Are you stuck for ideas of how to break the ice and motivate your students on the first day of term? Do you need a handy set of activities that can be carried out with minimum preparation and will help students get to know each other and their teacher better as they work together this term? Chia Suan Chong helps you get back into the swing of things on your return from the holidays.
Getting into the swing of things at the beginning of term can be difficult. We might be faced with new students who are still deciding whether they like the teacher they see in front of them. There are no prior lessons to base the current one on and the term ahead seems like an insurmountable period of time.
So it is not uncommon for teachers to be asking students questions like ‘What did you do during the holidays?’ or ‘Did you go anywhere nice?’, in the hope that students would break the ice and regale them with tales of exotic locations and exciting activities. If all goes well, the holiday discussion might even fill up part of the lesson.
But questions like that can sometimes fall flat on their faces. Less-motivated students might offer one-word answers (‘Nothing…’), students from less privileged backgrounds might feel uncomfortable about their lacklustre versions of the holidays, or you might just be the third teacher that day asking that same question.
So, what can you do on that potentially difficult first day back?
Here are ten ideas:
1. A job interview for your teacher
Tell your students that they are going to interview you for the position of their teacher. Give them some examples of questions they might ask, and then leave the room for 5–10 minutes so that they are able to discuss how they might approach the interview.
Enter the room prepared to be interviewed and answer their questions as honestly as you can. This is a great way for students to get to know you and understand your teaching philosophy.
2. Make a class contract
Have the class discuss and decide on the behaviours that are conducive to learning. Then have students agree on the class rules that they believe would be good for them to follow for the term. (Try to avoid getting too involved in the making of the rules. The students are more likely to follow the rules if they feel ownership of it.)
Get them to write up a class contract and have each member of the class sign the contract. Put the contract up somewhere visible so that you can refer to it anytime someone breaks a class rule.
3. Find someone who…(holiday edition)
A great classic to break the ice, teachers can prepare a handout that gets students finding the people on the list. In this holiday edition, questions like ‘Find someone who watched a good film in the cinema this holiday’, ‘Find someone who got injured during the holidays’, ‘Find someone who read a whole book this holiday’, ‘Find someone who did something they hadn’t tried before during the holidays’, ‘Find someone who picked up a new skill’ etc.
At the end of the activity, be sure to interview students and ask them questions about the films they watched, the books they read, the injury they sustained or the activity they tried and so on during the holidays.
4. My ideal holiday
You don’t need to have had an exotic holiday experience to be able to talk about your ideal holiday. Have students ask each other questions about their ideal holiday.
If you prefer more structure to this activity, create a handout or dictate these questions to your students:
- Where would you go? Which country? Which city?
- How long would your holiday last?
- What type of holiday would it be?
- What would you do? Plan your itinerary.
If you prefer a less-structured version of this, simply have students complete the sentence, ‘I wish I (past tense verb)… during the holiday.’. You can then encourage extension of the speaking activity by asking them to explain their choices.
5. Current Affairs quiz
Divide students into two teams and have them create a current affairs quiz based on the news that happened during the holidays. Half the class time could be spent preparing the quiz (and doing some online research) and the other half could be spent carrying out the quiz.
You might want to set some rules to avoid the more controversial and bloody news items … or perhaps you might not, because controversial discussions can be invigorating for the language classroom if you can manage it well. (See my recent article Not Only But Also! in Issue 123, English Teaching professional).
6. Holiday game of bluff
You may have come across, or even used, that classic TEFL game where students each make four statements and three of them are false, and the class have to ask questions to uncover what is the truth … In this game of bluff with a holiday twist, students make statements about what happened during the holidays and their group members will have to guess which statement is true by asking them questions about their experiences.
7. My hobby
Do your students have a hobby that they’ve neglected for a while? Have they recently picked up a new hobby? Have them make a presentation on their hobbies and why they got into them in the first place.
If some of your students don’t do hobbies, then expand the task to cover any sport or exercise they do.
8. Holiday Pie-Chart
Have students make a pie chart of how they spent their time during the holidays. They might have categories like ‘Watching TV’, ‘Working/Studying’, ‘Sleeping’, ‘Learning something’, ‘Doing chores’, etc.
When they have completed their pie charts, ask them to work in groups and compare their results.
9. Food Glorious Food
Have students talking about the most delicious thing they ate and the worst-tasting thing they had during the holiday, and maybe even the most difficult dish they prepared this holiday.
Divide students into teams and have them make a food quiz for each other. They can do some online research on interesting foods from around the world, or on the origins or preparation of commonly known foods, and quiz each other on these topics.
10. Holiday scavenger hunt
Place students into groups of three or four. As a team, they are given a list of items to find – items that are often used on holiday. The teams are allowed to go beyond the classroom to find these items so you plant some items around the school ahead of class. Items could include: an umbrella, foreign currency, a water bottle, a map, compass, an inflatable beach/pool toy, sunglasses, toothbrush, etc. The first team to come back with a complete set of items wins.
Do you have any other interesting activities that you often use on your first day back after the holidays? Please share in the comments section below!