A great icebreaker

Annie Menard, Tokai University Shonan Campus


Quick guide

  • Key words:Methodology, speaking, icebreaker
  • Learner English level:Beginning and above
  • Learner maturity level:Any level as long as they can make a sentence (e.g. junior high school and above)
  • Preparation time:5 minutes
  • Activity time:From 10 minutes to an hour
  • Materials:6 pieces of scrap paper blank on one side, per student, 1 timer


This is an icebreaker that will truly get students talking and listening, not just reading questions off a piece of paper. It’s quite simple and versatile in style as well as in length.


Step 1:Tell the students that they’ll have to introduce themselves to a few other students in the class, they’ll have to talk for 1 minute each time, and they’re not allowed to use “my favorite…” (see Variations).

Step 2:First demonstratehow long one minute actually is by setting the timer for one minute and telling them to listen for the beep. Students will feel the minute spent waiting for the beep is a lot longer than the one minute they’ll spend talking, but this helps them to prepare more things to say.

Step 3:Give the students time to prepare. They should not write anything down, but can prepare with their friends. I give them about 2-3 minutes to prepare. At this point, I give everyone sixpieces of paper and ask them to write their name on each piece.

Step 4:Have the students sit in pairs, in a way that will allow them to move easily from one partner to the next. In my classes, I haveeveryone get into twovery long rows facing each other. One row moves while the other stays still. The students will change partners and roles every minute from now on.

Step 5: Once everyone is in lines, do a practice run. Get the students to janken (rock, paper, scissors), then ask if the winner wants to talk or listen. The janken needs to be done only once during the entire activity.

Step 6:One student talks for 1 minute, the other student listens. When the timer goes off, all the “speakers” get up and change partners quickly. The “listening” students do not move.

Step 7:In their new pairs, the students switch roles:the old speaker becomes the listener and vice versa. Repeat step 6.

Step 8:Once students are familiar with the process, begin the next round. Keep the same topic, but add a penalty. If the students stop talking before the minute is up, or spend too much time thinking (for example, 5 seconds), they must give their partner one piece of paper as penalty. When the timer beeps, the speakers change partners then switch roles.


I usually keep this activity going for about an hour, but change topics in step 8 and add rules. For example, I would do the self-introduction for a third time but,this time, the listener must memorize it and repeat it to his/her next partner. I also like to use “my favorites” as a new topic (which is why it was banned earlier). For “my favorites”, the students have to talk about all their favorites for an entire minute.


This activity is great because all the students work together at the same time, on the same topic. For lower levels, the time can easily be made shorter. The longer the activity goes on, the more the students gain confidence and the louder it gets. Because we start with such an easy topic as self-introductions, the students do not feel intimidated by the topic, which in turn gives them a sense of safety. It’s a very Japanese thing to do a self-introduction, so the initial new teacher andnew classroom culture shock isn’t so overwhelming anymore. The pieces of paper or lack of them by the end of the activity serve as a tangible motivating tool. Students try harder to say more things for longer periods of time.