Name Chain Games
By far and away the best way to learn and retain student names is to do a name chain game to start off the class. You can vary the specifics to fit the needs of your particular class, but my class usually goes like this: the first student says 1) his or her name, 2) one interesting fact about himself or herself, and 3) his or her favorite English word. The next student must then repeat all of the information about himself or herself and then say the name and favorite English word of the preceding student. The third student introduces himself or herself and then says the names and favorite English words of the preceding two students, and so on until the last student. I’ve also made a practice vocabulary quiz using each of their favorite English words before which is a great way to transition them into your testing style. Variation: Instead of having students say their favorite English word, have them choose a word that starts with the same letter as their name, a favorite city, favorite food, etc... the options are endless!
New Year’s Resolutions
Your students may familiar with this popular tradition in January, but a new school year should bring about new resolutions for students and teachers alike. Have students partner up with each other and discuss what goals they have for themselves for the school year. Encourage them to be specific with the things they would like to accomplish and what they want to be different. Make sure that you as the teacher make some resolutions too! Variation: While students are talking together, have them create a poster of their resolutions. Display the posters around the room to help students remember their goals throughout the term.
Name That Person
Another great activity to get to your students to know each other a little better is a guessing game. Pass out small pieces of paper or notecards to each student and tell them to write down two facts about themselves on the card without writing their name on them. Collect the cards in a basket and mix them up before redistributing them to the students. Students take turn reading out the facts from the note card and the other students guess which person wrote the card.
A great speaking activity that helps to loosen up nervous students on the first day is a word association game. One student says a word (choose a category like travel if you wish to narrow things down) and the next person must say a word associated with that word; the next student says a word associated with that word, and so on. If another student challenges the association, the student must justify how those words are related. Make it a competition to see who can get the most points if you want to add a little friendly rivalry in the mix.
Who Am I?
A great way to mix students up to arrange them into groups or just get them speaking to one another is to put nametags on the back of the students of famous people, teachers, movie characters etc... Make sure that these people will be well known by all of your students. Students must walk around with their nametag on their back that they cannot see and ask questions to their classmates about who they are.
To get some of the more creative students included, give each student a blank piece of paper. Tell them to draw a picture of an event that happened to them recently, for example, a vacation they took, or a graduation ceremony etc... There can be no words on the paper. Put the students into pairs and have the partners guess what went the event was based on just looking at the picture. Variation: Before putting students into pairs, collect the students’ pictures and randomly redistribute them to different students. The students will then have to describe to the class what is going on in the picture. When they finish, ask the artist of the picture to say how close that student was and to narrate what actually happened in their life event.
I’m Cool Because...
If students are getting sluggish and you need them to move around the first day, do this activity. Have all of the students seated in a circle and you as a teacher stand in the middle. To start off the activity, you will say “I’m cool because...” and then finish that sentence with something that’s true about you, for example, you’re wearing blue jeans, you speak 3 languages, etc... Then, every student who shares that fact in common with you must stand up and find a new seat. You also will need to find a seat meaning that one student will be stranded in the middle. This game is great for finding commonalities and getting in some good laughs! Variation: Play “I have never....” instead. When students are in the middle, have them call out things they’ve never done and have the students move who have done those activities.
3 Common, 1 Unique
This activity is good for small groups. Randomly group students into three or four and give them a time limit to discover three things that all members of the group have in common and one thing that is unique for all of them. When the time is up, have each group report to the class. Then, change up the groups and have them do it again with their new class members. If it starts to get too easy, start ruling out common answers like “We’re all from different countries” or “We all breathe oxygen.”
Variation: Try this with the whole class after doing it in small groups. If they’ve been good listeners, they should be able to recall many things that all students had in common. It may take awhile, but there are surely at least 3 things the whole class has in common.