Ice Breakers and Warm-ups in ESL Classroom

Noel Perera
Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Starting your lesson with a warm-up will certainly assist you to set the focus of your students on the lesson. A good warmer will tune the minds of the students into ‘English learning mode’ , create interest and it also serves as a review on a previous lesson. 

An icebreaker connects the members in a group together by leaving space for a smooth flow of the lesson. This is a great way to calm the nerves of the ‘first-timers’,  to make them open up to new ideas  and also to make themselves heard.

Question cards and picture cards are popular warm-ups in a language classroom. This is what Kon Xiaoru and Альона Зінченко do.

My favorite ice-breakers are pictures of the most popular celebrities like rock stars. If I am about to be with my teenager students; be sure that I have few posters when I turn up the funny moments of the stars’ clippings from newspaper or magazines, usually within a minute, the girls will start saying what they know (I will have already written key words on the board too) by using related vocabulary to eagerly chat with the ones sitting near. To proceed, I will pass the voc card on the four grids (photos) to ask them to form a team to give me a story. Like 1 cute Taylor Swift, 2 New York, 3 an electric guitar, 4 a movie - the fastest one on the stage to tell the story will be having the least homework!
Kon Xiaoru
I have a lot of cards with different questions on various topics and my students pull a card out of a pile without seeing the question. I do the same and I am the fist to answer the question as an example/ Anyone may comment the answer telling his (her) thought on the topic. Sometimes I give the students the card with brief information about a famous person and the student has to tell about this person to the classmates
Альона Зінченко

Students love guessing and guessing activities are not uncommon in an ESL classroom. They are a perfect combination of humour and creativity. Let’s have a look at what these three English teachers, Cecy, Ghania and Nataliia got to say. 

I Call it "the truck Is full of" and I start with a letter for example "a" and I say.. "the truck is full if apples" and the students have to follow the same pattern but using the last letter of my word and continue.. example "the truck is full of seals" etc. My students like it a lot and I also enjoy it. It helps them to think fast of different vocabulary
Cecy Gallego
Each session I use a warmer, the one noticed my learners like is that of guessing information about me, I write dates and inform them that these dates are some past events in my life, and they start guessing what was it, I move to the next when they find the right answer. Kids want to get some of their teacher's mysterious life
Ghania Merzouki
I often use such ice-breakers which cause my students to have a talk with me,e.g. When I was going to school I saw smth green in front of me... they try to guess if it was alive , big or small, flying or running,etc...
Nataliia Pavlova

Getting student to talk on a particular topic give them the opportunity to share their ideas with the whole class while developing their confidence to speak. It might be a single sentence by an individual or a list of ideas produced by a group. Our teachers Evita, Escobar, Botagoz, Halia and Lulyy are big fans on this category of warm-ups. 

I project the color code. For example: red means something funny, green favorite movie, yellow favorite tv show, etc. They take a random skittle, introduce themselves and have to say one fact according to the previous code. It's fun.
Evita Couto
My favourite ice breaker is definitely "My mother said" where students are sitting in a row and the Mother who's the teacher gives an advice to her son/daughter next to her and that student should whisper the advice to the next classmate and so on, therefore the student at the end of the line will shout the advice and it's always a crazy one because they always twist what they listen. Thanks and I hope you have fun with your students.
Escobar Jess
My favorite ice breaker is when students draw something that reflects their personality, and then describe the picture explaining their associations. For example, students draw a ball, and the sun. Then they describe the picture saying that they drew the ball because they like to play football and they drew the sun because their favorite season is summer.
Botagoz Abdrakhmanova
If I have no enough time to find some interesting activity I use "A quick picture". I choose a picture, show it quickly to the students and they have to describe it. Sometimes I ask questions to encourage them. When there are no other ideas, I show them the picture and we compare their answers with the real picture.
Halia Fedoruk
My favorite ice breaker is asking students to say something about themselves, and asking the next student to repeat what the others have said. They have to listen carefully, and they learn something about each other!
Lulyy Bolaños

Another common type of ice-breakers and warm-ups will be games based on vocabulary, grammar or general knowledge.

My favourite warmer as a student was playing hot seat game. This game we can play with the group. Especially in two groups. And we choose one of the student From each group and they sit on the chairs opposite side from the blackboard and the teacher write one of the vocab concerning with the subject. And then the rest students giving hint which is written on the blackboard to their group participant. Participants listen the hint and tell the right answer. This game is very exciting and fun for me.
Izzaa Izzaa
I forgot the name of the game, but all my students loved it and it helped them in their writing. Last time, I prepared 3 jars with different content. 1st jar: SUBJECT - name of person, animal. 2nd Jar: VERB - sees, loves etc... 3rd Jar: OBJECT - a cat, a moon, a sun ...etc. Let the children shake the jar until 1 lot is falling or just let them take 1 lot from each jar. Sometimes, I asked them to rearrange and pasted it on a paper, or asked them to rewrite all the words based on the correct sentence.
Pam Sam Tam
As a teacher, I give my children one minute to think and ask them to tell words that they Know confined to a topic. For ex. I tell them water and ask my children to think for a minute. After that I give one minute to tell words related to water. They are not disturbed till one minute is over. They just generate words. Then I go into my lesson The topic gets changed and after some days I make them construct sentences using the words I say. The sentences have to be made immediately. I don't concentrate in anything here but just the fluency.
Sathish Kumar
I ask a quiz on general knowledge but in each question I use the passive voice (which mineral was discovered by Marie Curie? And then the alternatives. Finally I ask them to analize the questions and find that the passive.
Williams Gamarra

Some warm-ups just don’t do the ‘warming-up’ but rocks the entire class. These highly action-oriented games are real energy boosters.

I prefer to begin my class with a song, and make my students to sing and do after me : open , shut them;open , shut them; give a little clap clap clap; Open, shut them ; open shut them ; put them in your lap lap lap Then I will start my lesson while I have caught their attention and made them sit well.
My favourite ice breaker is a game called "fruit cocktail." I assign each child a fruit name, when I call out a fruit all the students that have that same fruit have to stand up and switch places, and when I say "fruit cocktail" everybody has to stand up and switch places. the last person in switching her/his place loses and has to do a challenge, for example sing a song in English since our mother tongue is Spanish. This helps students practice the language in a fun way.
Ulises Mendoza Nava
Do what I said not what I do with parts of the body. Kids love it. We begin slow and then fast. I say touch your nose but I touch my mouth, they got confused because they do the same thing I am doing but it was what I say not what I do. It works concentration and they practice vocabulary.
Paula Arboleda
From warmers I really love the lead in "multiples of 3"; in which students start counting from one student to the last one of the class. on second step we repeat the counting but this time substituting all multiples ef 3 (3, 6, 9, 12 etc) by a clap e.g. 1, 2 clap, 4, 5, clap, 7. Next step, we substitute the clappibg by a verb (adjective, adverb or anything we want to reinforce), 1,2, run 4,5, drink 7...
Humberto Montemayor

All the warm-ups and ice-breakers mentioned here are authentic ones contributed by our TKTiers. Thank you, TKTiers! 


Noel Perera

Author / Trainer

Noel Perera

Noel Perera has helped thousands of English learners, online and offline, during his 12+ years of coaching. His coaching includes wide variety of English language workshops for young adults, adults, teachers and business professionals. Noel Perera is a former IT student, whose IT career was crushed with a passion for English. Finding a new career path as an English language coach was destiny.