This week I’ve taught six 90-minute classes at a company, working through needs analysis and getting examples of speaking and writing as we are working with them for the first time. I had the same plan for all six lessons, covering every level from elementary to advanced, but it panned out completely differently in each group. The general structure was:
Students write questions for me and their teacher (who was observing and data collecting), then ask them.
Annotate a copy of the contents page of the book they’ve been using for lessons before we started teaching them, to show which things they’ve done, what they’d like to do, and what they’d prefer to avoid.
Individually, divide up 40 points between the speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation to show their course priorities (an idea I adapted from Teaching English One-to-One [affiliate link] by Priscilla Osborne and now use all the time!). Write this on the back of the contents page.
Write a paragraph about their job, roles and responsibilities, when/if/how they use English at work, their hobbies, and anything else they choose, also on the back of the contents.
Extend the paragraph by finishing various sentence starters from a choice of 10, such as:
I prefer English lessons which…
I am confident/not confident about ____ in English because…
I generally have good/bad memories of learning English/Russian/German/… at school because…
A good English teacher…
Pretty straightforward, right? None of the lessons are encapsulated in that plan though! At various points this week, I (sometimes with my colleagues) have done error correction based on questions, looked at the grammar of questions in general, created indirect questions, discussed at length good places to visit in London, talked about the etymology of Wolverhampton and Chichester, discussed learning strategies and how to make English a habit, shared websites that can be used in addition to doing homework, explained various Polish/English differences, discovered all seven students in a single class prefer dogs to cats, encouraged (elementary) students to speak up so that I can give them feedback and then praised them a lot for speaking pretty much only English for 90 minutes, and probably many more things that I’ve forgotten. It’s a reminder, if one was needed, to teach the students, not the plan 🙂
Inspired by Matthew (again), as well as the lessons I’ve been teaching this week…
My current favourite getting-to-know-you activity to do with new students, especially 121s, is simply to get them to write a list of questions they want to ask me. With 121s I’ll write a list of things to ask them at the same time, so it doesn’t feel so awkward watching them write, and we take it in turns to ask them. 10 questions seems to work well in 121; in groups it’s about 5 each with students then selecting the ‘best’ from their lists. Questions are inevitably an area that students need to practise, regardless of their level. Students rarely form questions themselves, and are much more likely to answer other people’s/the teacher’s questions in the average lesson [I know I’ve read blog posts about this before, but can’t remember where – all links gratefully accepted].
The lists of questions students produce in this activity tend to show up the same kind of problem areas: present simple v. continuous, present perfect (or the lack thereof), word order, common mistakes (like Where are/did you born?), articles, etc, giving you a starting point for grammar areas to focus on. They may also throw up slightly more unusual problems: one of the ones I’ve noticed this week is capitalisation of ‘you’, following the Polish pattern of politeness, e.g. Where are You from? In addition, student-generated questions demonstrate which topics students are most interested in, as they tend to ask at least one or two questions about those areas. To push higher-level students to show off their grammar, especially if they’ve picked very simple questions to ask, you can encourage them to reframe one or two things from their list as indirect questions, and talk about politeness, especially if you’ve never met the students before.
Of all the things this activity makes me consider though, I have to say the oddest thing is how often the question How old are you? comes up in a typical student list. It’s one of those things students often ask at the start of lessons without thinking twice, though I’m pretty sure they would be unlikely to ask it that quickly if they were meeting people at a party or a conference!
Have you tried this kind of activity? Do you have a similar experience of it?
I came up with this activity for our getting to know you session during induction week at IH Bydgoszcz this year, so I’ve only used it with teachers, not students. I’d be interested to know how it works with real classes! I was inspired to create it by seeing the list of hobbies on our new teachers’ CVs, and I realised that it can take a while to discover which free time activities we have in common. I hope this can prove something of a shortcut. Thanks to Lizzie Pinard for helping me to figure out how to run the activity.
Students draw three circles on a piece of paper.
In each circle, they write one of their hobbies.
The teacher introduces and drills functional language appropriate to the level.
For example, at lower levels you might introduce:
“I love _____. Do you?”
“Me too.” / “Not really. I prefer ______”
Or at higher levels:
“Would you be interested in _________?”
“I’d love to.” / “I’m not really into that. I’d rather _______”
Demonstrate the activity with teacher-student, then student-student in open class.
The teacher says “I love hiking. Do you?”
If the student says, “Me too”, the teacher writes their name in the circle and asks another question to find out more, noting that information too. For example “Where do you go hiking?”
If the student says, “Not really. I prefer going to the cinema.”, the teacher writes their name and the hobby outside the circles, and again asks one more question to find out more.
Students mingle and speak to as many people as possible to find out about their hobbies.
Students sit with a partner and share what they learnt. They could also say if there are any hobbies they’d like to try or find out more about. Again, functional language could be introduced here to help students discuss their answers more easily, especially at lower levels: “I love hiking, and so do Maria and Ahmed.” “Stefan likes reading science fiction and he said Terry Pratchett is really good, so maybe I’ll read one of his books.”
Possible open class feedback options would be: “Put your hand up if you found somebody with the same hobby as you.” and/or “Who has the most interesting hobby?”
Tekhnologic took this idea and ran with it, creating video diagrams showing how to set it up and introducing a Venn version which I think is an improvement on the original!
With continuous enrolment, we get new students joining our classes every Monday morning, if they change from another class, on a Monday afternoon, when they’re new to the school, and sometimes on a Tuesday morning too, if they only have morning classes! This means that we’re constantly trying to make sure our students get on well together, and I’m always trying to find new getting to know you activities that still motivate and interest the students who’ve been in the class for weeks.
This is what I used a couple of weeks ago:
Ask students in pairs/small groups to decide what the connections are between the items on your own mind map.
Each pair/group writes three questions to find out more about the connections.
They then create their own mind maps – give them about 10 minutes, as it takes a while to get a good mind map.
Finally, they mingle and ask and answer questions about each other’s mind maps.
My students spent about 90 minutes on the whole process. I copied their mind maps and learnt a lot about my students in the process, something which isn’t always easy in a most of the getting to know you exercises I use. I even found out which of my students were great artists!