Let’s talk ESL first day activities. If you need some help figuring out what to do for the ESL first day of class, fear not! Here are some of my top recommendations for ESL activities for the first day, along with ESL introduction activities and games.
If you’re looking for ESL getting to know you games for the First Day of Class, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll give my top 10 first day ESL activities so you can get your semester started off on the right foot.
By the right foot, I mean the awesome way-students and teachers start getting to know each in a fun, engaging and interactive way. Set the tone for the rest of the semester during that first day and have a productive English classroom right from the start.
ESL First Day of Class
Without further ado, here are my favourite ESL icebreakers for the first day. Some are suitable for teenagers and adults, while others are great for young learners. Of course, there are some first-day English class activities that work for all ages.
Oh, and if you’re looking for things to do in the last class, have a look here: Last day of school activities.
The goal of the first day of an ESL class should be for the students to get to know each other and the teacher, as well as feel comfortable. The teacher can also explain the classroom rules and expectations for the upcoming year as well as explain about tests and assignments.
ESL Activities for First Day
Check out some of these activities to break the ice in your English classes. And then get ready for a great school year ahead! I’ve used all of these with success over my years of teaching. Get beyond the “Jolly Jackie” and “Sleepy Steve” adjectives introduction and use these ones that are just so much better.
#1 First Day of Class Icebreaker: Ball Toss
Ball toss is an extremely versatile activity that lends itself to just about any topic or context. It also happens to work particularly well as an ESL activity for the first day of class. Use get to know each other type questions, dependent on the age and level of your students. This activity is best for children or younger teenagers though and not adults. Kids love it!
For a big class, you can create two teams, with two balls, roughly divided down the center of the class.
Quick tips: A beach ball is ideal for this in order to prevent injuries! And, you can also require students that have played to sit down in order to be sure that each student has had a turn.
Another quick tip: Use a permanent marker to write the word on the ball, or it’ll rub off too easily when the ball gets thrown from student to student.
Do you want to find out more about one of the best first-day-of-school activities for ESL students? Check it out right here for all the details you need to know:
#2: Group Therapy-ESL Icebreaker Activities for First Day
Group Therapy for English learners is a fun way for adults to introduce themselves. It’s done in the “AA” style, where students have to say something like, “My name is ______, and I _______.” The last part of the sentence is what students struggle with in English. I usually give students a minute or two to think of their idea so that you don’t put anyone on the spot on the first day.
It’s ideal for helping students feel like they’re not alone in their struggles with English. Don’t forget, you can have a turn too, with whatever language you’re studying.
It’s one of our top activities for the first day of English class. You can learn more about it right here:
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 54 Pages - 11/10/2015 (Publication Date)
#3 English Introduction Games: Find Someone Who Bingo
This is one of my favourite ESL introduction games. It’s a really fun way for students to learn a little bit more about their classmates, and you as well.
Find Someone Who Bingo is a classic get-to-know-each-other activity on the first day. It’s a great activity for children as well as adults. But, it’s not ideal for very low-level students because they may struggle to understand the instructions in English. It’s not so difficult to explain, but it does require some focused listening in order to understand how to play it.
As far as what terms students can use for each square, the sky’s the limit. You can either allow them to choose their own or allow them to select from a list of questions.
You can find out all the details about this getting to know each other activity here:
#4 First Day English Class Activities: The Expert ESL Speaking Activity
If you teach higher-level adult students, “The Expert” is the perfect ESOL icebreaker. It requires students that are capable of holding 5-10 minute conversations with a partner. The best part about this activity is that students talk about things they’re an expert in, making the conversations very interesting and fun. Be sure to point out that students should try to divide their time talking evenly about each person’s interests.
Another thing that I love is that preparation for this one is non-existent. It’s always good to have a few of these in our back pockets as teachers, so keep this in mind for higher-level, advanced learners in case you get an extra class thrown at you last minute.
If you have some way to contact students before your course begins, you can ask them to bring in some pictures or objects related to these things. It makes it a bit more fun than using just words.
At the end of the activity, you can have students present about 1-2 of the most interesting things they learned from their discussions.
Does it sound like the right ESL icebreaker for your class? Click the link below to find out more about it, including all the steps to set it up, and some teaching tips so you can avoid the most common mistakes:
#5 ESL First Day Icebreaker for Beginners: Toilet Paper Icebreaker Activity
I’m sure you’ve played the popular Toilet Paper Icebreaker before (perhaps with candy). It’s fun for ESL students too! Your students will have to guess why they’re being asked to choose a number of squares of paper. It’s quite mysterious and fun, simple and easy to set up.
I like to add a twist to it and get students to ask questions too. Playing games like this makes learning interesting. Find out more about one of my favourite ESL introduction activities:
If you have low-level students and want to help them learn and remember each other’s names, the name game is a good choice. You have to say the sentence, “My name is ____, and I ______.”
The last part can depend on the level of students, but it can be something they like, what they did last night, etc. Then go around in the circle, repeating the sentences and adding another one. They have to use the correct names, as well as words/verbs so it can be challenging.
This is also a nice ESL vocabulary or English grammar game. Just adjust it so that it suits whatever you’re teaching.
#7 First Day of School Activities: Just a Minute ESL Speaking Activity
This speaking activity that focuses on fluency lends itself to just about any topic under the sun. However, for the first day. you can ask that students introduce themselves.
Then, require the rest of the students in their group to ask at least 1-2 follow-up questions for the person for some fun interaction and to make it a bit more than just a speaking activity (also requires close listening). Then, at the end of the activity, you can have each person introduce someone in their group to the class (works best for smaller classes).
You can find out more about Just a Minute, suitable for a variety of topics in this short video:
#8 ESL First Day of Class Activity: Introduction Survey
I love to use ESL surveys in my classes and this introduction is one of the best ESL games for a first day icebreaker. Students have to stand up and get out of their seats to talk to all their classmates. They have to find someone who answers “yes” to each question. Once they get that answer, they have to ask a follow-up question or two and just down a few words about it.
You can use surveys for various things—jobs, home life, hobbies, travel (More ESL Travel Ideas here) etc. but this one should have questions related to introducing yourself and your personality.
My favorite thing about ESL surveys is that they hit all four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) as well as grammar. It’s also a good way to reinforce new vocabulary. We love that here at ESL Activities! Language teaching made fun.
However, it’s not for total beginners and is best suited to intermediate to advanced-level students.
Check out the link below for an example survey and more details about how I use them. It’s one of the best activities for a first English class with adults. Find out more here:
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 85 Pages - 02/02/2020 (Publication Date)
#9 First Day Activities for English Class: Puzzle Finder
Puzzle Finder is a fun ESL activity that gets students up and out of their seats, mingling with their classmates. The best part about it is that it gives students a reason to talk to each other. It’s challenging too!
Students have to describe the piece of the puzzle that they have in order to match with someone else in the class. I prefer this style of activity, as opposed to a race or board game of some kind. The goal of the first day is for people to get to know each other and create an atmosphere of cooperation.
You can find out more about it this warm-up for English class right here:
#10: More ESL Introduction Activities
There are even more ideas for ESL intro activities here:
#11: Me Too!
Another activity to consider for the first day of English class is this simple one that requires absolutely nothing in the way of preparation or materials. If that’s not some ESL teaching gold, then I’m not sure what is.
The way it works is that students have to say a fact about themselves that they think some, but not all students will have in common with them. Want to know more about it? Find out all the details here:
#12: Small Talk Activities
Small talk is how people get to know each other at work or other social events. So, why not do some small talk activities on the first day of English class, too? It’s also an important skill for our students to master. Here are some recommendations that you’ll want to take a look at:
#13: Opinion ESL Games and Activities
What better way to get to know someone than to share some opinions about things, right? If you agree, then you’ll certainly want to check out some of our best ideas:
#14: Introducing Yourself Activities: Show and Tell, With Pictures
Show and Tell is one of my favourite ESL getting to know you activities.
This is often a good ESL activity to do in the second class after you have a chance to tell students to bring some pictures from home. I usually tell them to bring 3 pictures that show things that are important to them. I give some examples of family, a pet, their house, a hobby, etc.
Then, if you have a very small class, each student can show their pictures and share a couple of sentences about each one. Or, put students into groups of 4-5 if you have a bigger class.
Alternatively, if you want to do this on the first day of class, you can have students draw by hand a few small pictures. Of course, this one is very easy to adapt to various levels by changing the length of time that students are required to speak for (2-3 sentences or 1-2 minutes).
#15: Find Something in Common ESL Icebreaker
Try out this quick activity for the first day of class. Students have to find something that they have in common with each of their classmates.
The best part is that it’s super simple and requires absolutely nothing in the way of preparation and no materials except for a pen and paper. Find out all the details about one of my favourite ESL getting to know you activities:
#16: Classroom Scavenger Hunt
Create a list of items or locations within the classroom. Divide students into pairs or small groups and give them the list. They must work together to find and check off the items or locations within a specified time limit. This activity helps familiarize students with the classroom and promotes communication.
#17: Cultural Exchange
Ask students to bring an item or picture that represents their culture or country. Each student takes turns presenting their item to the class and explaining its significance. This activity promotes cultural awareness, understanding, and appreciation.
#18: Classroom Rules Discussion
Engage students in a discussion about classroom rules and expectations. Create a list of rules together as a class, emphasizing respect, participation, and a positive learning environment. Discuss the importance of these rules and the consequences of not following them.
#19: Vocabulary Speed Dating
Divide the class into pairs and assign them a specific topic (e.g., food, hobbies, travel). Give each student a set amount of time to ask questions and gather information from their partner. Afterward, rotate partners and repeat the activity with a new topic. It’s ESL beginnings, made easy.
#20: Classroom Tour
Take students on a guided tour of the classroom, pointing out important areas such as the bookshelves, resource materials, computer stations, or the language learning center. Explain how these resources can be used throughout the course.
Student Introduction Activities
If you want to do some introduction activities for students, here are a few of the top ideas:
Name Tag and Introduction
Have students create name tags with their names and a drawing or symbol representing something they like or enjoy. Then, they can introduce themselves, explaining their name tag symbol and a little bit about themselves.
Two Truths and a Lie
Each student shares two true statements and one false statement about themselves. The rest of the class guesses which statement is the lie. This is a great icebreaker that encourages interaction.
Pair up students and have them interview each other. They can ask questions like “What’s your favorite food?” or “Do you enjoy playing sports?” Then, they introduce their partner to the class.
Timeline of Life
Have students draw a timeline of their life with key events or milestones. Then, they present their timelines to the class, sharing important moments, such as when they started school or their first memorable trip.
Ask each student to create a brief presentation about their hometown, including information about its location, culture, and attractions. This helps them practice describing places.
More ESL Icebreakers
Are you looking for some fun warm-ups or icebreakers for your English classes to start them off in style? Then you’re most certainly in the right place. Keep on reading to find out all the details you need to know.
Maybe you’re kind of like me and always dread the beginning of the new semester. Sure, it’s fun getting to know your students, but it’s often just so awkward when the students don’t know each other, or you. This is especially true in a place like Korea where students are often naturally shy and reluctant to speak to people that they don’t know.
Help out your students (as well as yourself!) by using some ESL icebreakers that will help everyone get to know each other on a more personal level. They’re fun, engaging and your students will love them. You’ll love how much less stressful the first class or two is if you use these games and activities.
Designed to Get Students Talking
Some of the games and activities are designed to get the students talking to each other, and making some personal connections. If you use these kinds of things in the first few classes, you’ll find that the rest of your semester goes much more smoothly as students will feel like your class is a community of sorts.
Some of the activities are cooperative, team-based ones where the students have to work together to complete a task. This will help them feel like they’re part of the group and that they have something to contribute to your class. Plus, they’re just really fun!
Either way, I know you want to start your semester off on the right foot and now it’s easier than ever to do that with these ESL icebreakers for Teenagers and Adults.
Get 39 ESL Icebreakers: For Teenagers and Adults Today
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 54 Pages - 11/10/2015 (Publication Date)
I know you’re tired of wasting time. That’s why I wrote a book that will save you a ton of time when you’re planning your lessons. There are more than three dozen interesting, engaging, and awesome ESL icebreaker activities and games. It’s lesson planning made easy. This is because you can actually use all of them in your classes.
You can buy this book on Amazon. Click the link below to get either the digital or print book. You don’t need a Kindle reader to get the (cheaper!) digital book. You just need to download the free Kindle app onto any device.
It’s lesson planning made easy, guaranteed. Are you ready to get yourself some ESL awesome? Click the link below to learn more about the book on Amazon:
ESL First Day of Class FAQs
There are a number of important questions that people have about the first day of an ESL class. Here are the answers to the most common ones.
What Can I Expect on the First Day of an ESL Class?
On the first day of an ESL class, you can expect plenty of nervous students who are uncertain about what the course will be like and if it will meet their needs. As a teacher, the most important thing is to make a good first impression, set the tone, as well as establish a good rapport and connect with the students.
How do you Introduce Yourself on the First Day of Class?
If you’re required to introduce yourself on the first day of class, you can do the following. Stand up, smile, speak with confidence, share your name and why you’re taking the class as well as a hobby that you have.
What are the Qualities of a Good ESL Get to Know You Game or Activity?
There are some excellent ESL ice-breakers and also some terrible ones. Hopefully the ones on this list are some of your favourites. Here are some things to look for when choosing what to do on the first day of class with your students:
- Choose activities that require low risk. For example, have students talk 1-1 with each other instead of in front of the entire class of students they may not know that well.
- They require students to mingle and get to know at least a few of their classmates.
- They don’t require students to divulge very personal information. Things like hometown, hobbies, favourite foods are ideal. Things like religion and political opinions or family situation are not.
- They’re fun! Nobody likes doing cheesy, lame ESL ice breaker activities so make sure they’re fun, and also that they give students a reason to talk to each other.
What are the Goals of the First Day of Class for ESL?
There are a number of things you’ll want to accomplish on your first day. It’s important because this class can kind of make or break the rest of the semester. During that first class, you’ll want to:
- Make sure that students know your name, and at least some of their classmates.
- Ensure that you’re on your way to memorizing students’ names.
- Assess the level of the class so that you can gear your lesson planning towards that.
- Build rapport and trust, as well as make a good impression. Hopefully the students will have confidence in your abilities as a teacher. Wear professional clothes!
- If it’s a for credit class at a university for example, you’ll want to make sure that students know your policies, as well as how information about assignments, attendance, tests, etc.
Quick note: if you’re never been in that specific classroom before, arrive early so that you can get familiar with the technology and other equipment like lights and air conditioning. Or, check it out the day before.
What to Do on the First Day of Class?
There are a few key things to do on the first day of any class. They include the following:
- Arrive early and welcome the students
- Get to know each other with some ice breaking activities
- Establish key routines and rules so that the rest of the semester runs smoothly
- Reinforce positive behaviour
- Deal swiftly with negative behaviour
Have your say about these ESL First Day Activities
What are your thoughts about these ESL introduction games that go way beyond hangman? Leave a comment below and let us know. Or, do you have any ideas that you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear from you.
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Last update on 2022-07-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API