7 types of icebreakers that will get your students laughing, thinking and connecting

The art of asking the perfect question is my own personal Mona Lisa. It is the element in my practice that I am always improving and perfecting. In fact, I even made a little video about some of the cognitive elements involved in questions.

Let go of perfection

Crafting a perfect question takes audience intuition, subject knowledge and most of all genuine curiosity about the result. But getting it right can be a mix of experience, trial and error and just plain luck. Jump in with something you find interesting and see where it takes you.

Have my questions bombed? Oh yes. Have I had the uncomfortably long blank stare? Yep. I have even been asked why on earth I would ask such a boring question. Ouch.

Most of all, when you are ‘on’ and right in the middle of a lesson, you need a certain amount of preparation, as well as have enough spontaneity to roll with the group if they want to go another way.

listen for patterns

It is the simplest yet the most powerful tool to see how articulate and fluid your students are. If you can, try to set an intention for what you listen for. Perhaps you can focus on speaking patterns like verbs, or use of modals, or vocabulary from previous lessons. If you notice mistakes, try to pick the most prevalent pattern and then give it some attention. Or perhaps you notice that the students are incorporating a bunch of previously learned vocabulary–make sure you point it out and praise them.

Question Tag-You’re it!

During the COVID confinement, I taught an online conversation course with about 10 students at a time. To allow everyone to speak, we played a game I called “question-tag”.

Students choose a question from the list and ask another classmate. Then that classmate is “it” and chooses the next question and classmate. Simple concept, but it puts the control in the students’ hands and adds just a touch of suspense to keep people engaged.

Want to play…You can use these 7 types of icebreakers to get going. The questions are meant as a corporate team-building exercise. Thus they are authentic and funny. Let me know how it turns out.

Can you live a zero-waste life?

Can you live a zero-waste life? I know I can’t…not yet anyway. But every year I try to incorporate a new environmentally friendly practice. For example, I switched my paper napkins for cloth napkins. I also buy at least 10% of my clothes at second hand shops. Also, I collect and bring all my styrofoam to a community drop off point.

It may not be a huge contribution to reducing my environmental footprint, but it’s something. I know we should and could be doing so much more. And I know that the degradation of our planet is alarming and overwhelming. But I also have to take care of my emotional well being. Thus, carrying the responsibility of saving the planet is pretty heavy. I try to not be too hard on myself about doing more and I try not to judge what everyone else is doing.

That said, I do like to hear what other people are doing to reduce waste and be better global citizens. Sometimes, there are practical things. Things that are not drastic or super time-consuming. Sometimes all I need are some ideas. Here is where Lauren Singer’s TED talk comes in handy.

Singer is an absolute champion at transforming her daily habits into zero waste practices. You heard that right…she produces no garbage at all. How does she do it? You’ll have to listen to her talk to find out.

Warm-up

  • What do you do to reduce waste?
  • What would you like to do, but feel that it is too much energy or too time-consuming?

The Talk: Why I live a zero-waste life by Lauren Singer

Discussion Questions

  • What inspired Singer to lead a zero-waste life?
  • Make a list of all the things Singer does to eliminate waste
  • What are some of the things Singer does that you could do?
  • What are some of things Singer does that you find too time consuming or complicated?
  • Do you think we are doing enough to reduce our environmental footprint?
  • What are some of the more important things we could do to reduce waste?

Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert?

Are you an introvert, extrovert or ambivert? You probably already know the answer, but wouldn’t you like to check? Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant shares his psycho-quiz on the TED site, which for us ESL practitioners can be transformed into a fantastic interactive reading exercise. I would suggest you pair up your students and ask them to quiz each other rather than simply have them do it individually.

But before jumping into the exercise I want to tell you why I snagged on this question in the first place. Yes, I like to psycho-analyze stuff with absolutely no authority to do so. And yes I love to use frameworks and patterns to help me understand the world better. But more than that, when it comes to spotting an introvert or extrovert or even knowing myself, I think I have it all wrong.

I recently watched a TED talk given by Brian Little which asks “Who are you really: the puzzle of personality,” in which he presents his framework for classifying personality traits. When he got to the extravert/introvert category, his explanation really puzzled me. According to him, I would be a total introvert. Me? I know right! Based on Little’s examples of the behaviours of each of these personalities, I would sway more on the reclusive quiet side.

Are you intrigued yet? So let me link each resource: first the TED quiz and then the TED talk. Let’s see you and your students change perspective…

Pre discussion

  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  • What are some of the things you love and hate that demonstrate your personality?

The Quiz: Quiz: Are you an extrovert, introvert or ambivert? by Adam Grant

TED talk: Who are you really? The puzzle of personality?

Questions

  • What are the elements in Little’s framework?
  • Why do you think ‘kindness’ is not part of it?
  • Do you agree with his descriptions of introverts and extroverts?
  • Who do you know that fits those descriptions?
  • What are the advantages/disadvantages of introverts and extroverts?

What are the top 5 vacations…just for you?

Are you ready for a vacation, but don’t know where to go? Have I got a fantastic tool for you. The Washington Post offers this wild vacation planner tool. All you have to do is answer their questions and the computer will generate the top vacation spots based on your answers.

Is that not an awesome ESL exercise! I was beyond tickled when I stumbled on this gem of a website. Not only is it super useful for the common mortal, but it is also a fantastic speaking, reading and conversation exercise.

The questions are interesting and the options are funny. You may need to help the students with some of the jokes and figurative language, but once they understand that they don’t really have to understand everything verbatim, they should have a good time.

The articles are well written, perhaps a little challenging at times, but include many pictures.

How I would Teach This

  1. Get students in pairs. One person asks the questions and the other answers
  2. Let the computer generate the results
  3. Ask each student to choose an article, even if they are not the traveller. Each read and then do a Tell Back on the content.
  4. Switch roles and repeat steps 1 to 3.

The article: Washing Post Vacation Finder

Washington Post Vacation Finder

Let me know how it turns out.

Bon voyage

Try something new for 30 days

Try something new for 30 days, is the topic of Matt Cutts’ TED talk.

We have all heard it before, we must step out of our comfort zone to grow…right? Cutt’s takes this to the next level with his self-imposed 30 day challenge. What I like about Cutt’s talk, is it gives a more tangible objective to this idea of trying new things.

Warm up

  • What new thing would you like to try but haven’t yet?
  • What does it mean to “step out of your comfort zone”?
  • What are the benefits of doing new things? Any disadvantages?
  • What are the benefits of sticking with what you know? Any disadvantages?

The Video: Try something new for 30 days

Why does Matt think this is a good idea?
What did it change in his life?
What areas of our lives could we apply this to? Make a Mind Map
Do you have any spontaneous ideas that you might like to try for 30 days?

If you had only one vacation destination, where would it be?

If you had only one vacation destination, where would it be?

What is it about this place that keeps you interested?

If you were the tour guide, what places, restaurants, shows, historical sites would you recommend?

Who would you take with you?

How is the food there?

How are the people?

Are you stressed about getting calm?

Wait what? Yes you heard me…there is so much out there to remind us to calm down, it can be positively stressful. From meditation, to prioritizing, exercising, sleeping, making lists, it can be time consuming and yes stressful to reduce stress. Why?

Thrive Global devotes an interesting article on the “Calmnivore.” It exposes the bombardement of calm-related strategies and advice. The goal is the help separate the useful from the silly.

Pre discussion

  • 8 out of 10 people report feeling stressed, why do you think this is so?
  • What do you know about the “Zen” culture?
  • Do a Mind Map of some of the stress reducing techniques you know

The article: The Calmnivore’s Dilemma: Our Increasingly Stressful Search for Calm

  • What are some of the main points of the introduction?
  • What does Propranolol do? Why is it controversial?
  • First heading:
    • What is stressed linked to?
    • What does it mean to be ‘reactive’ rather than ‘proactive’?
    • What therapies and technique exist
  • Second heading:
    • What is the author’s story?
  • Third heading:
    • So what works?