The first day of the English class can often be a nerve-wracking experience for the students. It can be the same for the teacher too.
But the students might worry about their English level, the fact that it is an English class meaning they may have to actually speak English. This is a real test of their immediate skills in English and it can unnerve them a great deal.
The best thing to do on the very first day of a brand new English class is to have fun.
This is the perfect opportunity to just relax, play a few games and let the students have some laughs. The effect this has is that the students then no longer feel pressured to perform and show off their English skills in front of the class. They also regard the English class — and you — as something that is interesting and fun. Rather than the kind of class that is just hard work and dull.
This is a great way to begin and can set the perfect precedent for all the other classes.
There are many activities you can do to break the ice for the first class and I have included the most popular ones here. The great thing about these activities is that you can use them again and again for future classes. All you have to do is adapt them slightly to suit whatever topic you are teaching in that actual class.
And the students will remember the names and rules of all the activities so you will not have to explain everything every time.
Some of these activities can last a long time — maybe up to forty-five minutes. Depending on the class and the kind of people in the class. And you can use each of these activities for any level. So any kind of student could engage with them in any class.
Let’s take a look.
Groups and Lines
This is a very easy activity to do for the first class. It makes sure that all the students are moving and also helps them find out what they have in common with each other.
All you have to do is give them a cue and then they have to organise themselves in either a line or in groups. The line could be in terms of alphabetical order or chronological order and the groups could be for something they all have in common.
Some of the most common options you can try:
Birthdays — line up in chronological order of their date of birth. From the youngest to the oldest.
Where are you from — the students get in groups regarding where they are from. If they are all from the same city, then they could organise themselves in terms of district. Depending on which country you are in they could be in groups of prefecture, state, county, or province. Use whatever comes to mind. The student like to find out if there are other students from the same area as themselves.
Names — the students line up in terms of the alphabetical order of the first letter of their names.
Favourite school subject — students form groups for their favourite school subject. Another popular way of them finding like-minded classmates.
Month of birth — students get into groups according to their month of birth.
This exercise also depends on which country you are teaching. You can adapt to the local interests and culture, for example, star signs from western culture or Asian culture.
Three Things in Common
Now you have established a few things that students have in common you can do this ice breaker to confirm. You might have to give the students some prompts to help them — months of birth, their age in years — but see how they do it on their own. They might come up with some ideas by themselves.
You could make this a little more difficult for them by writing some prompts on the board. For example;
Things you are afraid of
How old you were when you learned to ride a bike
What kind of music do you like
Once the groups have established themselves, they should present the information to the class. So you might have a group and they tell the class:
We all like punk music, we all hate maths class and we are all wearing Nike sport shoes.
The students are talking and there is no pressure for them to perform well. It is just about relaying information as part of a game so they feel relaxed about doing it.
Two Truths and a Lie
This is self-explanatory. Each student writes or says three things about themselves, one of which is a lie. The rest of the class have to determine which one is a lie. This can create a simple storytelling session as the students explain which ones are true or not.
You may have to lead by example with this activity. You need to show the students how to do this. They can then ask you questions about which one is a lie. This introduces the practice of forming questions.
Be careful about how you do this. Often the teacher might make the last sentence a lie and the students will all follow suit, making their own last sentence a lie too. You could get the students to write the sentences down and pull them out of a hat or bag one by one. This would make them all random.
Find someone who…
You will need to print this exercise for the class.
All the students have to do is go round the class and find a student who can answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions on the worksheet. If they find someone who can say yes to one of the questions they have to ask a follow-up question. Depending on the level of the class that might elicit many different responses.
This is also further practice for forming questions.
So you might give the cue: Find someone who was born in September.
They have to ask the question: Were you born in September?
Below is a list of questions you can copy and paste to make a worksheet:
Find someone who was born in September
Find someone who loves to watch action movies
Find someone who listens to music every day
Find someone who likes to go running
Find someone who has a pet
Find someone who likes milk
Find someone who has been abroad this year
Add other cues of your own according to the class and the culture of the students.
Once the students have found people they need to present their information.
Jack was born in September, his birthday is on the 5th of September.
Rose has a pet, she has a dog and his name is Snowy.
This is a very simple exercise that involves all the class together and a lot of movement.
You should have a list of cues you call out to the students and depending on their answer they run to the left or right side of the room.
Cues you might use:
Salty or Sweet
Coffee or Tea
Hot or Cold
Dogs or Cats
Heavy Rock or Classical
So if you call out salty or sweet, you are asking them if they like salty food or sweet food. The students rush to the side of the room to match their preference. The same with all the others.
You could have follow-up questions where you ask the students to give you examples of salty or sweet food.
This is a great exercise to do at the beginning as it requires little else but listening. And the students are running around and having fun.
You will need bingo cards for this activity.
This is an old ESL standard that students love. If you do a search online, you can find dozens of bingo cards for all kinds of topics. It is a great way to break the ice but also a fantastic activity to do in any class.
For an icebreaker on the first day you might want to just use some simple terms to determine likes and dislikes, have and have not.
So your bingo cards could have the words basketball, blue, ice cream, dog, cat, fish, bicycle.
Separate the students into small groups and give each group a card. Call out one of the words in random order and then the students have to shout out bingo. One of the students must then say a sentence using the word you called out.
So, for example, you call out the word fish — a student might say; I have some fish in my home. Or, I like to eat fish for lunch. Could be anything as long as they use the word correctly in a sentence.
This activity can have a lot of energy and the groups often want to compete against each other.
Cloud Bingo is another ESL standard. It is very easy to set up and needs no materials at all.
This is the perfect way to find out about each other in the first class.
All you have to do is draw seven clouds on the board like this:
In the centre cloud, write your name and then in each of the other clouds write ONE WORD that loosely describes you and your life. Examples could be things like favourite colour, favourite food, where you are from, something about your interests or hobbies — you get the picture.
Then turn to the students and tell them they can ask you any question as long as the answer can be yes or no. They have to find out all about you based on what you wrote on the clouds and your answers.
So, they might ask the question: Have you lived in Tokyo?
You reply: No. So they try again.
Would you like to go to Tokyo?
And they have found something about you.
Once they find out all the things about you, the students can all try.
It might be hard to get the students to think of one word for each cloud, to sum up something about their lives. If they are lower level, you could let them do this all together. Once they have prepared all their clouds, they can stand up front and get the other students to ask them questions one by one.
This exercise can last a long time if done right. And for a first class activity, all the students can find out many things about each other.
Introduce your classmate
By the end of the first class, you might find that students are already pairing up and getting to know each other. This would be the perfect time to have this activity.
Put all the students in pairs and give them plenty of time to ask each other questions about their classmates. Then they take it in turns to stand up front and introduce their classmate to the rest of the class.
You can engineer this too by confirming details with the student who is being introduced.
Ask me anything
Finally, you can put the students in small groups and tell them they can ask you any question they like.
Be prepared because the students will ask you some pretty personal questions.
But a great way for them to form questions in English and to get to know you too.
Very easy to do and needs no prep whatsoever.
For the first English class of the semester or the beginning of a new course, it would be the perfect time to have a few ice breaker activities as above.
There is no point in diving straight into the real work of the class or course. Much better to do some of these activities and give the students the chance to get to know each other first.
Plus the students can relax and not feel under pressure to excel in English on the first day.