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ESL Icebreaker Activities

Updated on July 30, 2015

Guaranteed to get your English as a Second Language Students talking!

The first day of an ESL Class be an awkward, difficult time for both students and teacher. It's often hard enough in classes where all the students speak the same language fluently! Students are shy (especially in Asia) and often don't want to talk, while the teacher is nervous and worried about being understood and is often unsure of the actual level of his or her students. However, you can make the first class a fun, happy time with lots of smiles and speaking if you use some Fun ESL Icebreaker Activities. Here are my favorites to get your ESL Class off on the right foot. Guaranteed.


The Classic Toilet Paper Icebreaker

Bring in a roll of toilet paper, and depending on the size of your class, tell the students they can take a certain number of pieces (big classes 1-4, small classes 4-8). Don't give them any other information. Once everyone has their paper, tell them that they have to tell the class one thing about themselves for each square of paper that they have. For each sentence, they "throw-away" one square until they're done.


My Name is _________ and I like ________

A way that you can get your students to remember names (and you too!) is to do this simple activity. Go around the class, and have students say, "My name is ______and I like _______." The next student repeats the previous ones, and adds their own. it goes on until it finally gets to you and you can impress the students with your memorization abilities! It works best for smaller classes.

39 ESL Speaking Activities for Teenagers and Adults


Do you like to.....?

Give each student 3 or 4 strips of paper. On each piece of paper they write something interesting about themselves. Then, collect them, mix them up and distribute them back to your students. At this point, everyone stands up and goes around the class asking questions to try to find the owner for each paper that they have.

For example,

"Do you go to ______middle school?"

"Do you have a twin brother?"

"Do you love to play soccer?"

39 ESL Speaking Games and Activities, for Kids Age 7+

39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Kids (7+)
39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities: For Kids (7+)

Guaranteed to make your children's classes engaging and fun, as well as your lesson planning easy.


Find something in Common

If your students are not shy, this is an excellent way for everyone to get to know each other. The students stand up with a piece of paper and pencil in their hand. They have to talk to everyone in the class to try to find something in common (they are both from Seoul, or they both know how to play the piano). Once they find this thing in common, they write it down along with the person's name. Keep going until most of the students have talked to everyone.


2 Truths and a Lie

Get each person in the class to make 3 sentences, 2 are true and 1 is a lie. Then, the other people in the class have to ask some questions and try to uncover what is true and what is not. It's an excellent way to get to know each other for more advanced students.

39 ESL Icebreakers for Teenagers and Adults


Arrange in an order, but no talking

A fun thing to do is to get everyone in the class to arrange themselves in a certain order (by age or birthday for example) but with no talking allowed. It's really interesting to see groups can communicate with each other so well, not using language.

When do you use ESL Icebreaker Activities or Games?

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Make a Nametag

Give the students a piece of paper, as well as some colored pencils or markers. Give them about 10 minutes (or more, depending on the age) to make a nametag that represents themselves, complete with any pictures or words that they want. After the allotted time, they have to introduce themselves to the class using their nametag.

ESL Icebreaker Games and Activities


What does it mean?

As a way to introduce yourself (the teacher), write up a few things about yourself randomly on the board before the students get into class. But, make them vague. For example, I write "4" "2003" "^" "-40 C" "airplane picture"

The students have to guess what they mean. 4=family members. 2003=when I first came to Korea. ^=my favorite hobby (hiking). -40= where I'm from ( cold!). Airplane=my love of traveling.

Then, you can have the students do the same thing, either in small groups or as a whole class.


Class Survey

Get each student to think of a single interesting question that they can ask their classmates. For example, "What do you think about _____current president?" Then, give them a few minutes to survey a certain number of people. When the time is up, they can report the results to the whole class.

What's your Favorite ESL Icebreaker?

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    • alexbricker profile image


      6 years ago

      I used the toilet paper one last week and it was a hit! I have been substitute teaching ESL and it is a blast! I used to teach about 3 years ago. I am now getting back into teaching. Great lens and a helpful resource.

    • suepogson profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks - this has given me some new ideas.

    • PennyHowe profile image


      6 years ago

      Great ideas. Thanks for sharing them. The toilet paper one is a good one.

    • RaisedVegetableG profile image


      7 years ago

      An interesting lens, I didn't realise what ESL was when I saw the link. But the activities would apply in many situations so I am pleased I read it even though I don't teach ESL.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      The toilet paper one sounds good. It has suspense and rewards built in.


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