10 Awesome Icebreakers for High School Spanish Classrooms

by | Jul 19, 2020

Inside: Icebreakers for high school and middle school Spanish classrooms.

 

Update: this post was obviously written when social distancing and distance learning were not on the horizon. It’s hard to imagine that just a few months ago the photo above would have been totally normal. I’ve since updated each idea to include tweaks to help adapt them to either situation. Building a sense of community is more important than ever! If you are looking for a younger crowd, check out this post from Mundo de Pepita. 

As a semi-introvert, most icebreakers terrify me. All the ones that make you remember everyone else’s name, think of a clever adjective for yourself, or THE WORST KIND: make up a dance move. Rest assured– all the ideas here are introvert-approved! (By me at least.)

As students adjust to being back in desks and classes, it is nice to have some community-building activities in your back pocket. And you are the best judge of how silly the games can be, and whether it’s best to do an icebreaker the first day or a few days in.

Icebreakers can be tricky in the World Language Classroom. They reflect what’s always running through our Spanish-teacher brains: how can we stay in the target language, connect with our students, communicate effectively, all while making the whole process comprehensible– and hopefully fun?

No wonder we’re tired! In those first days, I do think it’s important to establish a couple of things:

  • We speak in the TL as much as possible. This isn’t a class about Spanish; it’s a class mostly in Spanish.
  • I care about you. You’re safe here: safe to try new things and make mistakes.
  • My job is to make sure Spanish is comprehensible, and yours is to stay with me and contribute where you can.

 

distance friendly icebreakers during covid

To see a comprehensive list of games, check out my page on Spanish learning games

 

Icebreakers for High School Spanish Classes

 

I really think it’s important to do low-pressure icebreakers those first days, especially if you’re trying to do so in another language. Games that build community, look for things in common, and ease everyone into the target language can be a great way to start. Hopefully these will help!

 

1.The Cognates Game I

 

Mark one side of the room as “I like” and the other as “I don’t like” (in the TL if desired). Call out cognates (like “chocolate” and “animales” for English-Spanish) and student stand on the side of the spectrum that shows how they feel about it.

Alternatively, put a line down the middle of the room. Students stand on the side that matches their opinion/answer.

This game, of course, only works for languages that have cognates. It’s a good way to show students they can understand many words right away, even when they are brand-new to the language.

Social distancing tweak: Students show their answer with their posture. Crouching down for “no me gusta,” standing for “me gusta,” and arms stretched up, on tiptoe, for “me encanta.” This could be more fun if you have everyone close their eyes when they strike a pose, and then open to see what everyone else did.
Distance learning tweak: Give students a card with “me encanta,” “me gusta,” and “no me gusta,” to respond with when you have a grid of videos like on Zoom.

(If it helps, I can email you a set of free emoji cards you to download and print – sign up below!)

 

2. The Glob Game

 

This is a low-pressure get-to-know-you activity. Call out (perhaps show) a term or questions like “What color are your eyes?” “number of siblings,” or “favorite subject” and the students with the same answer stand in a group. If two “globs” form over the same things, they should join. If students are upper-level, use words they know in the target language (TL). If they are new, use pictures to make it comprehensible.

The Glob Game is good for getting to know each other and finding out things in common. (From Cult of Pedagogy)

Social distancing tweak: This might be cumbersome, but if you can– have students name on magnets or paper with tape on the back. Call out a term or questions and students could answer on a white board or indicate with their fingers (¿Cuántos hermanos tienes? for example). Group the names to form blobs visually on the board. If you a dealing with like/dislikes, it’s fun to provide 5-6 answer options to start. Do several rounds, eliminating options as you go, until the class is divided into two groups.

Distance learning tweak: Take a poll through Google Classroom OR use Jamboard to visually group students. (See that video tutorials below!)

3. Strip Bingo

 

This one is more innocuous than it sounds! If you are planning to start off with an “About Me” presentation, or an intro to the syllabus or procedures, make it interactive with Bingo. Choose about 5-7 key words from your presentation, words that will be repeated frequently. Write those words on the board, and tell students to write them down in a horizontal row on a piece of paper, but in a random order. As you give your presentation, tell students they may tear off the key words as they hear them, but ONLY if the word is on the outer edge. If the word if blocked by a word to the left or the right, it can’t get torn off. The first student to tear off all the words gets a prize. (From from Martina Bex at the Comprehensible Classroom.

Social distancing tweak: Already social-distancing friendly!
Distance learning tweak: Just make sure the students have paper ready! You could have them take a picture of their original paper strip as “proof” if they win.

 

4. Games with Music in the TL

 

These don’t require speaking– they’re just for fun. Ending the first day of class with games played to really good music in the TL just makes everyone feel good about class, and leave with a good feeling about the language! (Grab some songs in Spanish from my music page.)

  • El Hueco: This one was a favorite dinámica back in Peru, and requires no speaking.  Arrange chairs in a circle, and everyone sits down. Make sure there is one extra chair, so it will be empty. Start the music. That chair will have two people on each side. When the music starts, they grab hands (optional) and run to get someone to sit in the empty chair.Of course, when those three sit down, two new people will have an empty chair between them. The point is to never be sitting next to the empty chair, so they then run and grab a person to sit between them.When the music stops, whichever two people have an empty chair between them are either out or get a “punishment.” In Peru, the castigos were pretty embarrassing; I’d suggest something light like high-five the teacher or count  to 10.
  • Musical Chairs 
  • Islands: Set out several newspapers around the room. This is similar to musical chairs, except that when the music stops, everyone tries to stand on the newspaper. Each time, the newspaper gets folded in half, and whoever isn’t touching the paper is out. There will be as many winners as there are newspapers. Obviously, this is more physical, so use your discretion!

 

Social distancing tweak: Two of these are not social-distancing or distance-learning friendly… sorry!

However, musical chairs can be changed to “musical cards”! For this game, give the students a short list for vocabulary words you are reviewing or teaching. They should pick one word to write or draw. The students can hold their card and move in place– dance if they want!– while you play music. When the music stops, call out a term and anyone holding that card must sit down. Last person standing wins.

 

5. The Cognates Game II

 

This is another version of the cognate game. Use my PPT bracket outline to project onto the board, and list cognates on each side (extreme right and extreme left). Do a tournament to see which cognate beats all the other ones. Start on the outside, and have students vote for the top or bottom choice by going to the left or right side of the room. This game is fun because you can introduce cognates and get to know one another as well.

2

 

If desired, use the TL and make it comprehensible with pictures, so that you can have more useful terms for finding out student preferences (hobbies and pastimes, for example). If you are calling out the terms in the TL and pointing to them, you can stay in the TL the entire time, and they will understand you. This is either great review for returning classes, or a good way to show new students they can understand the new language, even on the first day.

If you have more advanced classes, you might choose a category like “things done over the summer.” Let students share what they did, and vote on favorite activities. For a more ironic group of students, you could have them compete for most boring summer activities, the worst part of summer vacation (and trick them into remembering what’s good about the school year).

Social distancing tweak: Students show their answer with their posture. Crouching down for “no me gusta,” standing for “me gusta,” and arms stretched up, on tiptoe, for “me encanta.”
Distance learning tweak: Give students a card with “me encanta,” “me gusta,” and “no me gusta,” to respond with when you have a grid of videos like on Zoom.

 

For Returning Classes that know each other:

 

6. Human Bingo

 

Prepare a board that has questions your students know from previous years. Remember to keep them simple, and include picture clues if necessary. The students must go around the room asking questions to their peers. (Do you have a cat? Is your birthday in September? Are you a new student?) If someone answers yes, they write their initials down in that spot. Whoever gets Bingo first wins.

Tweaks: I’m not sure about this one… you might have to scrap it until later.

 

7. If You Were on a Deserted Island…

 

Give this classic question a language twist by telling students to think of three things they’d bring to a deserted island– but only using words they remember from the year before in the TL. Everyone writes down three things, and you collect the cards. Have everyone guess who wrote which card.(The nice thing about this is you can rephrase their Spanish so it’s in full correct sentences and comprehensible while everyone is listening.)

Social distancing tweak: As students finish their cards, take picture of their sentences (if they have devices, they could send you a quick picture).
Distance learning tweak: Have students type and send their “cards” in, and they can guess by sending answers in the chat or responding in a poll for who they think it is.

 

8. Two Truths and a Lie

 

Students write two truths and lie about themselves in the TL, on a note card. They write their name at the top, and give them all to you. If their language isn’t perfect, you can correct errors and make the sentences comprehensible as you read them out loud. Don’t say the name, but let the class first guess who wrote the sentences. Once everyone understands them all, and knows who it is, have the students guess which sentence is a lie.

Social distancing tweak: As students finish their cards, take picture of their sentences (if they have devices, they could send you a quick picture).
Distance learning tweak: Have students type and send their “cards” in, and they can guess by sending answers in the chat or responding in a poll for who they think it is.

 

 

9. The Salad Game

 

Write celebrity names or any terms on slip of paper. Students sit in a circle. Divide the class into 2 or more teams by counting 1-2. For each team’s turn, set a time (1-2 minutes).

1st round (verbal clues): The first team begins. One students draws a slip of paper, and describes the person or word to his or her team without saying the actual name. As soon as the team guesses, the next team member draws another slip and play continues until the timer goes off. Then the other team gets a turn. Once all the slips are used up, tally the points for each team.

2nd round (one-word clues): This round is the same as the second, except that the students must only use one word to get their team to guess the celebrity or word.

3rd round (actions): Similar to the first and second round, except that only gestures may be used as clues.

This game would work to explain circumlocution, and also to talk about proficiency levels. You can discuss how being a “novice” might mean only being able to communicate in isolated words or phrases (and/or gestures), and moving up in proficiency will mean putting words together and then communicating through more complicated sentences.

Tweaks: I’m not sure about this one either, as it involves everyone touching the same paper… you might have to scrap it until later.

 

Games in English: 

 

10. The Circumlocution Game

 

Ok, this is basically Taboo. Prepare slips of paper with words on them, and divide the class into two groups. Set a timer (1-2 minutes). One student draws a slip of paper, and tries to get his/her team to guess the term without saying the word itself. After the word is guessed, the next team member draws a word, and so on until the timer goes off. Count the slips up and give those points to the team.

Use this game to talk about circumlocution, talking “around” a word you don’t know in to avoid resorting to English. Establishing an expectation of circumlocution is a big part of staying at least 90% in the target language.

Social distancing tweak: Just have one person appointed to be the describer or actor per team, standing in front of their side of the room. You could give them a typed list to check off, instead of papers that get used over and over.
Distance learning tweak: Possibly, you the teacher could be the describer (or designate a students with strong speaking skills) and have students type or say answers, with a helper monitoring the responses.

What are your favorite icebreakers for high school and middle school? Let me know in the comments below.

Like it? Pin it!

Welcome

Hey! I’m Elisabeth, a teacher and mom raising two bilingual kids in the Peruvian jungle. Read our story here. I love digging up the best Spanish resources for all you busy parents and teachers!

Spanish Mama Newsletter

Books in Spanish for kids

songs in Spanish

movies and shows in spanish

Join the newsletter

Want to stay in touch and hear from me weekly?

Sign up now and you'll get this free game set.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at anytime. Powered by ConvertKit
11K Shares
Pin10K
Share911
Tweet
%d bloggers like this: