My Favorite Icebreaker Activities for New University Classes

by Tory Thorkelson

As someone who used various versions of Find Someone Who to warm up my classes at the beginning of my career, I am constantly trying to come up with new activities to start my classes off in the right way. More recently, I have been using partner introductions and board games with success.  I also came up with a new idea that I will try next semester. Below, I will explain all 3 of these approaches to getting a new class off on the right note.

1) Partner introductions

With this activity, I want to let students talk to someone in class who they do not know very well (or at all) and then introduce them briefly to the class. I  ask them to do this as an ad for a product, as a blurb for a dating site and, most recently, I asked them to tell us the top 3 most interesting things they learned about their partner. The trick is to force them to keep it short and interesting as otherwise I get a full, predictable bio for each student which gets boring and can take too long with a large class.

Introduction: Guiding Questions:

  • Who is my partner? (name, age, family, hometown)


  • Where does s/he live? (city or town, house or apartment)

  • What does s/he do? (tell us about your job or school – good and bad).


  • When did s/he become interested in his/her major?

  • Why is English important for him/her?




  • How does s/he spend his/her free time? (family, hobbies, etc.)



  • Introduction: (Write some notes about your partner and briefly introduce him/her to us).




2) Board Games

I am a bit of a hoarder where teaching is concerned, so I have odds and ends like a bag of dungeons and dragons dice for selecting group members, questions from a list and so on, as well as colored game pieces from the dollar store which – when combined with a game board  like the one from Fredrick Klipppel’s ‘Keep Talking” (CUP, 1984, p. 175) – makes for an ideal way for students to break the ice.

  • 1) Break the class into random groups of 3-4.
  • 2) Hand out dice, games pieces and a board to each group.  I use the regular dice and label the numbers as follows:

1, 2, and 3= move as normal; 4= go back 1 space; 5= go back to the start; 6; switch places with another player.

  • 3) Have students roll the dice or do rock, paper, scissors to decide the order.
  • 4) The first player rolls the dice and asks the question on the square to each of their group mates before they answer the question themselves.

To add to the fun, there are free question squares so students can ask each other any questions they like as long as their partner is willing to answer. I usually teach “No comment” as an option before we start playing.

  • 5) If time permits, and the students are having fun, use two different boards and have them exchange OR have them create new groups and play again with a new group of students.

See: https://bogglesworldesl.com/esl_games.htm and download the “All about You” Board for lower- level  students or the “What if…”. “Hypothetically speaking” or “Wishes and Hopes” board games for higher level students.

3) My Emoji Story: An Icebreaker Activity

Thanks to the variety of emojis I see my students and younger friends using- I recently came up with the following idea for a self-introduction of sorts based around their favorite emojis.

1) Students pick their top 5-8 emojis (perhaps based on their most often used ones). Give them 10 minutes to do this privately; no sharing or discussing with their classmates or friends!

2) Now, they have to create a story using only the selected emojis. They will need to come up with a title and no more than one sentence per picture to tell the story in 1-2 minutes. Again, about 10 minutes should be good here.

3) Now, break the class into groups of 3-4. Have each student tell their story in 1-2 minutes to their group members. Have students time each other or use an online countdown timer so they can see the time for themselves (e.g.    https://www.online-stopwatch.com  ). After 6-8 minutes, have them switch groups and do it again. Ideally, they should repeat this 2 to 3 times at least.

4) Now, have students return to their original seats and discuss the questions below for 10-15 minutes with their partner(s)/seatmate(s):

  • Which stories did they like most/least and why?
  • What new things did they learn about their classmates?
  • Which emojis did they see that they wish they had on their phones? Why?
As a final step, have them share some of their positive comments with the rest of the class. Hopefully, this will work as a more unique way to help students become closer and more familiar with each other.