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Class Dynamics Icebreakers

Class Dynamics Icebreakers



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2005 CATESOL Northern Regional Conference
Joseph Lee
Building and Maintaining a Community in the ESL Classroom
November 5, 20051
Building and Maintaining a Community
in the ESL Classroom
Joseph J. Lee
2005 CATESOL Northern Regional Conference
Joseph Lee
Building and Maintaining a Community in the ESL Classroom
November 5, 20052
“Success depends less on materials, techniques and linguistic analyses, and more on what goes on inside and between
the people in the classroom” (Stevick, 1980, p. 4)
A. Introduction:
A community is a “group” of people who interact with each other and have common interests.
The ESL class is a community as it displays all of the characteristic features of a real “group”

(Dörnyei & Murphey, 2003).
1. There is some interaction among group members.
2. Group members perceive themselves as a distinct unit and demonstrate a level of

commitment to it.
3. Group members share some purpose or goal for being together.
4. The group endures for a reasonable period of time (i.e. not only for minutes).
5. The group has developed some sort of a salient ‘internal structure’, which includes:

the regulation of entry and departure into/from the group;
rules and standards of behavior for members;
relatively stable interpersonal relationship patterns and an established status hierarchy;
some division of group roles.

6. Finally, as a direct consequence of the above points, the group is held accountable for its
members’ actions.
(Erhman & Dörnyei, 1998, p. 72)
B. Research Methodology:
24 ESL teachers (CaZada College, College of San Mateo, CCSF, SFSU ALI, SFSU)
Ins t ru me nt :
Questionnaire: 6 open-ended questions
C. Key Research Question:
What do practicing ESL teachers do to build and maintain group cohesiveness in their
D. Findings:
1. What teachers believe are characteristics of a cohesive learner group:
Students display active and equal participation in lively pair/group work and whole class
Students support and encourage each other, especially shy students or those new to an
interactive classroom.
Students invite each other to speak, are curious to learn about each other’s opinions and
ideas, and respectful of each other.

Students display individual accountability in pair/group work, as well as interdependence.
Students help each other to learn.
Students enjoy working together with various members: multicultural, multilingual, and


Students joke and laugh together, not at each other.
There is an audible “buzz” before, during, and after class.
Pair/group work is started quickly and easily.

2005 CATESOL Northern Regional Conference
Joseph Lee
Building and Maintaining a Community in the ESL Classroom
November 5, 20053

Students are aware of each other’s presence and absence.
Students are aware of each other’s personalities/strengths/weaknesses and other aspects.
Students sit close to and are in close contact with each other.

2. What teachers do to build a cohesive learner group:

Use ice-breakers at the start of the semester.
Create a class “roster” (Name, email, birthday) and class photo for the students.
Create classroom agreements/contracts/constitution collaboratively.
Explicitly state the rationale for collaboration and cooperation.

Explicitly state teacher’s and students’ roles
Encourage students to set up “buddy system”.
Engage students in warm-up conversation in pairs leading to whole class conversation.

What did you do over the weekend?
What did you do over the break?

How do you feel when you speak/read/write in English?
Show enthusiasm and provide praise for responses, comments, and ideas.
Teach/practice/use language necessary for working together .
Use a variety of interactive getting-to-know-you games.
Don’t make a big deal about wrong answers.
Use humor.

3. Types of icebreakers teachers use to build a cohesive learner group:

Cocktail party/Mingling/Mixer (See p. 7 for sample)
Ask about each other’s interests
Finding names
Find someone who

Interview and write a biography about a classmate
Name, hometown, language ability, food likes
Student-generated questions about classmate and culture

Pair/Group interest comparisons
Find 3 things in common
Find commonalities in goals

Group discussions
Personal topics
Native countries/cultures
Things you’re good at and things you want to improve
Name games (See p. 7 for sample)
State name and one thing you like that starts with the same sound as the first letter of
your name

What does your name mean?
Who gave you your name?
Name bingo – Bingo with names of classmates as answers
Name quiz

Exchange personal info (name, phone, email, hobbies) with “buddies”
Two truths and a lie

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