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5 Icebreakers for English Interaction

by Kristen Lindahl |

In the United States, it’s that time of year again, when students and teachers excitedly (reluctantly?) return to the classroom after summer vacation. First and foremost, you’ll want to get your students talking to you and to each other!

In the language classroom, interaction provides many benefits. First, interaction may give students the chance to provide each other with comprehensible input, or input that is slightly above the learner’s current level of language acquisition. Slower, simplified speech, repeated vocabulary, and a chance to negotiate meaning may help students better understand English in use. Second, interaction promotes opportunities for students to use the language, thus producing output. Producing output lets students notice their errors and determine if the person with whom they are speaking understood the message. Finally, talking to each other, learning names, and building a classroom community can help lower students’ affective filter, which is the idea that a learner’s ability to acquire language is reduced when they are experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, or other negative emotions. Interaction can build peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher relationships that may help your learners feel more comfortable and less anxious about using language in the classroom.

Whether you’ve been out of school for a few months, or you simply need to refresh strategies for interaction in your classroom, you’ll want to give the techniques below a try!

    • Find someone who: In this activity, the teacher prepares a list of statements, such as, “Find someone who has three siblings; find someone who has a pet; find someone who likes to read Harry Potter; find someone who likes to jog.” Students then go around the classroom and ask their peers which statement applies to them. They write their classmate’s name next to the criteria that matches them. Teachers can write statements appropriate to their age group and context to be sure students have something to talk about!
    • Mingle-Mingle: The teacher prepares as many open-ended questions as there are students in the class on strips of paper. If you have a large class of 30, for example, you can prepare a list of 15 questions and make 2 sets of the same questions. The questions should be designed to enable students to converse about themselves, such as, “What was the best movie you saw this year? What did you like about it?” or “What is your favorite hobby? Why do you like to spend time on that hobby?” Students each receive a question and pair up to ask their partner the question they have. Then, after each student has asked and answered each other’s question, they switch questions and find a new partner. Then, they have a new question to ask the new partner. Have students repeat the process three times so they have three original conversations.
    • Family Crest: This strategy allows students and the teacher to share personal information about themselves in a visual format. Using a family crest template, the teacher asks the students to draw symbols or images that represent them, their family, their hobbies or pastimes, their experiences, or their values. Then, students bring their completed crest to class. They can present their crest to the entire class, or share them in pairs or small groups to save time and be less intimidating. Display the crests in the classroom so everyone can see commonalities and differences—another great discussion point!
    • Interview/Introduce Your Partner: Rather than have students introduce themselves to the class, provide them with a short list of questions and have them interview a partner. When the interview is complete for both partners, have each student introduce the partner they interviewed. Language learners may feel more comfortable talking about another person rather than themselves, and the pair conversation allows them to rehearse their speech before they talk to the whole class.
    • 2 Truths and a Lie: Incorporating writing as well as listening and speaking, this strategy has students write three statements about themselves: two that are true and one that is false. The teacher then reads the statements aloud and the class tries to guess which ones are true and which is false. The false ones tend to be funny, and can lighten the mood of the class as you get to know each other.

Feel free to post other icebreaker strategies that have worked well for you in the comments!

About the author

Kristen Lindahl

Kristen Lindahl is a professor in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies and assistant dean of professional preparation in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio, USA. She has 20 years of experience working with and preparing educators to work with ELs. Dr. Lindahl’s research focuses on critical/teacher language awareness, content and language-integrated learning, and identity approaches to teacher education. She is also an associate editor of TESOL Journal, an English language specialist for the U.S. Department of State, past chair of the Teacher Educator Interest Section for TESOL International Association, and past president of TexTESOL II. 

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