- Keywords: Ice-breaker, grouping, communication, empathy, creativity
- Learner English level: Intermediate
- Learner maturity: University or high school
- Preparation time: 10 minutes
- Activity time: 30-40 minutes
- Materials: Large sheets of coloured paper, pens, examples of activity (Appendix A).
At the beginning of the semester, I put students into groups and I use this activity to stimulate communication by asking students to come up with an interesting group name. These names are then written up by the students on large coloured paper with illustrations.
This activity serves as an ice-breaker and is the first step in bringing students together into a comfortable group, where they feel relaxed enough to chat with each other. Experience has shown me that feeling the support of a group encourages students to raise their hands and speak in front of the rest of the class more than they would otherwise.
Other grouping options can be used later on, but this initial forming of groups can build a comfort zone, or ‘home’ for the students in a new class. There are people they can say “Hi” to and sit with from the second week; people who will miss them if they are absent or encourage them to contribute if they seem shy.
Step 1: Make some examples of signs for the students (Appendix A).
Step 2: Prepare sheets of paper and pens for each group.
Step 1: Put the students into groups of 4-6, either randomly or by design.
Step 2: Explain that today’s task is to make a group name.
Step 3: Show the examples you have brought and explain the reasons behind the names.
Step 4: Hand out the paper and pens, give a time limit of 30 minutes, and instruct students to use English to introduce themselves; ask questions to find common interests, themes, or differences and come up with an interesting group name based on what they’ve discussed.
Step 5: After completion, have each group introduce their name and explain why they chose it. Comment on their name and praise their effort.
Step 6: Later on, these large colourful signs can have magnets added, so that they can be stuck up on the board. The sign can be used as a place to write up points for that group in a quiz, or as a space for students to write their group’s answer to a question or idea after a discussion, for everyone to see.
The creativity shown in the names and artwork is usually very impressive and the clear aim of the activity makes it good for students who haven’t worked together before, because they have to communicate in English to accomplish the task.
This activity proved to be very popular at Sendai JALT’s My Share session, and groups came up with names such as: Four Eyes (they all wore glasses), The Ramens (they had all recently eaten ramen), and Beer Tonight (no explanation necessary). This activity can also be used in any number of situations, including teacher training, as an ice-breaker to get people chatting and making connections with each other.
Having examples of the activity, helps quickly convey the type of group sign you are expecting and challenges the students to create similarly interesting names.
I have had groups call themselves:
- The Choco-holics, because they all loved chocolate
- The First Borns, because they were all the eldest son or daughter
- Kick Base Team, because half liked baseball and half liked soccer
- Home Alone, because they were all living away from their parents
- Parasitic Singles, because they were all living at home
- Passport Team, because they all wanted to travel abroad, but to different places
- Team OOBA, because they had blood types O,O, B and A