Ten blast offs for a brilliant beginning

Louise Emma Potter

Just like any other profession, the preparation phase is crucial in order to have a successful outcome. Athletes are concerned with their nutrition and intense training before an important competition; before launching a new product on the market, companies prepare teasers and marketing campaigns. Teachers prepare their annual planning and brainstorm tools they will be using throughout the year.

However, it’s the little things you do every day in the classroom that matter more than what we do once in a while. How you begin your class is an excellent thermometer for how your students will perform the rest of the class as motivation is the key word for a promising outcome of your class.

Research has shown that ice breakers and warmers bring in a flow of energy and focus for the students. They activate the brain and urge students to communicate amongst themselves and interact.

In respect to the first lesson of the year, our primary objective is to promote an opportunity to build a rapport with the students and develop a strong connection with students. Not that this should not happen during all classes, but the first impression is an important moment to create this rapport.

Below we have listed 15 fun and motivating ice breakers/warm-ups for you to blast off with a brilliant beginning.

1. Spider web
The teacher begins with a ball of yarn. Keeping one end, throw the ball to one of the students and ask him/her to introduce him/herself. Ask them to say one interesting thing about themselves: hobby, book he/ she has recently read, pet, sports he/ she plays, etc. Once this person has made their introduction, ask him or her to throw the ball of yarn on to another student in the group. This student then follows the same procedure. The process continues until everyone is introduced and a web has been formed by the ball of yarn. To emphasize the interdependencies amongst the students, the teacher should then pull on the starting thread and everyone's hand should move. It is important to state that this year they will be working on a team and that anything one student does will affect the rest of the team.

2. Word association
This game helps students explore and review vocabulary recently learned. It is also a good way to introduce mind maps. Generate a list of words related to the topic you are teaching. For example, ask your students what words or phrases come to mind related to school. They might then suggest: socialise, books, boring, students, homework and so on. Write all suggestions on the board, perhaps clustering by theme. You can use this opportunity to understand how much your students know about a certain topic or their thoughts about it.

3. Hot Seat
Hot Seat encourages competition in the classroom. It is great to practice speaking and listening skills and it can be used for any level of learner. Divide the class into 2 teams, or more if you have a large class. Elect one student from each team to sit in the Hot Seat, facing the classroom with the board behind them. Write a word on the board. The team members of the student in the hot seat must help the student guess the word by describing it. They have a limited amount of time and cannot say, spell or draw the word.

4. Finish the Thought
Write the beginning of a sentence on the whiteboard and ask students to complete it. Below are some examples:
Today I woke up feeling ________.
Today I met _________.
By the time we finish today, I want to have ______.
Yesterday I thought about _______and _________.
Yesterday, I wish I had __________.
Tomorrow I will definitely_____________.
I think I am best at ___________.
I love ______________.

5. Stand Up, Breathe and Stretch
Our lives are pretty hectic these days, so a little breathing and stretching is always good. Begin by asking your students to stand up, stretch (reach for the ceiling, turn left and right, touch your toes) and take a sequence of three slow, deep breaths. You can include other exercises such as the airplane (students should extend their arms away from her shoulders like the wings of an airplane, bend forward at the waist and extend one leg at a time backward, balancing on the opposite leg for 5 to 10 seconds), trunk twists or any other type of stretching. These are also great to do during the class when you notice your students are getting out of hand.

6. What do I have in common?
Divide the class into groups of 5 (if possible, separate friends). Tell the groups that their assignment is to find five things that they have in common, with every other person in the group, and that the commonalities must have nothing to do with school

7. Interest survey
Have students—anonymously—fill out a survey on the topics they would like to discuss in class this year. If necessary, provide them with some alternatives related to the course content and objectives to give them some ideas. Frequently, student’s brains freeze when we ask them for ideas. This is an interesting warm-up as the teacher can get an idea of what students are interested in and can use this survey in the future for classroom preparation and motivational practices.

8. Superlatives
This warm-up activity can take as long as you wish. Divide your group into teams of five to ten people. The goal of this game is for players to reorder themselves as quickly as possible. You can use your own category or one choose one from the examples below.

  • From shortest to tallest – how many letters are in your first name
  • From farthest away to closest – birthplace
  • From least to most – how many brothers and sisters you have
  • From least to most – how many brothers and sisters you have
  • From least to most – How many pets you have
  • Shortest to tallest – height
  • Beginning to end of year – birthdates
  • From longest to shortest – how long they have been students at this school

Once a team has arranged themselves, the leader of the group makes sure they have done so correctly. The first team to do so wins.

9. Who am I?
Prepare nametags of famous people beforehand. Have students place one of the nametags on their foreheads or on their backs. Make sure they do not look at the tags. Once everyone has a nametag on their forehead/ back, explain the rules to everyone: each person must try to figure out which famous person he/ she is, by only asking yes/no questions to gain clues about the name that is on their forehead/back. For example, a player can ask questions such as, Am I an athlete? Am I a female? Am I a young person? and so on.

10. True or False
Ask students to introduce themselves (or say something they did over the holidays) and make three or four statements about themselves, one of which is false. Now get the rest of the group to vote on which fact is false. Divide the class into groups of 5 for this activity.