Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Get to Know Each Other

Photo on Flickr by Night Owl City

The beginning of the new school year is approaching very, very fast. It is time to get prepared, physically and mentally. For me, meeting new students, facing them for the first time, is very scary. It hasn't stopped being scary, even after almost 22 years in the classroom. My students often admit (much later into the course) that they were nervous too in the first class. It is the unknown that we fear, I suppose.

That's why I find those first classes very important for the rest of the course. Ideally, by the end of the first two weeks, everyone will have relaxed. In order for this to happen, everybody should get to know everybody else. The students should get to know each other and some sort of group spirit should emerge. The teacher should get to know the students and adapt the course to their interests and learning styles. Last but not least, the students should get to know the teacher. Students will relate better to your subject if they get to know the real you.

In no particular order, I am going to share some of the activities I use during the first two weeks.

When I attended CRELL two years ago I learnt the following two warmers that I have been using ever since:


Here is the original description of the activity from the CRELL lesson plan:

1. Tell students they are going to introduce themselves by sharing something about their first, middle, or last name. If you have a large group, you may want to have students work in small groups to share the story of their names. Begin the activity by modeling it and sharing something about your first, middle, or last name.

2. After each student has shared with the group, lead a whole class discussion using some or all of the following questions.

This is what I shared in the CRELL forum:

"My name is Natasa. The name was derived from Latin “Dies Natalis”, which means Christmas Day. It is really strange, but my maiden name, Bozic, means exactly the same thing, only in Serbian. So my name and my surname are synonyms. I like the idea of being protected by these Nativity symbols. I was named after my maternal grandmother. Her name was Natalia, but my parents shortened it to Natasa, which was more popular at the time. When I was a little girl, I didn’t like my name (I guess that’s usual for little girls), but now I am glad I was called after my grandmother. She died when I was nine and she was an important figure in my childhood. She was a truly good person. When I got married, I added my husband’s surname to my maiden name. I wanted to keep “Christmas” with me and I felt that by that time the surname was a part of who I was. I also did it because I am an only child and my father was no longer alive. My married name is very rare – I have never met anyone outside my husband’s family called Grojic. We believe that somebody made a mistake at the Registry Office a long time ago and wrote Grojic instead of the very common Grujic. I always have to spell it to people and they usually get it wrong – they write u instead of o. My husband says that with time I’ll stop paying attention and let them write whatever they want."

I always share this story with the students first before I ask them to do the same. It helps them understand what I want them to do. It is a great way for everybody to learn everybody else's name.


Here is what the CRELL lesson plan says:

"In this activity we would like you to think of a way to represent yourself to the other participants in our session by drawing a symbol. You can use Word Drawing or another program to draw your symbol. You can also hand draw your symbol and scan your picture, then download it to the correct folder. Please create an original drawing instead of downloading clip art or a photo. Below your symbol, please provide a brief explanation of how this symbol represents you."

This is what I did:

The Candle

"I chose the candle as my symbol. When I was a student, I used to draw candlesticks on the margin of my books. Maybe it had something to do with burning midnight oil, or maybe (and I prefer this second explanation) it had something to do with the quest for knowledge. Candle represents light, as opposed to darkness. It represents knowledge and wisdom. It shows us directions when we are lost and, if we leave a candle in the window, our dear ones will find us. We light candles to remember both the living and the dead. Our lives might be “like candles in the wind”, but if we live them with passion and if we bring some light into the lives of others, we will live forever. The flame is eternal."

Again, I would share the story with the students first, maybe even try to draw my symbol on the board. Then I would ask them to do the same. I teach adults so I usually wouldn't ask them to draw their own symbol in one of our first classes (they are scared enough even without me asking them to draw). I usually share a ready-made lesson plan instead. It is a lovely little lesson plan from the Inside Out website and it is called You In Pictures. A whole collection of these plans can be found here and You In Pictures is the first one. Please allow the time for the booklet to download.


I learnt this activity from my colleague Zorana who teaches German at my school. Students sit opposite each other in pairs and they have five minutes to talk to each other. After the time is up, everybody moves one seat to their left, so that they talk to somebody else. The goal is similar to speed dating - to find out as much as possible about their partner. Before the students start talking to each other, I ask them to write down five or six questions that they are going to ask everybody in the class, although, of course, improvising additional questions on the spot is most welcome. At the end of the activity, I ask each student to share the most interesting question they were asked.


clock montage
Photo on Flickr by Rocket Ship

Students are given some time to prepare a one-minute talk about something they are passionate about. It can be a hobby or simply a topic they are very interested in. After each student has delivered the speech, others ask follow-up questions. At least three questions should be asked.


In pairs, students talk about what sort of questions they hate being asked, then they share the questions with the rest of the class and they explain why they hate talking about the topic. Those can be typical 'taboo questions' like asking about somebody's weight, or simply the questions the students find boring or intrusive. Very useful feedback for the teacher.


This is a writing exercise. Students are asked to write something about themselves in 150 words. I would share my own Twitter bio (mother, wife, EFL teacher, Webhead, blogger, writer lifelong learner, daydreamer, geek, insomniac) as an example.


I borrowed this from a blogging challenge I participated in. Here is my original post on what an elevator pitch is. An elevator pitch is similar to a Twitter bio, but it should be delivered orally. Students should introduce themselves to others in no more than 150 words.

I like to do this as a mingle activity. Students circle around, delivering their elevator pitches to each other. They should listen to other elevator pitches carefully, but they shouldn't write anything down. Afterwards, I ask them to recall anything they can remember about the people they talked to.

One of my favourite photocopiables is Group Work Intermediate. Activity 2 (Get to know your group) contains 64 great icebreaker questions that can be exploited in different ways. I often use those during the first two or three weeks of the course.

I could go on and on, but I am going to stop here for the moment. This post is very long as it is.

Please let me know what you think. Your opinion is, as always, very important to me.


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