Icebreaker questions

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Questions and activities for the first week of class, or for oral practice.

During the first session or two, you'll probably want to do two things: (1) get to know your students, (2) have students get to know each other, and (3) find out about their specific difficulties and weaknesses (see below on how to do this). After introducing the ground rules and policies, you can do some ice-breakers (ice-breaking activities, to "break the ice" and get to know each other), and then some diagnostics. Ice-breakers can include the following:

  • Simple self-introductions: Each person introduces him/herself, with an opportunity for students to ask questions about each other; you can also provide some questions that each person must answer about him/herself, such as favorite activities, most interesting life experience, etc.
  • Introduce your neighbor: Get to know your neighbor, ask him/her questions, and then have each person introduce his/her partner to the whole group.
  • Find out who: Make a list of of experiences, abilities, etc., and have students go around asking each other questions to find as many people as possible who have done or can do such things. For example, students are given a handout with blanks beside items like "Can speak Japanese," "Has lived in Europe," "Has done extreme sports," "Has eaten cooked insects," and "Knows programming languages." The students go around to ask each other questions and fill in the blanks with the names of people who meet the criteria. Afterwards, as a group, have the students share what they have found about their fellow students.
  • See also general discussion questions for listening-speaking class and Interview & icebreaker questions.
  • Many other ideas for ice-breakers can be found on the Internet.

1 Find someone who / Find out who (icebreakers or specific practice)

This is a category of questions that I used to use in lower to intermediate ESL courses when I was a new teacher. They were originally used as first-day icebreaker questions.

Basically, students are given a handout with these items, they go around the class and ask each other questions to find some people who have done or been one of the things on the handout. (There should be a long blank on the right side of the paper to write in names.) You will need to adapt these items to your needs.

One variation is to give two versions of the handout to students - half the class has version 1, half has version 2 - sort of info-gap style.

Along the way, I've created versions of the activity with a focus on particular verb tenses, which could be used not on the first day, but instead to practice a particular tense relatively early in the semester when the students still do not know each other so well.

1.1 Find someone who... (general version)

Ask your classmates questions to find someone who is like this, and write their names in the blanks.

  1. Someone who likes swimming.
  2. Someone who knows several languages.
  3. Someone who likes cooking
  4. Someone who can cook Japanese food
  5. Someone who can cook desserts
  6. Someone who plays basketball
  7. Someone who plays soccer (football)
  8. Someone who likes reading novels
  9. Someone who likes science fiction

1.2 Find someone who (emphasis on perfect tense)

Go around and interview all your classmates. Find as many people as you can who fit these descriptions, and write down their names. For each item, find out details – when, where, what, why?

  1. Speaks a foreign language besides English. / Has learned a foreign language besides English.
  2. Has travelled abroad sometime in the past five years.
  3. Has done volunteer work.
  4. Has participated in an extreme sport (like bungee jumping, sky diving, or other dangerous sports).
  5. Has held a part-time job.
  6. Took part in a demonstration.
  7. Did absolutely nothing but sleep during the break.
  8. Can cook well.
  9. Knows how to create web pages.
  10. Comes from another country or another planet.
  11. Can play a musical instrument.
  12. Likes Star Trek or X-Files.
  13. Someone who has studied English the longest time
  14. Someone who has appeared on T.V.
  15. Someone who has swum in more than two oceans of the world
  16. Someone who has been to Disneyland or Disneyworld
  17. Someone who has been to Europe

1.3 Find out who... (all perfect tense)

Go around the class and ask your classmates questions to find out which people fit the following descriptions.

  1. Someone who has studied English the longest time
  2. Someone who has studied English the shortest time
  3. Someone who has known how to drive the longest
  4. Someone who has driven the shortest amount of time
  5. Someone who has worn glasses the longest
  6. Someone who has worn glasses the shortest time
  7. Someone who has appeared on T.V.
  8. Someone who has eaten tacos
  9. Someone who has swum in more than two oceans of the world
  10. Someone who has been to Disneyland or Disneyworld
  11. Someone who has been to Paris
  12. Someone who has not played soccer.

1.4 General first-day icebreaker questions

  1. Why did you choose to come to this university?
  2. What did you expect before you came?
  3. What are some differences between high school and this university?
  4. What kinds of problems do university students have? How can they be handled?
  5. Describe your experiences so far. has it been good or bad? why? (academic, social, campus life, etc.)
  6. Are you happy with your decision to attend this school / to come here? why or why not?
  7. Where did you learn to speak English?
  8. Tell us about your family
  9. Are you looking forward to studying at this univ? why?
  10. What do you think is most difficult about living / studying here?
  11. Tell us something you want to learn more about
  12. Do you feel your past education has prepared you well for your future?
  13. Tell me one thing you like and one thing you dislike about your culture?
  14. Do you think your country has a bright future?
  15. How have your first few days here been?
  16. Has it been easy to make new friends here so far?
  17. Favorite childhood memory?
  18. what will your life be like in 10/20 years from now? Were will you be? What will you be doing?
  19. Winter / summer vacation plans?
  20. Favorite book / novel / story / movie / TV show?