I can’t say I’m a big fan of icebreakers myself, at least the get-to-know-you type. Students may be grouped in a different way from the previous year, and there are always new students to the school, but in my context most of them know each other relatively well (or at least as well as a typical icebreaker can get!) For some reason, I’ve always found students aren’t very fond of them either. Perhaps too predictable? Whatever the context, however, I know they can be an excellent tool in a language classroom to help us analyse the students’ needs at the beginning of the year, implement classroom rules, or set the tone and expectations for the next few months.
It is with these goals in mind that I’ve selected the following activities. Most of them can be adapted to different levels and, while a few do include an inevitable get-to-know-you component, the focus is on production and integrating them with other classroom routines at the beginning of the school year.
1. Communication strategies
I always teach some basic communication strategies explicitly which I expect my students to use for the rest of the year whenever they have problems communicating an idea or to make up for unknown words. This is an activity to practise paraphrasing that has always worked well with my students:
2. Grid challenge
One way to get students testing their own strategic competence is to engage them in informal conversations. One of the reasons why I like the following grid is that it can be played in small groups rather than as a class: less intimidating, more authentic, easily observable. Students roll the dice twice to get vertical and horizontal numbers, and then complete the sentence about themselves. They could also be encouraged to ask at least one or two questions each turn to make the activity more interactive.
3. “I can’t imagine life without…”
Students write the things in life that they can’t imagine living without, and then take turns asking questions about why they are important to them.
4. No-prep writing activities
There’s nothing like a short piece of writing to check the performance level of students. Use one of these creative, no-prep activities designed for the first week of school, or include some of them (and perhaps some of your own) and create a choice board!
5. “First Day at School”
Using the poem “First Day at School” by Roger McGough and an animated short video based on it, students practise reading comprehension, hypothesis making, and finally reflect on their first day at school. An intriguing lesson that integrates all four skills.