Your very first ESL class is likely to be one of the most anticipated experiences of your ESL journey. Having some ideas for ESL classroom activities on your first day up your sleeve will help you to get started. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Find someone who…
In this activity students are given a number of sentences with the subject missing. By asking their classmates questions they must complete their worksheet, and in the process find out something about their classmates. Here are some example sentences:
- __________________ likes spaghetti
- __________________ has visited Japan
- __________________ drank coffee this morning
- __________________ …
The students ask each other ‘do you like spaghetti?’ until they find someone who says yes, at which point they can write that person’s name in space number 1. 10-12 sentences is probably a good number, and a variety of sentences will force students to talk to more of their classmates. This activity is easily adaptable for students of different ages, backgrounds and levels.
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2. Two truths and a lie
This activity is a great way for everyone to share something unique. First, the teacher writes 3 sentences about himself or herself on the board, two of which are true and one of which is false. For example:
- I hate oranges
- I studied chemistry at university
- I have 5 brothers
The students then try to guess which sentence is false. After you have revealed which sentence is false, the students then write their own sentences. Finally, students share their sentences with the class or in a group, and their classmates guess which sentence is false.
3. Who am I?
To start this activity put your name in the middle of the board and 5-7 things that are linked to you around your name. For example, I might put ‘Jane’. Students then guess what the link is between the teacher and the words. ‘Is Jane your girlfriend?’ No. ‘Is Jane your mother?’ Yes.
To incorporate the students, you can use a short or long version of the activity. In the short version, follow up student guesses with relevant questions. ‘Is Jane your mother?’ Yes. ‘What is your mother’s name?’ In the longer version, students create their own brainstorms, and then let their partner guess the link between the writer and the 5-7 words they have chosen.
4. Find 3 things in common
Put your students into pairs, and tell them to find 3 foods that they both like, 3 movies they have both seen or 3 places they have visited. Their attempts to find 3 things should provoke a wider discussion. To make this activity more difficult, you can put your students into threes. At the end of the activity, ask the students to share their findings with the rest of the class.
5. Four Corners
Label the four corners of you classroom ‘love’, ‘like’, ‘dislike’ and ‘hate’. As you say different things or activities students move to the corner that corresponds to their preference. For example, if you say ‘chocolate’ and a student loves chocolate they move to the ‘love’ corner. Joining in allows the students to learn something about you too. For higher-level students you can ask them to explain their choices once they have chosen a corner.
These activities will help you and your students to get to know each other in a fun and interactive way, while providing you with the opportunity to assess their level and find out what stimulates them. The first class of any course can be nerve-racking, but having a couple of activities ready to go will make it easier.
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Written by Robin Garnham
Robin Garnham originally planned to spend a year teaching in Spain to improve his Spanish, but has now been teaching for five years. He currently teaches ESL in Oakland, California and is an Oxford Seminars instructor in San Jose, California.