Starting a new class - Part Two: Learning About Each Other

Starting a new class - Part Two: Learning About Each Other

Age Group: All Ages
Subject: Classrooom Management, Listening, Speaking

During the first week of classes, everyone is a stranger. You don’t know your students, they don’t know you, and most of them don’t know each other. To make the class gel as quickly as possible, you need icebreakers. In Part One of this series of articles, I showed you some easy ways to learn student names. Now I’m going to present a few icebreakers to help everyone learn about each other.


A few important pointers:

  • Try to give everyone a chance to share a little information about themselves.
  • Be aware you may have some shy students in your class. Honor their wish to be silent if they really don’t want to speak out.
  • Sharing personal information can be extremely motivating way to learn a language. However, you might want to be careful not to push for information that is too personal and potentially embarrassing. Use your own judgment to determine what is acceptable.


Quick Questions


Ask a student to keep time. Students ask you questions for two minutes, but you refrain from answering. When the two minutes are up, tell the class you will answer some (but not all) of the questions. After you have given some answers, choose another student to come to the front of the class and repeat the activity. (Note: You might want to insist before that activity starts that you will not answer any RUDE questions, if you are worried that some students might ask them.)


Raise your hand


This activity is an easy way to learn more about your students. Write a horizontal line across the board, with a short vertical line in the middle. Put “ALL OF US” on one side, and “NONE OF US” on the other. Get students to help you find a place for these phrases: “MOST OF US”, “A FEW OF US”, “SOME OF US”, “ONE OF US”, “ALMOST ALL OF US”. Tell students you are going to read some sentences and you want them to raise their hands if these are true for them. The following are some examples:


Raise your hand if you like tennis.

Raise your hand if you are single.

Raise your hand if you work full-time.

Raise your hand if you can play the guitar.

Raise your hand if you can cook fried rice.

Raise your hand if you have ever chewed betel nut.

Raise your hand if you want to see a movie this weekend.

Raise your hand if you spend more than 3 hours a day on the computer.


Each time you read a sentence, create a new sentence on the board based on the number of hands. (For example: Most of us like tennis. A few of us are single.) Ask students to write down the sentences as you put them on the board. After reading 3 or 4 sentences, encourage students to make their own sentences and follow the same procedure. Recommend they choose a sentence based on their own interests or skills. Continue until you have 10 sentences on the board.


I learned about this marvelous technique from Tessa Woodward’s book Planning Lessons and Courses (Cambridge).




Working together with the class, brainstorm a list of questions you might ask someone the first time you meet them. Write them up on the board and stop when you have about 15. Put students into pairs and give them about 10 minutes to interview each other. Encourage students to think of lots of questions, not just the ones on the board. The next step is to invite pairs to come up to the front and introduce each other to the whole class.


Questions I’d Like to Answer


Ask students to draw a horizontal line and a vertical line on a sheet of paper, creating 4 rectangles. Students choose 4 topics they would like to talk about, and write the topic at the top of each rectangle. Possible topics: their job, a hobby, a favorite leisure activity, their hero, a family member, their favorite food, or their favorite sport. Next, students write 3 questions under each topic. Tell students that in a few minutes a classmate will ask them these questions, so make sure they are questions they would like to answer. Put students in pairs and get students to interview each other. (Student A interviews Student B using the questions Student B wrote. Then they switch.)


In the next and final part of this series, I’m going to share with you a few activities for helping students to share their hopes and expectations for your course.



Hall Houston teaches at Kainan University in Taoyuan County, Taiwan. His articles have been published in periodicals such as It's for Teachers, Modern English Teacher and English Teaching Professional. His first book, The Creative Classroom: Teaching Languages Outside the Box, was published in 2007 and his most recent book is Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT. His third book, The ELT Daily Journal: Learning to Teach ESL/EFL, will be available in 2013.

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