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Whether you have a class full of antsy five-year-olds, shy teens, or busy adults learners, they all have one thing in common: they will be together for the duration of the ESL course, and they will work together to achieve their English-learning goals.
What better way to start classes than to help them get to know each other? Here are some games and activities. These are more than simple icebreakers; they will help your students really bond as a group:
Back To School: How To Help Your Students Bond
A Blank Canvas to Fill
Once you’ve greeted all of your students and gotten all of the introductions out of the way, present them with a completely blank bulletin board. Tell them that their first task as a group will be to decide what they want to do with it:
Fill it with drawings of what they did over the summer?
Put up family photos?
Choose a theme and decorate accordingly (fall, summer movies, pop stars?)
What they hope to learn?
When they have chosen their theme, they must decide how they will decorate the bulletin board and which materials they will use (you may have a box of odds and ends they can recycle).
Right on or Dead Wrong?
Hand out slips of paper and ask each student to write two things about themselves that are true and one thing that is untrue. Shuffle the papers and give one to each student. Students must guess which statement is untrue about their classmate.
Show Your Stuff
Tell your class that they will have the chance to show off their best talent. Have students divide themselves into groups according to different abilities. Form groups of students who have musical talent, artistic skills, or are really creative writers. Each group has to work as a team to prepare something to show to the class. Dancers may choreograph one of their favorite songs. Artists may create a poster. Writers may write a short story. Give them enough time to prepare and choose a day for your talent competition. Each team has to vote for another team they consider the best. The winning team wins a special prize.
Things in Common
Create a questionnaire with 5 to 10 questions like:
What’s your favorite American/English food?
What’s your favorite American/English TV show?
What’s your favorite international pop star?
What’s your favorite color?
What month were you born in?
Students must first complete this questionnaire and then walk around the classroom to find other students they share some of these things with. They must write the names down. When everyone’s done, each student counts how many people they share things with. The student with the biggest number wins!
What a Cute Baby!
Ask students to bring in baby pictures of themselves and put them up on the bulletin board. Students take turns matching a student to a baby pic. The student who guesses the most correctly wins. For obvious reasons, this game works best with teens or adult learners.
Give each of your students a paper bag and instruct them on what to do with it:
First, they must decorate it in a way that represents them. Students may draw a guitar on it because playing the guitar is their favorite thing to do. Or perhaps they can draw something connected to a sport they play. Or their country of origin.
Secondly, they must place three things that represent them inside the bag. Obviously, they must be small enough to fit inside.
Finally, they must bring the bag and its contents to school, and share it with the class.
Choose a Class Name and Create a Flag
You may have a class with students from different backgrounds and nationalities. While you may encourage them to share information about their countries of origin, it would be nice for them to also form their own little “nation”. Ask students to come up with a name for their class: English Ninjas, Grammar Warriors, or the like. Then, they may create their own class flag or banner, something that will represent them as a group. If you decide to create a class website, you can tell parents what your “English Ninjas” have been up to and proudly display their work.
Try any of these activities, and you’ll see. What was at first a group of complete strangers will become a group of students who share a great many things and are ready to embark on this adventure that is learning English as a second language.