Start of the Term: Name Games and Icebreakers

By Cathy Sunshine

Spring 2011 is off to a great start at LETC, with decent weather (for now), dedicated students, and an enthusiastic corps of volunteers. We’re going to have fun!

To get the party started, it’s good to have some icebreakers for the first few classes. It’s as much for us as for the students. I’m not always good at remembering faces, and I find that games help me learn the students’ names quickly. When I started teaching a few years ago, I had a terrible time remembering names. My first class was rather large, and everyone seemed to be named José (at least that’s what it felt like). Since then, though, it’s gotten easier. Students stand out clearly as individuals from day one, partly because I know some of them from previous classes, and partly, perhaps, because I see them in a different way.

1. Name game

This is good for Levels 1 and 2. Arrange the chairs in a semicircle, with the two teachers sitting at one end. The first teacher says “My name is Alex” (or whatever). The second teacher then says, “My name is Cathy. Her name is Alex” (pointing to the first teacher). After the teachers have modeled the dialogue, continue around the circle, with each student saying his/her name first and then the name of the preceding student. Emphasize correct use of “his” and “her.” It may help to write on the chalkboard “My name is …” “Her name is …” “His name is …” to serve as prompts.

To make this more challenging, students can add their country: “My name is Maria. I’m from Guatemala.” Or they can share a personal detail: “My name is Wei. I like listening to music.” Students must remember this information when reporting the name of the person who went before.

To amp up the challenge, instead of having each student remember just the preceding person’s name, have them recite the names of all the students who have gone before them, going in order around the circle. If they don’t remember a name, they have to ask: “What’s your name? Where are you from?” When I did this with a 2A class, it got everybody laughing as each person struggled to remember all the names.

2. Interview your classmates

Form two groups, each facilitated by a teacher. Give each group a poster board or large sheet of paper and a Sharpie. Draw rule lines on the poster board to make a table with five columns and one row per student in the group, plus a row for the column headings. The first column heading on the left should be “Name.” In the four columns to the right, use any four categories you like. Some possibilities:

Country of origin
Famous landmark
Years in U.S.
Moved here in
Started English class in
Lives in
Favorite food
Favorite music group

The name of each student in the group goes on a separate row in the Name column (include the teacher, too). The group members then take turns interviewing each other, writing the information in the appropriate columns in each person’s row. It may be helpful to write the questions on the chalkboard to use as prompts. The finished chart might look like this:

Or like this:

Finally, have each student introduce another student in the group to the class, using the information in the chart. When I used this game, the category that got them most excited was “Favorite food.” Possibly everyone was hungry, but they really enjoyed describing typical foods from their countries to each other. Another good one was “Famous landmarks.” For 2B students, trying to describe the Tikal ruins in Guatemala, the Nile River in Ethiopia, and the Great Wall in China was a definite challenge!

3. Find someone who …

This game works with Level 3 and up, because they learn the “Have you ever …” construction in Level 3A. Before class, print worksheets that look something like this:

Find someone who has …

lived in Mexico                   ______________
visited Russia                     ______________
cooked Ethiopian food        ______________
worked in a restaurant      ______________
ridden a motorcycle           ______________
traveled in Africa                ______________
run in a marathon               ______________
broken a bone                     ______________
caught a fish                        ______________
painted a house                   ______________

You can use any phrases. I tried to pick experiences that I was fairly sure that some of my students had had, so there would be plenty of affirmative responses. Give each student a worksheet, and encourage them to get up and move around the classroom, asking their classmates “Have you ever…?” and filling in the blanks with names. After ten minutes or so, have students present their results to the class to see what kind of experiences everyone has had.

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One Response to Start of the Term: Name Games and Icebreakers

  1. Marsea says:

    I also like playing “Two truths and a lie.” Students tell the class two things about themselves that are true and one that is false. The rest of the class tries to guess the false fact. This is particularly useful for classes later in the week, when the students have already begun to know each other but the it’s the first class for the teachers.

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