Warmer idea

The Secret Code game Prior to the lesson write a secret message on slips of paper that are folded into various shapes.


  • Greet and welcome students to their first lesson.
  • Tell them you’ll play a game called “Hidden message”. You can also tell them, if they are young learners, that you will be playing a game called “Spies”.
  • Then, if the class is lower level, elicit the alphabet and write it on the board.
  • Give out the sweets or lollipops wrapped with the slips of paper. This paper will have a hidden message which will have to be worked out by students if they want to eat their sweets or lollipops. Tell students that each letter used represents the previous letter in the alphabet ( Note: Z comes before A). You can demonstrate by writing IJ on the board and you should have spelled out ” HI”.
  • Once students understand, allow them two minutes to work out their messages individually. The first one to find out the hidden message, should read it out to the rest of the class and carry out the instructions on it. See example below:
TBZ ZPVS OBNF UBML BCPVU ZPVS IPMJEBZT (Decoded: “Say your name. Talk about your holidays”)
  • Continue around the class until everyone has deciphered their messages. Give help as needed.


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 aid is usable in multi-level, large classes with limited resources as well as adaptable for elementary classrooms too.

Variations 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 pals 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.)