Bonus Round – More Activities for the First Day of Class

Let's make this a colorful and resourceful ESL Carnival! (Photo by Striking Photography - CC License)

The next ESL Blog Carnival will be hosted by Eva Buyuksimkesyan (@evab2001 on Twitter) in her wonderful blog  “A Journey in TEFL“, and it will have as a theme Warmers and Fillers for the First Day of Class, since most teachers are starting a new academic term/year soon.

I shared some activities I did on my first classes for the term that I have just started on a recent post (“A Post About Firsts“), but there are so many other activities I have used over the many years I’ve been teaching, I decided I should share some of those in another post. :-) So here we are!

1) The Profile:

You start this activity by asking the students what does the word profile mean. They may come up with many definitions or just one of them.  If they don’t come up with both, the teacher can elicit or explain – it depends a lot on the students’ language level. I find 2 of them essential for this activity.

The first essential definitions is:  “An outline of something (especially a human face as seen from one side)”. The second is: “Biographical sketch” , or information about a person, to give an idea of the person’s personality and life.

After the 2 definitions have been shared, the teacher explains they will do their profiles – in more than one way. The teacher should then proceed to model what students will be expected to do. Get a big piece of blank paper (I usually use A3-sized white paper), stick it to a wall and give a volunteer student a marker. The teacher should place her face on the paper sideways and ask the student with the marker to use it to outline the teacher’s profile on the paper. The profiles always look funny!

Give each student a big piece of paper and a colored marker and have them pair up and outline each other’s profiles. When you have all the papers with profiles (including the teacher’s!) stuck to the walls around the classroom, tell students they should write questions on everybody else’s papers, around the outlined profile. These questions can be just short ones (such as School? or Hobbies?) or complete questions – it’s up to the teacher to decide. Personally I like the short ones, because it gives more space for the student to elaborate on the topic/question). I usually play some background music at this point too, to set a cheerful, happy vibe. The students then go around the classroom, writing questions on all the papers but their own.

After all the profile papers have been filled with questions, the teacher should once again serve as a model, take her own paper down and use it to talk about herself by answering the questions written in it. The, ask the students to take their papers down and introduce themselves.

I find this activity to be fun and allow students to ask whatever they would like to know about the teacher and their classmates. It also works for both groups of students who haven’t studied together before and groups who have been together for some time – they can ask things they don’t know about each other. As a follow-up the teacher can ask students to use the profile paper as basis for a written bio.

2) Getting to Know Each Other With Candy:

Colored candy in exchange for bits and pieces about the students! (Photo by Oh_Savannah - CC license)

Before the class starts, the teacher should have a bowl of candy somewhere of easy access to the students. It’s important that the candy come in different colors – at least 4. I usually use M&Ms for this, leaving a stack of plastic cups (the ones normally used for coffee) next to the bowl and a spoon in the bowl. As the students starts coming into the classroom, the teacher tells them to treat themselves to the bowl, but to wait before they eat – the students should take as much candy as they want, but should wait for the teacher’s permission before eating them.

After everybody has taken some candy and sat down, the teacher should then put up a poster with the color/information equivalence. Each color of candy (or each type of candy) corresponds to one type of information. For instance, the equivalence can be something like:

  • Green: Something about my educational background
  • Red: Something about my family
  • Blue: Something about my likes and dislikes
  • Yellow: Something about my objectives & future plans

 Then the students should take turns and say something about themselves for each piece of candy they have taken, according to the color they have. There is a variation of this activity using a roll of toilet paper, where students take as much as they want and they have to give one piece of information about themselves for each piece of toilet paper they have.

3) Fill in The (Funny) Blanks

Before the lesson, the teacher should prepare a poster (or word document if a projector is available) with a little bio about her. But the text should be funny – important, key information should be substituted by crazy things. Here’s an example:

My name is Cecilia, and I am 104 years old. I have 2 bunnies: Gabriela is 10 and Felipe is 6. I have been teaching juggling for 35 years. In my free time I like jumping off airplanes and jumping around on one foot. I don’t like eating books but I love eating butterflies. (…)

Then ask students to get together with another student (or pair them up if you prefer) and tell them they should discuss and decide which bits from the bio are not true and come up with what they think are the correct words to substitute them with.

After a few minutes the teacher asks students to share what they think and gradually give them the correct information about herself.

These are some of the first day activities I have used – and still do. I hope you enjoyed them! And as usual I’d love to hear any feedback if you use them or adapt them.

Wishing everyone great first classes and a wonderful new term! :-)

A post about firsts – First impressions and first activities on the first day of the semester

Bitten all nails this week…. as usual (photo by Maxwell GS / Flickr – CC)

First day of classes always make me super nervous… Well, to be quite frank, so does presenting, but that doesn’t happen so often. So it’s first days that drive me crazy, because I have those (and a number of them if you take into account I have many groups) every semester. At first I thought it was because of being a new, inexperienced teacher, and that it would get easier with time. It didn’t. I’ve been teaching for nearly 18 years, and I’m afraid I’ll feel like that as long as I have first days of class :-) It’s a mix of “Will they like me?” and “Will I like them?”, “Will we ‘click’?”. So I try to plan activities that will allow me to get to know students better, while giving them the chance of knowing more about me and also breaking the ice and having some fun. Start our relationship – and the semester – on a positive note.

This semester’s first day(s) went really well and I am fortunate to have great groups filled with great students, apparently eager to learn and motivated. So I decided to share here some activities I used on my first classes. The 2 first ones are not my creation. I can’t remember where I got them from – except for the “I have never” one, which I have recently been reminded of in a in-service workshop by Scott Chiverton – and I regret not remembering, because I wish I could give credit for them. I hope you like them!

• Classroom Crossword:

Before the class started I put a big piece of paper on the board and wrote my name in capital letters, some space between the letters. in the middle of it. I told the students this would be our class crossword, because a crossword is made on words that mix to form a whole, and our class was made of individuals that made a whole as well. And then I told them I’d tell them what the clue to my name would be. And I said something (maybe not exactly this, but along these lines):

She’s been teaching English for over 17 years and loves teaching. She is fascinated by languages and the power of being able to communicate. She has 2 beautiful children and in her free time she reads avidly, watches TV and films as well as spends time in the virtual world. She lived in Kansas as an exchange student and that was a life-changing experience for her. She’s not happy if she’s not studying and learning and she truly believes we learn more effectively if we have fun, if we enjoy coming to class.

After I had done this I told them they should all do the same I had just done, telling us things they thought defined them, after putting their names into the crossword. They all did it and we ended the activity with a poster that symbolizes our class – as well as a handy reminder of the students names, which I’m sure will help me memorize their names in the first weeks :-) Here’s one of them:

This is the Class Crossword for one of my High Intermediate 2 groups

• I Have Never

This is a game I have played with friends for fun (at parties) and have recently done in a workshop for the teachers in my school, as an activity to use with students. I used it in the first class as an opportunity to have fun and at the same time learn about each other, getting to know everybody a little.

I divided the students into groups of 5 or 6 people, trying to mix and put students who hadn’t been sitting together (and therefore most likely weren’t close to each other – yet) in the same groups. I did this so they’d be with people they didn’t know very well. Then I explained the activity and modeled it, to make sure they understood it.

Everybody should have their hands and five fingers spread out open, and students were standing in a circle.One person starts the activity by saying something he/she has never done. Anybody in the group who has done what was said should lower one finger. Then the next person says something he/she has never done and the game goes on until only one person still has at least one finger up.

After it was over, I asked students to take turns sharing something interesting they had learned about a classmate. The students had a lot of fun doing the activity. It also gave me an opportunity to check their language ;-)!

Note: For groups in lower levels – who haven’t learned the present perfect yet – I adapted it and their statements should start with “I don’t” or “I didn’t”.

• Setting a Personal Goal

On first day of all my classes I like to ask my students why they are studying English, what is their objective. A very common answer is: “It’s important for my future.” Well… I don’t accept this answer. It’s a “too-automatic-that’s-what-people-say-I-should-learn-it-for” answer. So when that comes up, I ask them why is it important for their future, what is it they’ll do in their future that they’ll need English for? I also tell them it’s better if they find a use and reason for learning English for their present. So I talk to my students about motivation and objectives for a while.

This semester I am trying something that I’m serious to know how it’ll go. After this little discussion I mentioned, I gave each of them a slip of paper that started with “By the end of this semester I hope I’ll be able to…” and told my students I wanted them to complete the sentence with something specific they weren’t able to do now that they wish they could do by the end of the semester. It should be a realistic goal. Something like “I’d like to be able to write a formal letter to a company” , “I’d like to understand what the character in my favorite video game says” or “I want to get a XX score on the TOEFL”. I also said that no one but them would see it, and that on the last day of class we will get those papers back and they’ll see if they can do it then. After they had written on their slips I gave each a sticker to close the folded slip and put them all inside a bag labeled with the name of the class (the code we use).

This might backfire, but I am anxious to open those bags on the last day of class and see what happens. I think it can trigger some good reflections.

The bags with their personal semester goals in it and the blank slip

• Positive Tunes

At the end of the lesson I did an activity with the song “Good Riddance” by Green Day. First because everybody likes music, but most importantly because I think this song has a very positive message to it. As a group the students had to put the song in order (each line was printed in a big piece of paper), and after it we sat around the lyrics to discuss what was the positive message each of them saw in the song.

You’re welcome to use any of these activities, and please share how it goes and any adapting you do! :-)