Build community during the first weeks of school with fun activities.
For many teachers, the first day of school is one of the most exciting days of the year.
Most students are either nervous or excited, and you might feel awkward about starting your new world language class. But don't worry! We have three easy activities to try as icebreakers or brain breaks.
Icebreaker 1: Listen and Draw
You can do this fun back-to-school activity with a second-level or higher world language class. It does not require much preparation, just your voice and a pencil and scratch paper for your students. The goal is for students to practice interpretive comprehension skills by listening actively and interpreting what they hear via drawing—and share some laughs along the way.
First, ask students to divide the blank paper into four segments. You will explain that they are going to draw four different sentences. They can even number each segment. Then, read one sentence aloud in the target language (you can use whatever you think is appropriate for your student's level). For example, "The big dog is running in front of the house chased by a vampire." The more outlandish the descriptions, the better! Repeat each sentence three or four times.
Once you finish reading all the sentences, ask students to show their drawings to the person next to them. You will see how they laugh at how much they did or didn’t understand and enjoy each other's artistic insights! A follow-up activity can be to talk to each other and describe the images in the target language.
Icebreaker 2: Roll and Respond
This icebreaker requires a bit of extra preparation, but not too much. The dynamic is simple: You create a series of questions in the target language and give each one a number from one to six. For instance, number one could be "What is your favorite sport?" and number two could be "What is a food you dislike?" The questions will depend on your students' interests or whatever topic you are discussing as a class. Project or write the six questions on the whiteboard.
Then, students will work in pairs, and each pair will receive a die, or they can pull up a digital die if they have access to 1:1 devices. They will roll a number and take turns asking and answering the question that corresponds to it. Now, more or less like "speed dating," students will switch partners after two or three minutes. If you give this activity ten minutes, students will get answers from four or five peers, building community in the classroom.
"Roll and Respond" is an excellent icebreaker because it allows students to get up from their seats, move around the room, and engage in conversation with more than one person. Students who are shy or not yet confident in the target language can also ask questions that require yes or no answers, such as "Are you ready for class?" or "Do you have a pet?"
For more advanced levels of vocabulary development, try asking more detailed questions like "What's your favorite weekend activity?" or "What movie have you enjoyed watching lately?"
Icebreaker 3: Chisme (Gossip)
A great way to break the ice with your world language class at the beginning of the year is by doing chisme (gossip). It would be best if you started with a conversation before gossiping, so students have time to get comfortable and feel safe enough to participate. Also, conversations allow you to prepare students for what they can expect during this activity. You can create discussion questions focusing on getting to know one another or on a topic related to the material.
Once everyone is engaged in a conversation, ask them if they want to continue talking or would instead switch out groups and try to chisme. Chisme is when two people share harmless information about someone else in their group. For example: "I heard so-and-so likes cheese pizza," "I heard he has a pet snake,” or “I heard she read every Harry Potter book in a weekend."
Depending on your students' grade, you may want to regulate the topics they “gossip” about. For example, limit it to food, celebrities they like, pets, or fictional characters.
Back to School Means Back to Community
Community building is critical at the beginning of the year because it creates a safe space for students to make mistakes while practicing their world language skills. Students need to feel comfortable learning, so create a cultural community where everyone feels accepted.
We can't wait to see what other creative activities you come up with to break the ice in your classroom! If you want to learn more ways to creatively engage with students or exchange icebreakers with other world language teachers, join the conversation at the Language Is Limitless community Facebook group!
Former Spanish teacher based in Columbia, MD. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish Language and Literature from la Universidad del Zulia and a Master's degree in Spanish Linguistics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her interests include SEL education in the world language classroom, theater, and how to make the world a less scary place.Explore more related to this author