For your ESL students, friendships are essential.
Many of them have travelled from home, friends, and family to study the English language in a completely different country, away from all they know. And no matter who you are, you need a support system around you. Especially when you are undertaking a large task such as learning English. That’s why your students’ classmates are so important in their lives. They will be the support systems that keep them going through the rough times and celebrate with them in the happy times. Though it’s likely to happen without your intervention, there are plenty of ways you can encourage your students to form those tight and necessary friendships with each other. Here are some ideas to try.
5 Tips for Helping International Students Form Strong Friendships
Do Team Building Exercises
Team building exercises are used in the business world to help groups of people come together as a team. They can be simple things like the human knot. In this game everyone stands in a circle and puts one hand into the middle. Everyone then grabs someone else’s hand. Then they put their other hand into the middle and grab another hand. Then without letting go, everyone tries to untangle the mass of arms until the group is in a circle again. Team building exercises can be more complicated, too, but generally they require overcoming some obstacle or accomplishing some task by working together. The more you get your students working with each other, even better if they have a goal, the faster they will form those friendships with each other.
Sometimes we all need a push to be complimentary to the people in our lives. You can try this simple exercise with your students if they have been in class long enough to get to know each other at least a little bit. Have your class sit in a circle and give each person a piece of paper. Have them write their name in large letters across the top of the paper. Then everyone passes that paper to their right. Each person must then write something positive or complimentary about the person whose name is on the top of the paper. It might be something they like about that person, something that person does well, or any other encouraging thought for that person. Then pass the papers to the right again and repeat. Keep going until the papers have returned to their original owners. Students can then read all the great things their classmates think about them. Each person should have a note from every one of their classmates on their paper.
Encourage Students to Learn About Each Other
Make lots of time for get-to-know-you activities, ice breakers, and conversation activities. The more students talk with each other, about themselves, the more likely they are to feel close to their classmates. Sharing about your past is one way to get to know someone, and this activity will give students that freedom. Put students in pairs, and have one person share something bad that happened to them in the past. They can take about a minute to tell their story. Then have the other person retell that story stressing the good things that came out of the experience. Not only will this put a positive spin on a past experience, it will also give your students a chance to practice mixed past tenses. If you want something a little less emotional, try this get to know you activity. Have students get into groups of four, and give each group a deck of playing cards. If you like, remove some or all of the number cards. Shuffle the cards and put them in the center of the group. Students take turns drawing a card. For any Jack, Queen, King, or Ace the person must share something about their life up until that point. If you are teaching adults, you might have the jack represent their childhood, the queen their teen years, the king their early adult years, and the ace now. If you are teaching younger students, you may not want to assign certain ages to the face cards.
Your students don’t’ have to speak the same language to laugh together, and laughter is a surefire way to encourage relationships between your students. Try this simple and laughter inspiring activity. Give each person a napkin. They must take turns miming how to use the napkin, but no two people can mime the same use for the napkin. Since students aren’t speaking, the activity avoids the language barrier. And since students will have to be creative in how they use the napkin, laughter is sure to ensue. If this activity is a hit and you see real relationship progress in your students, try the activity another day with another common object.
DO Things Together
For some students, all the talking in the world won’t help them feel closer to their classmates. Perhaps this is because some people bond over activities rather than through conversation. For some, playing a game of basketball will do more for a friendship than an intimate heart to heart. So if you make opportunities for your students to do activities together, it will encourage them to deepen their friendships. You might have them play games in class or give small groups of students tasks to accomplish. You can suggest fun activities for them to do outside of class, like see a movie that everyone is talking about or going to a certain restaurant. For students that bond through doing, pressuring them to share the intimate details of their lives is not going to do much in the way of forming friendships, but throwing them a basketball and telling them to play can be just the thing they need. For students like these, try giving them class activities such as the following. Divide your class into groups of around four students each. Then give each group twenty straws, a roll of masking tape, and a golf ball. The students will have to work with each other to build a contraption that will catch the golf ball when it is dropped by someone standing on a chair. Just working together to accomplish this task will bring students closer to each other. As a bonus, it serves as a speaking activity, too, and students will have to use lots of English knowledge to work together and solve the problem.
No matter what you do, know that friendships between your students are essential.
So do what you can to encourage friendships in class and trust that, in time, your students will develop support networks that work for them.