attitude. Additionally, try incorporating some fun icebreakers during class to ease the first-day jitters. You may be familiar with some of the following activities, but you may pick up some great new tips, too!

Icebreaker #1 - The Telephone Game

Maybe you recall this one from a childhood party. One person whispers a short story (the teacher should probably do this, at least the first time) to the person next to her/him. The second person whispers to the next person, and so on until the last person shares with the whole class what he/she just heard. It can be quite comical what the final person says! Before starting the activity, have the students go around and share their names out loud. This way, the students may recall each other’s’ names and start to grow familiar with one another. You may hear comments like, “Justin said there was a green horse in a seat,” or, “But I said to Justin that there was a greenhouse on the street!” You get the idea!

Icebreaker #2 - Who Am I?

Materials: colored paper, magic markers

Have each student create a name plaque to keep on her/his desk. The card should be big enough for all the class to see. In one section, have the students write their name. In another section, ask the students to draw a small picture that represents themselves (e.g. soccer ball, violin). In the third section, ask them to write a sentence that tells something the student likes (preferably something different from what’s represented in the picture). 

Once the students have completed their name plaques, have them place it on their desks and get up from their seats. The teacher (you!) will then play a song, and the students will walk around the classroom while the music is playing. When the music stops, the students must sit at the desk nearest them. Once everyone is seated, the students will go around introducing the name, picture, and the sentence of the name plaque on their desk, and they will have to try and guess who the plaque belongs to! If the guess is correct, great! In this case, the guesser will return the plaque to the owner. If the guess was incorrect, the teacher will ask the owner of the name card to identify herself/ himself, and the guesser will return the name card to the owner. Once the exchange is complete, the music starts all over again and the process repeats until all students are seated with their own name plaques. Students love this activity!

Icebreaker #3 - Where Did I Go?

Materials: Index cards, pencils

On the index card, each student writes the favorite place they have ever visited. The teacher collects everyone’s papers then reads them out loud one at a time, without revealing who wrote it. The other students then try to guess who wrote it. In this manner, the students learn something interesting about each other.

These are just a few examples of classroom icebreakers your teachers may use. The teachers may tweak the details to however they see fit to make these activities even more creative and engaging. It’s our hope that they’ll share these ideas with other teachers at your school. Altogether, your school will be a stronger, more welcoming community for all those who enter.



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