This is an ice-breaker for a first lesson, suitable for all ages and levels.

Ana Maria Mari


You will need lollipops, sweets with wrappers or slips of paper. Prior to the lesson write a secret message (the code is described below) on the wrappers or lollipops or another type of sweet. You may also write out the secret messages on slips of paper that are folded into various shapes.


  • Greet and welcome students to their first lesson.
  • Tell them you're going to play a game called 'Hidden message'.
  • Then, if the class is lower level, elicit the alphabet and write it on the board.
  • Give out the sweets, lollipops or slips of paper. The hidden message needs to be worked out by students if they want to eat their sweet or lollipop. Tell them that each letter used represents the previous letter in the alphabet, i.e. B represents A, C represents B, etc., with A representing Z. You can demonstrate by writing IJ on the board and eliciting that you have spelled out Hi.
  • Once students understand, allow them two minutes to work out their message individually. The first one to work out the hidden message should read it out to the rest of the class and then do what the message says.
  • Continue around the class until everyone has deciphered their messages. Give help as needed.

Example messages

  • TBZ ZPVS OBNF: Say your name.
  • UBML BCPVU ZPVS IPMJEBZT: Talk about your holidays.

Why it works

This game helps students learn each other's names and builds a sense of community at the beginning of the school year. It also helps students develop their fluency and truly breaks the ice if students have just come back from a break or are just starting their studies. This creative classroom activity is usable in multi-level, large classes with limited resources as well as adaptable for elementary classrooms too.


Higher-level students can be given hidden messages which review functions such as complaints, apologies, etc. Teachers may include any topics they want students to talk about such as hobbies, family, animals and so on.

Follow up

Once they have finished getting to know each other, they may write a short paragraph about what they learned about their classmates as a homework task.

This activity was previously published by ETA magazine (The English Teacher Assistant - US) May 2000, Herald Educational Newspaper - July 2004 (Argentina). It appeared at English Club Net web site (2000), Parlo web site and China Education Exchange site.

Language Level


Submitted by Irinaglez on Tue, 10/03/2023 - 16:08

Thanks for sharing. I like this activity. It will certainly keep students busy while trying to decode the message.

Submitted by dada on Wed, 03/04/2009 - 13:27

great mindblowing and very interesting as a warmers.

Thank you for such an excellent idea.

Thank you.



Submitted by mihaela.avram2010 on Sat, 02/26/2011 - 08:11

In reply to by dada

I think it's a very nice game. Thank you! 

Submitted by jeenjose on Sun, 07/13/2008 - 14:03

this secret code game is a wonderful idea and I am going try it out with my students in  my class tomorrow.13

Submitted by dingchou520 on Tue, 03/03/2009 - 04:40

In reply to by jeenjose

  I think this activity works very well . Thanks a lot.

Research and insight

Browse fascinating case studies, research papers, publications and books by researchers and ELT experts from around the world.

See our publications, research and insight