Make Your Own Icebreaker

icebreakerWhen I was working on 50 Activities for the First Day of School, I was reading so many icebreakers and getting to know you activities that I started to wonder if there was a common framework to icebreakers. Was there a standard set of steps teachers could improvise around?  How could you make make your own icebreaker, something original, but not unfamiliar to students?

I played with a lot of ideas before I came up with this Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart. The chart outlines the four major steps of an icebreaker activity, although you can usually skip or abbreviate one of those steps.

  1. Students usually acquire information from each other or the classroom or teacher. From the other side of the coin, they are sharing or giving information
  2. Then they usually have to record that information somewhere, and usually as they record it, they are manipulating it, doing something with it.
  3. Then they share or distribute the information.
  4. Finally, they use that information in someway. This step can be as simple as reporting back to the class or as complex as writing a biographical essay about a partner.

For each step, the chart has a number of examples of how that could be done. You can also think back on your favorite icebreaker and reverse engineer it to see how it accomplishes each of these steps.

You can find the Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart at Alphabet Publishing, along with other free downloadable worksheets for icebreakers and getting to know you activities. I probably shouldn’t be sharing this, as it might put me out of business! Who needs a book of activities when you can make your own? But I can’t resist sharing this, and maybe getting some feedback on it!

So how does the Make Your Own Icebreaker chart work?

Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart from Alphabet Publishing
I identified four steps that students go through in a typical icebreaker, or getting to know you activity. I’ll explain them below and illustrate them with a very simple interview-style icebreaker. I should not that not all icebreakers have these steps, or have them in this order. In fact, I’d say most icebreakers have three of the four steps here. And sometimes there’s a prep stage, where you make a worksheet or students think about what they are going to say.

I’d also note that the steps don’t always go in this order. In Find Someone Who, the teacher records information in a chart and then makes the students acquire it.  Or sometimes the steps happen simultaneously. When students are asking and answering questions, they are acquiring and recording information at the same time.

Step 1: Acquire Information

So usually the first step of an icebreaker is to get some information from a partner. It might come from asking questions or reading a name tag or a worksheet the teacher has handed out. In some cases, the teacher or student does some prep work before, in creating the information. You might have students fill in a profile.

In a simple interview-style icebreaker, students acquire information by asking their partner questions such as “What’s your favorite color?” or “What did you do over summer break?”

Step 2: Record and Manipulate

Now that students have asked their questions of their partner, or read their teacher’s profile, they have to do something with the information. Having students manipulate information helps them to remember it and evaluate it. You want students to remember what they have learned from their friends and classmates beyond the first day. You also want them to make connections–“Hey, he likes baseball. I wonder if he likes other sports, too.” Otherwise, there’s point in doing a getting to know you activity at all.

In an interview, students would be taking notes on their partner, or perhaps filling out a class profile worksheet the teacher gave them.

Step 3: Distribute

This may be the step that is most often skipped. Usually students jump from recording information to telling someone about it. In our interview example, students would now jump to step 4, reporting the information to the class or another partner.

But adding a step where students leave the information somewhere–on a bulletin board, mixed up at random, thrown in a snowball, adds an extra element to the icebreaker. It allows you to have students find a new partner by chance, as in Who Wrote That? Or students can hang a fact they have collected about their partner on the wall, and every one in the class can read about everyone else. This opens up the icebreaker so that the whole class is learning about the whole class.

Step 4: Use the Information

Finally, you want students to do something with what they learned, whether it be report back to the class, report to another pair, or go home and write a paragraph about their new friend. In Two Truths and a Lie, students evaluate the truth of what they were told. As a wrap-up to Who Wrote That, students may expand on a simple fact to tell a whole story about themselves or their partner. Students can act, sing, dance, or do interpretive dance (although that might be a bit intimidating on the first day of class).


So there you go. You have all the tools you need to make amazing icebreakers. Let me know what you come up with!

How to Write Effective Classroom Materials

I was just thinking of this webinar, which I used to refer to quite frequently, and discovered I had lost the link to it. So I’m putting this up for my benefit, as much as for yours.

This is a wonderful webinar by Rachael Roberts on How to write effective classroom materials. It covers the key features a good classroom activity should have, including the choice of language focus, task types, and content. Well-worth your time and the site includes links to handouts, follow-up questions, and other lovely resources!

Principles of Visual Design for eBooks

This is a little video I made summing up some of the stuff I’ve learned about Visual Design and applying it to educational materials such as eBooks. I became interested in this after Tammy Jones and Gabriela Kleckova’s wonderful presentation on Visual Design Principles for Teachers at TESOL 2014.

I’ve done a bit of reading here and there but am by no means an expert. But I hope that my presentation will give you something to think about as you work on your eBooks and I’ve listed my sources and other places to get information below the video.

Principles of Visual Design for Educators

Sources and Resources

A lot of my presentation is basically rewording the information for Purdue’s OW’s presentations on Visual Design.

Purdue also led me to this fun site about the effects of color, Color in Motion.

If you’re looking for inspiration to get a color scheme, the  Color Scheme Designer is the best tool I know of. I like to find a color that speaks to me, then press the Triad button at top to get two other colors and then adjust as I see fit. And again, always think about complementary colors (I think I called them contrasting colors in my presentation) as well as combining light and dark variations.

Canva, which is a cool site for making graphics, also has a nice color tool that lets you pick a color and see related colors, palettes, and a bit of information about the color as well.

There’s a nice tutorial on Spacing and Font Size that gives some advice on balancing your text and your white space.

And finally a site that features some pleasing Font Combinations to give you some good ideas.

The Bottom Line

Summing up with some basic practical advice, in case you don’t have a ton of time to watch a presentation and research online.

  • Have a set consistent style where all the unit headers look a certain way, all the directions look a certain way, all the vocabulary lists look a certain way, and so on….
  • Keep your layout simple and clear and easy to read.
  • Make sure the student can glance at your pages and easily distinguish what’s what–ah, this must be the reading text and this picture goes with these questions.
  • Use a minimum of fonts and colors, but do use some color and decoration.
  • Sans-serif fonts and serif fonts go well together.
  • A little bolding or underlining or making a font 3-4 sizes bigger can go a long way.
  • Use pictures. But align them so that they line up with the rest of the text.
  • Don’t do this (Busy, hard to read, inconsistent):

Or this (boring):

Or this (Too many different styles mixed together):

Bad Design

And I’m happy to take questions, comments, or critiques in the comments here or on the EVO Community site or by email.

Horizontal and Vertical Lesson Plan Templates

I’ve blogged before on this wonderful video from the ever-resourceful Jason Renshaw. If you haven’t looked at this easy method of making nice looking lesson plan templates, check it out.

I’m mainly re-posting on this just to share two Word 2010 document templates you can work with:

Feel free to customize them as you see fit. Because I mostly print out my pages, I do leave the main background white, but a nice light gradient works well too.


Call for New Ways in Teaching With Humor

Call for New Ways in Teaching With Humor.

Editor John Rucynski, Jr. seeks contributors for a volume in TESOL’s New Ways Series entitled New Ways in Teaching With Humor. The content will include teaching ideas and activities for using or teaching about humor in English in the following categories:

English word play (e.g., puns and riddles)
Humor in English-speaking pop culture (e.g., scenes from humorous movies, sit-coms, animation)
Humor in mass media (e.g., humorous headlines, editorial cartoons)
Humor and digital literacy (e.g., humor in social networking, such as Facebook memes)
Humor and social issues (e.g., satire, political cartoons)
Humorous techniques for teaching language points (e.g., grammar rules, pronunciation, phonology)

In all of the above areas, we particularly welcome research-informed perspectives which manage to use humor as a tool for providing insights into language and/or culture.

If you would like to contribute, please contact John Rucynski ([email protected]).

Resource Pages

I’ve added a couple of new pages to the blog including links for places to look for writing jobs or professional development opportunities. I’ve included databases of jobs, sites that have job listings and professional organizations as well.

My favorite, page though is the  tools and sources of inspiration while writing. When writing I find it helpful to have lists of fictional company names, information on international names, even anagram makers for when my creative juices run dry. I am trying to add to this every time I find a useful page. That page also has links to information on leveling texts, analyzing texts, vocab lists and other useful stuff.

Writing Inspiration

Materials Writing does have a creative side, believe it or not. You do have to come up with stories and topics and fake names and website addresses. I’ve been slowly accumulating places where I like to go to find fake names or topics or sample dialogues to follow.

  • Fictional Universities and Colleges Just a fun list of famous fictional universities and colleges. Easily changeable by adding a North, South or New to the end.
  • Anagram Maker A fun way to take a well-known word or brand and turn it into something new. PS My name anagrams to Laws Burnt On!
  • List of Names and Meanings A place to find names.
  • Foreign Names on A google search that takes you to sites on different foreign names in case you need a typical Chinese or Muslim or French name.
  • University of British Columbia student news on Youtube Great source of student friendly topics.
  • Shaun Roundy on Youtube An English professor with a good source of student friendly writing advice and actually a couple of recorded classes for authentic conversation and interaction.