Icebreakers and Planning for a New Term

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With the start of a new year comes the start of a new term. I am teaching the same class I taught last term (Intro Reading and Composition in the IEP), but this semester I will be teaching the course on my own. Every class I’ve taught has been with a co-teacher. While there is something nice about sharing the work load and having someone to bounce ideas around with, I’m looking forward to planning and executing every aspect of this class on my own. “On my own” will of course involve a certain amount of collaboration with teachers across the level and skills, but this single reading and writing course is mine.

While having taught this class before allows a certain insight into the potential issues that may arise over the term, there is still a great unknown blob hovering over the planning of the term. How many students will enroll in the class? We won’t know until after registration next week, and almost all the students will be new since the class is the lowest level offered in the program. Last semester we initially thought we would have about five students, so the plan was to do some one-on-one meetings with students during the first week of class. My co-teacher and I had grand ideas of getting to know each student personally during the first week and catering the whole term to their progress. About four days before class was due to start, another seven students enrolled and we were up to twelve. While twelve is still a fairly small class size, it forced our plans to change.

While writing my class syllabus this afternoon I got to thinking about the first week of class. I’ve always loved the first week of a new term. Everything is new and exciting! Students from different cultural backgrounds and first languages meet and try to convey the details of their lives in a foreign language (English). Meanwhile, the teacher tries to hold in her excitement just long enough to set some ground rules and get to know the new group of students.

Enter: the icebreaker.

What are some icebreaker activities that you have found most useful during the first day of a new term?

From what I can tell, a good icebreaker should:

  • ¬†engage learners. Learners should feel engaged enough to participate in English with minimal anxiety. Of course there is a certain level of anxiety while using your second language, especially when you’re with a group of people you’ve just met. The icebreaker should help alleviate some of that tension.
  • create a comfortable environment. Along with learner engagement comes a welcoming, comfortable learning environment for the teacher and students.
  • promote language production. While the icebreaker activity can be all fun and games, and not all good icebreaker activities need to involve speaking, there is typically a certain level of communication required to create bonds among the group. Additionally, the language produced during the icebreaker can be a useful first impression of the proficiency levels of the students in your class. By focusing on meaning and the task instead of form, the students will perhaps create less moderated language that can give you a clue as to where they may be proficiency-wise.
  • be fun! While all the previous bullet points are benefits of using good icebreaking activities, it almost seems like any activity that wasn’t fun would be a waste of class time. By asking students to do something fun while producing language (or not), student affective barriers go down a bit, and everyone will get off to a good start to the new term.

While using technology and online resources may not be the most ideal option in every classroom situation, there are a couple resources/tools that I have come across in my search for online teaching tools that may be appropriate for icebreaker activities. As with any technology being used in the classroom, it is important to consider the tools that your students have access to. The opportunities and options change with the availability and abundance of technology and quality internet. Onward!

The first tool is eQuizShow. This website provides a template to create Jeopardy-like games. Perhaps this tool would be more appropriate for a review session than an icebreaker, but I think there could be potential for icebreaking greatness, especially with higher proficiency learners.

Another interesting idea is the photo scavenger hunt. This activity doesn’t require any particular online tools, but it does utilize a camera, whether it’s digital, on students’ phones, or one of those old one-time-use ones (remember those?!). With more advanced students, this activity could be created to include a presentational aspect in which students report their findings on some kind of wiki or blog created for the class. Come to think of it, this might be an interesting weekly or bi-weekly activity for students to engage with each other outside of the classroom (small groups).

Anyways, my quest for a fun, engaging, collaborative, team-building activity that involves online technology continues…

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