Bouncy Ball Toss in ESL Classroom

One of my favorite icebreakers to use with my students is tossing a ball back and forth while asking them questions about themselves. I love it because it’s dead simple, and it gets everyone’s immediate attention while smiles spread across the room.

Most ESL teachers have tossed a ball with students before, and I feel like it usually gets pigeonholed as an activity for younger learners, but it’s adaptable to every level & age group. I work with graduate level university students, and I think it works just as well if not better.

Throwing a ball back and forth with my students is the absolute first thing I do every semester. I like to begin classes like this because it gets students laughing and creates a playful mood from the get-go. It also keeps them on their toes because they don’t know where the ball is going to go next. While tossing the ball, I ask them their names, nicknames, and anything else that pops into my head while meeting my students for the first time. It also serves to demonstrate that conversation is much like a game of tennis or ping-pong; it has to go back & forth with attentive participants.

I have used many different types of balls for this activity. I’ve used soft squishy balls, like hacky-sacks, that don’t roll away if someone misses a catch, and I’ve also used something slightly more solid. Most recently, I’ve been using Smiley Face Relaxable Balls ($7 on Amazon: here) because they’re cheap, and they come in a 12-pack with lots of bright colors. I can share them teachers at my school, or I can choose a color based on my mood that day. I even gave one to my cat, and she loves knocking it around the house and pouncing on it. : )

EDIT: Upon writing this post, I realized that I usually initiate all the questions between myself and the students. I need to be more mindful of stepping back, and allowing students to start their own questions that can be directed at me or other classmates.

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