ESL Icebreakers for adult students

ESL Icebreakers for adult students

Being after learning objectives or lesson planning we may forget that people need some time to start studying. That is important, especially if it is their first meeting this term. The point is to make students comfortable in your class. When it comes to teaching adolescents or grown-ups, you must be sure, that students are ready to work together, and there is no tension in a classroom. Getting to know each other is the first step to making everyone relaxed. The more common things classmates have, the smoother your ESL lessons will go. Also, it is a way to distract a class from scrutinizing and add some fun to the learning process. Simple games may set the tone of lessons for a long time. It will help to entertain adult learners holding their interest and attention. If you are a newcomer in teaching English, we would like to explain the importance of using icebreakers.


What is a perfect icebreaker?

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Intend resolutely

As we talk about people over 18, not all icebreakers are appropriate to use in ESL classes. Some of them might be too easy or difficult while others can be boring. As we discussed, such games make sense not only at the first lesson but also during the whole course. The more information you know about learners, the easier preparation of such activities will be. When students know each other well enough, start implementing tasks provoking the use of particular skills.

You should know these things in order to make icebreakers of your lessons perfect:

  • The task instruction must be clear and precise.
  • Preparation is not supposed to take much time.
  • Make rules simple and short.
  • Give participants some motivation to win.
  • Exercises must fit students' levels and interests.
  • Let adults let their hair down and have fun.

As teaching grown-ups is different in comparison with children, we prepared some light-hearted ideas, which you can adapt either online or offline way.

Two Truths and a Lie

That is a famous way how to establish a good relationship between ESL learners. Everyone wants to make a lasting impression at the first meeting, so it is a good chance to do that. Everybody says three statements about himself, whereas two facts are true, and one is a lie. After each person, the rest of the class decides what statements were false and why. It is good enough because equally works with all levels. Beginners can make simple sentences with basic vocabulary related to hobbies, animals, and food. Intermediate students may talk about habits, desires, and clothes. You can be a role model giving an example about yourself. Don't hesitate to add some fun facts.

Positive, negative, crazy

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There is one thing about grammar that scares English newcomers. It is the word order. That is not easy to use all tenses right and appropriately, especially in speaking, however, an extra task may help. It is also quite flexible. Choose a topic, that students have learned recently. Pass a ball like a "hot potato" around the class. Students must stop every time they hear one of three words "positive, negative, crazy". The rule is simple, that person, who holds a ball, says a sentence about the topic.

If you choose "food", students pronounce a sentence depending on the word they heard:

  • Positive, "Apple is my favorite fruit".
  • Negative, "I don't like Italian cuisine".
  • Crazy, "I have never tasted a pizza".

Also, you can make the game more difficult if your class handled it with ease. Replace "crazy" with "questions" to give adolescents a chance to use special words and think of the word order. There is no problem to tailor this exercise to an online way. Instead of passing a ball, learners quickly name each other in order to pass a turn.


It perfectly fits higher-level ESL students. This is a fun thing to conduct a vocabulary revision. Choose some phrasal verbs or idioms, and give them to students. Assign everybody to write down their thoughts, what those words might mean. Then all hand answers in. The funniest part starts, when you read replies anonymously, and compare them with the right definitions. It won't take much effort or time for preparation but will make people laugh.

Sit down if

There is a good way to show how zero conditional works in life. Also, this is a hilarious activity to distract students a bit. The topic might be different, however, we suggest talking about pet peeves. Set the tone, giving an example, "Sit down if you don't like cooking after work", or "Sit down if no one laughs at your jokes". The more real sentences people give, the funnier game will be. As you understand, before undertaking it, everyone should stand. Online learners may raise their hands instead.

Riddle game

This is a good conversation game, which doesn't take preparation at all. Choose a category or the last topic and roll the dice to decide who is the first. Don't forget to number participants beforehand. It seems to be the perfect practice of word explanation for beginner students. The point is to think of a word that relates to the topic and there clues, which can help classmates to guess.

For example, the category is technology, whereas the word is gadgets. There are some hints like, "People use it to simplify their life. There are a lot of different features. They are portable."

It is a flexible and adaptive activity depending on the student's level. It is quite convenient to organize online.

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