The Internet TESL Journal

An Icebreaker Activity for ESL Students

Errol Pitts
errolpitts (-at-)
Hanseo University (South Korea)
A fun, short and interactive icebreaker activity that can be used in English as a Second Language classrooms with adult students.


Icebreakers are interactive activities that can be used in the first class to relax adult students and create an atmosphere of fun in what is usually a formal environment.  Additionally, many icebreakers allow adult students to get to know each other and can enable the teacher to acquire a better understanding of the background of his/her adult students.  I have used many icebreaker activities in diverse classes of adult immigrant ESL students and found them to be very successful.



Target Level

Required Time

Pre-lesson Preparation

  1. Create five questions for students to individually answer and later talk about in a small group.  These questions should be familiar and simple and when answered, give background information (age, family, country of origin, etc.) on students.  Familiarity will help students to quickly answer the questions.  Simplicity will help the teacher to quickly explain a question to a student if he/she needs it.  Remember, icebreakers should not take a long time.  Here are some possible examples of questions:
  2. Write the questions on a piece of flip chart paper.
  3. Attach a piece of tape or a temporary adhesive to the back of the flip chart paper.


Step 1 :   Introduce the activity.  Tell the class, “We are going to do a fun activity where we will get to know each other.  First, you will answer some questions about yourself by drawing pictures then you will talk about your answers in a small group.”

Step 2:   Post the flip chart paper (with the five questions) on the wall.  Tell students, “You will answer these (point with your finger) questions on a piece of flip chart paper.”  Read the questions out loud and have the students repeat.

Step 3:  Post a second flip chart paper on the wall and write your name on the top of it.  Tell students, ”Write your name at the top of the flip chart paper”.

Step 4:   Demonstrate answering the questions.  Tell students, “You will answer each question not with WORDS but by DRAWING a simple PICTURE”.  Read a question out loud.  For example, “Where do I come from?” Say your answer out loud.  For example, “I come from Canada.  Draw a simple outline of the shape of Canada or you can draw the Canadian flag.   Read and answer all the questions in the same way until all five have been read out loud and answered.  Keep the drawings simple so students understand that artistic skill is not important.

Step 5:  Demonstrate sharing answers.  Tell students, “After you have answered each question, you will talk about your answers in a small group”.  Select a few students and make a small group at the front of the room.  Talk about the pictures you have drawn to the small group.  For example, “I come from Canada”.

Step 6:   Ask students to make groups.  Tell students, “Everyone needs to make a small group with three (or four if you choose) students”.  The larger the number of students, the more time the talking task will require.  You may need to move some students into groups if they are shy or reserved.

Step 7:  Check for comprehension.  After the student groups have been made, hold up an empty flip chart paper and ask the class each of these questions: (1)“Where are you going to write your name? At the top of the paper or at the bottom?”,  (2)“Are you going to WRITE your answers to the five questions or are you going to DRAW SIMPLE PICTURES to answer the questions?”, (3) “After you have written your name and drawn your pictures, will you sit quietly or talk about the questions?”  Make sure that students answer the three questions, provide help if needed.

Step 8:  Start the drawing activity.  Turn on the music.  The music helps to create a relaxed atmosphere.  Walk around the room and give out flip chart paper and color makers and provide help if needed.  Give students approximately five minutes to finish.

Step 9:  When students have completed answering the questions or the five minutes is used up, turn the music off.  Tell students, “Talk about your pictures to other students in your group”.  Walk around the room and give tape (or a temporary adhesive) to students.  Make sure all students have written their names on the flip chart paper and provide help to students if necessary.  Give students approximately five minutes to finish.

Step 10:  Conclude the activity.  Ask students, “Please post your flip chart on the wall”.  Tell the students, “You can look at the different flip charts at break time or after class and talk about them with other students if you like”.  Collect the flip charts at the end of class when all the students have gone and make notes on each student (family, country of origin etc.) in a small journal.  Post all the flip charts back on the wall so students can look at them at the beginning of the next class.  End of activity.

A Possible Modification

Each student group can present their flip chart to the class and talk about their answers.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XVI, No. 1, January 2010