One of the first challenges facing newly minted English teachers, especially when teaching in a foreign country, is finding a way to introduce themselves to their new class.
Although it may vary depending on the culture you are teaching in, the students are generally interested in you and curious about your life and why you are now living in their country. Sadly, many teachers mistake this as an opportunity to hold a monologue at the front of class as they run through a presentation discussing their country, schooling, hobbies, etc. While there is nothing really wrong with this approach, it can get a bit boring for the students, regardless of how curious they are about you.
It is always better to get the students not only interested, but involved in the discussion if at all possible. While question and answer period may be a great way to do this, some cultures (Korea for example) tend to discourage students from asking many questions. In those instances, it is important that the teacher create opportunities for the students to get involved. Here are a few ideas about how to go about doing that.
Encourage Students to Get Involved from Day One
While our primary purpose is to teach English, most foreign English Teachers also serve as a cultural ambassador, or at least a multicultural influence, in the classroom. Language is certainly an important part of culture but, let’s face it: food is going to be way more interesting to your students. As part of your self-introduction, include some information (especially pictures) of your favourite foods. Depending on the culture within which you are working, you may want to explain how the foods are made, what the ingredients are, and when they are usually eaten. Bringing a bag of candy from your home country (preferably candy that students cannot purchase in their own country) to serve as a prize in that first class will also get the students interested in you and where you come from.
Game-Show-Style Quiz Game
This method can take a bit more work, but it has the benefit of giving students a reason to listen and engage with the class from the very first lessons. Create a short game-show-style activity for the last half of your class. There are many templates for this available online, but something along the lines of jeopardy is usually best as it allows for teamwork and is (usually) a familiar game. Before starting your presentation, divide your students into teams and explain that there will be a game based on this information at the end of class. Having pre-knowledge will encourage them to listen attentively. Present your introduction and be sure to include some interesting facts about your home country, province or state, culture, and family. This information will form the basis of the game. Once the presentation is complete, the teams will have the necessary information to participate in the game. Play until the end of class. As mentioned in the above point, some candy from your home country might be a great prize for this activity.
This activity takes quite a bit more preparation but is much more interactive and student-based. There are several ways to approach it. To encourage speaking practice, create a short write up about yourself and where you come from (pictures always add to student interest) and then cut it up into one or two sentence sections. Be sure that the language you use is appropriate to the students’ levels. When class starts, divide the students into groups and give each group part of the write-up and a lined piece of paper. Each group must then send out one or two people at a time to ask other groups to share their sections. Especially for higher level students and classes, it is best to emphasise that the slips must be read out loud when they are being shared, not simply handed to the person asking for them. Explain that the first group to get the complete story wins. Suggest that groups may want to bargain (ie. I will give you point three if you have point five).
This activity is one that is familiar to most teachers, but only really works for introductions to older classes that have a relatively high English level. To begin, introduce yourself by first and last name. What happens next depends on the age and level of the students. For high level students who have a solid grasp on geography the first topic for twenty questions can be your country of origin. From there topics can include province and/or city (it may help to provide a map of your country at this point), size of family, type of degree etc. While this activity can be interesting, it will not fill an entire class. Limit it to ten or fifteen minutes then move on.
Two Truths and a Lie
This is a very simple game that can take up ten or so minutes at the end of an introductory class. It starts to draw the students into speaking and helps them get to know a bit more about their teacher. Teachers need to come up with several small, obscure facts about themselves and/or their lives. The teacher will present these statements in groups of three. Two statements will be true and one will false. False statements can be either completely fabricated or a slight alteration of a truth. Start with false statements that are more blatant and progress to more subtle differences. Students will guess which statement is false. To turn this into a game, have teams write their answers down and then award points to the teams that have guessed correctly.
Read, Run, and Write
This is a good activity as it practices all aspects of English and gets the students up and moving. Create a list of facts about yourself, your country, and your family. Print off several copies and attach them to the board at the front of the room. Divide the students into groups of four to six. Each group will need a sheet of paper. One person in each group will be the scribe. The others will take turns running up to the board, reading and memorizing as much as they can, then running back to their group and reciting what they can remember to the scribe who will listen and write it down. The first group to finish wins. Remember when you are creating the list to keep the language within reach of your students’ levels.
It’s easy to forget that your students likely want you to know who they are as well. Many teachers will have close to a thousand students in a given semester, so it seems pointless to attempt to learn the student names. After all, there is no way teachers can remember them all. However true this may be, the act of introducing themselves is important to students in that it gets them speaking and shows them that they matter to the teacher.
Student interest is at its highest when teachers first arrive in their new classrooms.
Finding creative ways to engage your students from the very beginning may be the key to capturing and maintaining students’ attention for the duration of the semester. They are curious anyways, so instead of just talking at your students, try drawing them into conversation with you.