No matter how many years you have been teaching, September is always a month for reflection. You promise yourself that this year will be different, that you will set new goals, stick to them and be successful. You start planning the first lesson for every single class you have, as in private language schools we have the privilege to teach all ages ranging from 7 year olds to teenagers and also from young adults to any-age adults.
By Sofia Mouka, EFL Teacher
The activities we choose for our classes have to be age appropriate and level appropriate taking into account the fact that students may or may not be familiar with each other or with us. Any person’s favourite subject is themselves and their experiences, so getting students to talk about themselves in the target language can make even the most reserved person open up and participate in the conversation.
“The only preparation the teacher has to do is have all the questions written on flashcards and give each student two or three of them to read aloud and come up with an answer.”
We can use simple ice breaking activities that do not require much preparation. For example, for the junior classes we could use a puppet or a teddy bear which kids throw to one another. The pupil who takes it has to say his/her name and the rest of the class says “Hello” repeating the name they have just heard. This game is fun and easy to follow; the only rule students have to bear in mind is not to throw the puppet to a person who has already taken it, so that all the names are heard once and no one is left out. At the end of the game everyone, including the teacher, takes turn to name as many students as possible. With this activity students learn how to introduce themselves and get to know each other. Students really love that game. They all participate -even the shiest ones. For the low intermediate level young learners the same game could be enhanced by getting them to add more information about themselves, like their age, family members etc.
The intermediate level students have a better command of the language so we can have them do activities which combine writing and speaking. An ice breaking activity that learners and especially teenage learners love is “The Detective”: the students write interesting and unusual facts for themselves on a piece of paper, they fold it and put it in a box. After everyone has put their paper in the box the teacher takes out one of them and reads it aloud asking the class to guess who could have written it. The information could be anything they think their classmates may not know about them like: “My second name is Ilaira”, “I have five siblings”, “Last summer I flew to Brazil” or “My cousin has worked for the FBI”. Teenagers love pretending to be a detective and learning new things about their classmates, so they never lose interest in this particular activity.
Young adults seem to be the most difficult class to keep engaged in an activity and get their genuine interest in it. The majority of them come to class with a specific goal in mind, either to sit in exams to obtain a certificate as soon as possible or to brush up their rusty English. In either case they do not seem to see the point in “wasting” time doing anything outside the box, not even in the very first lesson. All they want to do is open the book and start doing exercises. However, if the educator manages to show real interest in an activity there is some hope that they will follow the rules of at least one simple ice breaking activity. The icebreaker that has proved to be working with young adults is to have them answer some simple and non-threatening questions such as: “When you were little, who was your favourite super hero and why?”, “Have you ever been to England?” or “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you like to go?” The only preparation the teacher has to do is have all the questions written on flashcards and give each student two or three of them to read aloud and come up with an answer. Some students may give just a one-word answer but others may produce longer sentences and hopefully this may trigger a conversation where everybody shares opinions and experiences. In any case the teacher has to make sure that every student answers the flashcard questions and participates in the activity.
Whichever icebreaker you choose to use in the first lesson, do not forget to be well prepared for it and for any comment you may hear from your students. Try not to show fear as even the youngest students can sense it and take advantage of it. The last thing you desire for the first lesson of the new school year is to lose control over yourself or over what is happening in the classroom. Remember that apart from being well prepared for your lesson you should also wear your best smile and show your students that you love them and your job.
Good luck and enjoy the whole class experience. •