First Day Activities / Ice Breakers

Hot seats

Age/Level: Elementary and above     Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: None

Aim: To describe words to a classmate

This is one of the best ESL describing games out there. It is an excellent vocabulary game to play at the start of class. It also makes a great activity for revising vocabulary.


Commence the game by separating the class into two teams.

Place two chairs facing away from the board at the front of the class.Hotseat

Get one student from each team to sit on the chairs facing their team and having their backs to the board.

These chairs are the hot seats.

The teacher should have a list of words he/she wishes to revise.

The teacher writes a word from their list clearly on the board.

The team members describe the word, using definitions, synonyms, etc. to their teammate who is in the hot seat.

The students in the hot seats, listen to their teammates and try to guess the word.

The first student to say the word gets to change places with someone else in their team. This wins the team one point.

Stop the Music Game

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: Small teams     Preparation: Dance music

Aim: To write a word for each category beginning with a certain letter

Play one of the most popular ESL category games around. This lively vocabulary game is good for reviewing categories of words. It is also useful for getting the students to brainstorm the words they already know.


On the board write a list of different categories and number them 1 to 10, e.g. sports, verbs, animals, cities, food, adjectives, jobs, movies, countries, drinks, etc. In the centre draw a square.

Split your class into small teams of four or five, and give each team a number.

Each team should have one piece of paper and a pen. Tell each team to choose one student who will do the writing.

Next, ask each team to write 1 to 10 on their paper.

Bring the students’ attention to the list of categories on the board (example is in the PDF below). In the square write a letter, e.g. B. Ask the class to think of an example for each category and write their answers on the board, e.g. badminton, buy, bird, etc.

Next, explain you will write a new letter in the square, but this time the teams must write down their ten answers on their paper.

Tell the teams while they are writing their answers, you will play some music (dance music works best).

Explain that the first team to finish must shout, “Stop the music.” The music is stopped and if the team has ten correct answers, they win the round. Then a new round starts with a different letter.

The number of points you choose and how the students show you their answers are up to you. Asking them to shout out their answers is the quickest way, but you might ask them to write the answers on the board or just show you the answers.

Seek and Destroy

Age/Level: Any     Time: 20 minutes     Players: 2 teams     Preparation: Create 10 categories with each category having three words

Aim: To identify words from a category

This competitive ESL game helps students to match words to categories.


Begin the category game by covering the board with different category words. There should be ten categories with each category having three words. Make sure that when you write the words on the board, they are well mixed up.

Example categories: verbs, animals, countries, food, furniture, clothes, body parts, transport, adjectives

So on the board you would write… run, sleep, play, tiger, cat, hippo, etc. (but all mixed up)

Line the students up at the back of the room in two rows.

Give the first student on each team a whiteboard pen or chalk.

Call out one category, e.g. animals.

The students at the front of each line race each other to the board and circle one of the words in that category.

The first student to correctly circle an answer gains a point for their team.

Continue with the next two students and so on.

Keep on calling and awarding points until all the words are circled.

The team with the highest amount of points wins.

Make sure that the students have a clear run to the whiteboard.

You can make the game last longer or shorter just by using more or less categories.

Monkey in the Middle

Age/Level: Young learners     Time: 10 minutes     Players: Individual     Preparation: A ball

Aim: To say words within a category

Enjoy playing this dynamic category game with your kids.


Start by having the students make a large circle.Monkey

Select one student to be the monkey.

The monkey stands in the middle of the circle.

Give the students a category, e.g. cities.

The students in the circle must throw the ball about the circle so that the monkey can’t get it.

Every time a student throws the ball, they must say a word within the category, e.g. London.

If the monkey gets the ball, then the thrower becomes the new monkey.

Change the category at this point too. Play until time is up.

The other team has to keep the same player in the hot seat until he/she answers correctly first.

Then, the teacher writes the next word, etc.

Taken from