Great activity for getting to know who you’re teaching

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It’s easy to forget, but your students are never just students. They are parents, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, third cousins twice-removed, guitar players, Japanese speakers, chess players, travel bloggers and many other things besides, many of them entirely surprising*. How many times have you, towards the end of a course, found out something really interesting about one of your students and thought, I wish I’d known that sooner? I once, on the last day of an (ahem) challenging low-level ESOL course, found out that one of my students had played football for the Iraqi national team 40 years earlier and that another had eleven (count ’em) children. Silly me for not making the effort to find out such things sooner.

In order to trust you to teach them they need to know who you are and who their classmates are. This is a fun activity which helps with that process. You can do it at the start of your course or at any point afterwards and it works well with pretty much any level post-beginner.

  1. Write up on the board/screen your own version of the following (n.b. don’t just copy mine):
  2. I am a teacher, an examiner, a dad, a brother, a son, an uncle, English, half-German, a husband, an immigrant, a second-generation immigrant, a Northerner, a Sheffielder, an East Londoner, an avid reader, a music-lover, a Momus fan, a Thomas Pynchon obsessive, a blogger, a cyclist, a non-driver, an English speaker, a Philosophy graduate, a Portuguese speaker, a Spanish speaker, an Italian speaker, a language learner, a former DJ, a former part-time comedian, a former part-time actor, a former activist…
  3. Encourage your students to ask you: “so you’re a …”. Then tell them a couple of entertaining details. Do this for five minutes or so, dealing with vocabulary as it comes up.
  4. For lower levels point out the difference between where you’ve used an adjective (with no article) and where you’ve used a noun (with an article), and also the meaning of ‘former’.
  5. Get them to make their own lists. Monitor to help out if they’re stuck. Make sure they each have a decent list of things (at least eight or nine).
  6. Put them in pairs and get them to swap lists and take it in turns to ask. They don’t need to take notes. Make sure they’re asking follow-up questions (‘when?’, ‘why?’).
  7. Rotate the pairs once or twice depending on how many students you have.
  8. The third time they swap pairs, get them to film each other on their phones.
  9. At the end of the lesson, get each of them to report what the most surprising thing they found out was.
  10. Extension: If you and they like, make (or get one of them to make) a short film compiling the most interesting snippets of the interviews. This might sound challenging but there will probably be someone in the class with the technical know-how.
  11. Extra extension: You could easily incorporate a listening comprehension activity using this.

Dekiagari!

* Some of them might even be racists, but you’ll have to hope they don’t proudly announce that in the course of the activity.

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