If everyone contributes openly in the first lesson of the year, nervous habits can be washed away before they set firm. Here are two activities to ensure that happens - they are mostly geared towards MFL but can be used across the board.
This activity is best for learning short sequences such as conjugating verbs, greetings and names of countries.
Start by introducing the content with plenty of choral repetition, then split the class into groups of five or six pupils to make a "boat", with pupils standing shoulder to shoulder.
Starting simultaneously, the first pupil in each boat must repeat the sequence out loud. Once that pupil has finished, they sit down; only then does the next shipmate begin the sequence. The first boat to have a full team seated is the winner.
This is usually full of controversy and cheating, with skipped syllables and inventive inaccuracies. It gets very loud - this is a good sign and makes for an exciting game. An alternative would be to time the boats individually and ask the class to feed back on pronunciation. It is prime territory for highlighting the fact that everyone makes mistakes, plus you can often make light of this with more boisterous class members.
For the second activity, ask pupils to draw a table with these headers: name, country, animal, food, furniture (they can be adapted as necessary to suit your subject).
Pupils have to fill out one answer under each column beginning with a letter you randomly call out. The first pupil to finish shouts stop (in the target language). Pupils earn five points for each correct answer.
After a few rounds have pupils present their findings orally or write them on the whiteboard.
Alastair Harris is a German teacher in London
To download resources for this icebreaker lesson, visit bit.lyIceBreaker31July