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What is an Ice-breaker?

An ice-breaker, or a warmer, is a (quick) activity which is used at the beginning of a course or a lesson to help the students and teacher get to know each other. In some lessons, ice-breakers may also be used as a means to revisit the content from the previous lesson or as a lead-in to introduce a new topic. Ice-breakers should be enjoyable and fun, as their main aim is to make students at ease and prime them for the lesson.

In this post, we’ll talk about the importance of ice-breakers in the language classroom and give you some practical ideas for your lessons.

Why start the lesson with an ice-breaker?

Ice-breakers are an important tool to make students more comfortable during the lessons, build group cohesiveness and foster a positive classroom environment. Here are some reasons we believe ice-breakers can be useful in the learning process:

To help your students get to know each other

Students usually spend a lot of time together during the term. Getting them to know each other might help the teacher create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Creating a warm atmosphere might bring invaluable benefits to the learning process. For instance, students might be less self-conscious of their mistakes if they feel they are in an environment where they can trust each other. They are also more bound to help their peers, give them feedback and work collaboratively. Collaborative work and interaction, in many methods and approaches to teaching, is the key for learners to achieve better results when learning a language, and ice-breakers can definitely be helpful to promote collaboration in the classroom.

To help you get to know your learners

The ice-breaker is a moment when the teacher can observe, interact and learn more about who the students are. This can helpful either to identify possible linguistic areas that should be worked on or to use learners’ personal information to make the lesson more personalised, meaningful and relevant. It is important to stress that, although students might make language mistakes during the ice-breaker, correcting them on the spot too frequently is not advisable. This is a moment for students to feel comfortable and communicate in the most genuine way possible, and on-the-spot error correction might hinder spontaneity.

To revisit the content of the previous lesson in a fun way

Before jumping into new content when the lesson starts, it is always useful to revisit and review what was learned in the previous lesson. This helps students build confidence and caters for learners who would benefit from more practice on a specific language item. A quick consolidation at the beginning of the lesson also gives absentees a chance to catch up. The advantage of revising content during the ice-breaker is to kill two birds with one stone: you warm students up and prime them for learning while consolidating their knowledge and skills in a fun way.

Creative ideas and classroom tips

Coming up with a new and creative idea to start the lesson can become an impossible task as the term evolves. We compiled a list of useful links and websites where you can “steal” good ideas from. Remember to share your own ice-breaker ideas in the comment section below!

National Geographic Learning’s ELT blog

ELT Resourceful

Macmillan Community

Busy Teacher

Dave’s ESL Cafe

One Stop English

Busy Teacher

International TEFL Academy (video)

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Andreia Zakime is an Academic Coordinator at Cultura Inglesa São Paulo, a CELTA tutor and one of the co-founders of What is ELT?

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