Breaking the first-lesson ice

23 Sep

So, another year, another batch of students. And another run of first lessons to get through.

While I do love the excitement of starting off with a group of fresh bodies in front of me, it’s also key to establish good rapport during that crucial first lesson. I like to send the message that I’m a teacher who likes having fun in the classroom, but who also wants to push learners enough to make them feel like they get something out of the course. The “oh-yay-another-year-of-English-to-wade-through” is NOT the attitude I want my students to have.

I’ve recently come across an activity on Dave’s ESL Café that has worked over and over with levels ranging from false beginner to advanced and can be adapted to general or professional situations. I take no credit for the activity and although I do not know who originally posted it on the EFL Café, I heartily thank them.

You can read the original activity description here and my own account of it below.

For a general group of learners or university-aged students, I’ll bring in around 5 objects for 10-15 students. My most recent group had 10 students, so five objects.

Here they are…see if you can guess what they say about me (spoiler: answers are at the end of the post!)

  1. A magazine titled Go English with a bookmark to an article written by me
  2. A plastic skeleton
  3. A sports watch
  4. A stem of cotton
  5. A cell phone charger

At the beginning of the lesson, I wrote my name and email address on the board and explained that rather than simply introducing myself, I would “tell” them about me through objects. Each pair of students reached in the bag to pull out an object. This can add a touch of humor, because they always shoot the “Is it gonna bite me?” look! I exploit that!

In pairs, they spend about 2 minutes hypothesizing on what the object means. A skeleton? Did you study medicine before? Are you afraid of dying? Is it related to Halloween?

The pairs put forth their ideas. If it’s a lower level or a group of shy students, they can first do this with other pairs, then in plenary. You can also have them report directly to the whole class.

You either confirm or correct their ideas and sometimes, this leads to a discussion. They’ll want to know more about the subject of the object and may ask questions (hint: make some notes of their output to work on question structure later on!)

Then, it’s the students’ turn. If you’re lucky to be in an internet-equipped computer room or if your students have smartphones with internet access, they can search for an image that represents them. If not, they can draw the object (or an abstract idea!)

The students then share their object, again either with a partner, small group, or the whole class depending on their level, how outgoing and willing they are to talk in front of the group, etc.

This gets them talking and also allows you to find out something about the group of students. What’s better, it’s something they want you to know about them! I always scribble a few notes and try to keep their interests in mind during the course.


Depending on how much discussion comes up, this lesson can take some time to get through. I believe we spent nearly an hour on it because we got into a discussion of Dogme ELT (there’s a hint for object #5!) When it was the students’ turn, we also got onto a little language work on nationalities and the “Have you ever…?” question.

So did you guess what my objects said about me?

  1. I write for that and other magazines
  2. Halloween is my favourite holiday
  3. I like doing all sorts of sports—running, cycling, yoga, pilates, and my latest favourite Zumba
  4. I’m from Mississippi
  5. I like to take an “unplugged” approach to teaching when appropriate. I knew they wouldn’t guess this, but it’s what led to that great discussion on how they like to learn, teaching style, and what I expect of them!


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Posted by on September 23, 2012 in Lesson skeletons


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